After one of the biggest feel-good wins of the season, the Vancouver Canucks took to the ice on Tuesday night to face the Toronto Maple Leafs once again.
The Canucks got a couple of bodies back in the lineup with Nate Schmidt, Olli Juolevi, Jake Virtanen, and Matthew Highmore drawing in for Tuesday’s tilt.
Thatcher Demko also took to the ice for pregame warmup and served as the back up to Braden Holtby.
The Leafs started big save Dave Rittich between the pipes.
Here’s what the Canucks’ lines looked like for the game.
This was our first look at Matthew Highmore as he slotted into the lineup with Travis Boyd and Virtanen on the fourth line.
Holtby played the best game of his Canucks career on Sunday and would be relied upon once again to bring the team into the fight.
It’s been a few weeks since I have done one of these, so apologies in advance if I’m a bit rusty.
If there’s one thing I know, it’s game time. Let’s go!
The Canucks came out with some jump early on. Virtanen had some early jump, and with the lines rolling through quickly, his line was going to see considerable time compared to a regular fourth line in this game.
Olli Juolevi was looking good in the early stages of the game. It was the first game back for Juolevi since February and he looked strong with his early breakout passes and shots from the point. The first scoring chance of the game came on a Juolevi point shot that was tipped just wide of Rittich by J.T. Miller.
The pace was high in the first seven minutes of the game and the Canucks weren’t lagging behind. The Leafs were doing a better job of getting the puck on net, but the Canucks certainly did not lack possession time in the early stages of the period. The Miller line looked good as Brock Boeser was strong on the forecheck and forced a couple of turnovers in his first few shifts.
At the midway point of the period, Virtanen had a shot on net from the slot that was stopped by Rittich. The play came from some good board work from Boyd and Highmore. The fourth line felt different without Jay Beagle or Brandon Sutter and it felt faster than usual.
As the period went on, Juolevi looked better and better. He was being relied upon to be the primary puck-mover out of his defence duo as he was paired up with Jalen Chatfield. Juolevi was able to make some good stretch passes to jump-start the offence and contributed in the offensive zone with multiple shot attempts in the first period.
The Canucks began to control the pace of play with seven straight shots on net while the Leafs struggled to get anything on Holtby. This Canucks team came to play once again and for the most part, looked to have control on the period.
That all changed as the period went into its final six minutes. The Leafs were all over the Canucks and ended up scoring the first goal of the game when captain John Tavares found some space on the right side of the crease and fired the puck into an open net. 1-0 Leafs.
Overall, when you see the skill in the lineups for both teams, the Canucks held up pretty well in the first period.
Shots on goal were 13-12 in favour of the Leafs, while Quinn Hughes and Travis Hamonic led the Canucks in ice time with each player being over seven minutes in the opening frame. Miller was the leading forward, with 6:24 of ice time in the period.
The Canucks were down but they weren’t out just yet. They had some momentum to build off from the first period.
Both teams came out with some hop as the Horvat line found an early scoring chance off an early hustle play from Nils Höglander and a good pinch by Tyler Myers.
The lines saw a bit of a mix early in the period as we saw a trio of Virtanen, Miller, and Höglander have a productive shift in the offensive zone. The result of this change to the lines meant that Boeser would go to play with Tanner Pearson and Bo Horvat.
The momentum was swinging in the Canucks’ direction in the opening minutes of the second period and it resulted in a Brandon Sutter goal that took a very friendly bounce off the side of the net after a shot from Hamonic was tipped by Boeser. 1-1 after the Caucks goal.
The pressure turned to Holtby who at the halfway point of the game had only allowed one goal on 21 shots. The Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner line was beginning to click in the offensive zone and began to look dangerous on every shift. This line was and would continue to get a big serving of Pearson and Horvat.
The Canucks jumped ahead just past the halfway point of the period when Hughes walked in and fired a seeing-eye shot that tipped off of Marner’s stick and went top-corner past Rittich.
