The Vancouver Canucks were back taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning as they continue their improbable march back into the playoff conversation.
The Lightning were fresh off a 4-