The Leafs were getting their shots, but they had the feel of a Canucks team that just couldn’t find a way for their pressure to amount to a goal on the scoreboard. The Canucks had a 2-1 lead with six minutes to play in the period.
The Leafs drew the first penalty of the game when Jalen Chatfield took a holding penalty with 4:17 remaining in the period. The Canucks were clinging to their one-goal lead and needed a massive kill on the Leafs’ first power play of the game.
The Canucks were doing a good job for the first 90 seconds of the penalty kill but then a tired group just couldn’t stop John Tavares from walking down the left side and ripping a wrist shot past Holtby’s right shoulder. 2-2 after the Tavares goal.
The Leafs continued their pressure and Holtby would end up being tested for a total of 19 shots in the second period. The shot count was 32-20 for the Leafs.
The Canucks were holding the game close but were now forced to be on the attack instead of defending a lead. They came into this period with a one-goal deficit but ended up coming out of the second period with a tie game.
It’s time for a 20-minute, winner takes all game. Let’s get right into it.
The Canucks were given their chance early in the period when they went to their first power play of the game just 2:12 into the third period.
The first chance of the power play came at the Canucks’ expense when Marner found a streaking Adam Brooks for an easy goal as the puck was spinning around Holtby and had him out of position to make a stop on the streaking penalty killer. 3-2 Leafs.
The Leafs killed off the final few seconds of the power play and we were back to even-strength hockey with the Canucks trailing by a goal.
Queue the Hög.
The 20-year-old rookie came down the left wing and ripped a shot through the legs of Rittich and into the back of the net. 3-3 after the Höglander goal.
Boeser and Hughes each picked up their second points of the game after drawing the two assists on the Höglander goal.
The Canucks went back to the power play with 11:08 remaining in the period. Another huge chance to take the lead in this game.
They took advantage of that chance when Miller wired a slap shot that took another Canucks bounce right onto Pearson’s stick in the crease and he made no mistake in burying it to give the Canucks a 4-3 lead.
Hughes recorded a third point with the secondary assist on the Pearson goal. He was having a tremendous night with the puck on his stick. Every twist and turn looked clean and the puck looked like it was glued to his blade.
Just when the Canucks needed it most, Pearson fired another shot and Rittich took Canucks fans back to Jordan Binnington memories from last year’s playoff bubble. The puck found a way into the back of the net and the Canucks had a two-goal lead late in the period. 5-3 Canucks.
The Canucks were getting all the bounces and it had to be the hockey gods swooping in to give the Canucks a gift in their second game back from the brutal COVID-19 outbreak that this team went through.
The Leafs pulled their goalie with over four minutes remaining to try and muster up some sort of a comeback. The Canucks missed on four empty-net shots attempts and then Myers took a minor penalty with 1:25 remaining.
Sutter fired a puck from the red line while shorthanded and it found the back of the net for his second goal of the game.
Canucks win 6-3.
NTS was down, no fancies tonight!
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Quinn Hughes: He totalled up three points with the nicest one coming on his goal in the second period. Hughes had the puck on a string tonight and he skated well throughout the game. He played over 22 minutes and was the spark that started the offensive fire in this one.
Tanner Pearson: He had a pair of goals and was on the ice to clean up the win for the Canucks late in the game. He came up clutch with his pair of goals and was excellent on the boards all game long.
Braden Holtby: He didn’t look like Hasek in this one but he sure did a great job as the Leafs’ high-powered offence fired 40 shots on Holtby who once again held his team above water and ultimately got them the win. Props to Holtby, he has had a nice bounce-back over these last two games.
“I’m still standing” might be the Canucks’ win song this season but they are doing more than standing after this two-game set with the Leafs. They are still winning. These two big wins against the Leafs before a four-game set against the Ottawa Senators gives some hope to those who believe this team can compete for a playoff spot with the faltering Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens ahead of them in the standings.
It’s a long way to go to get to that conclusion but with four games against the Sens coming up, it’s definitely entering back into the conversation.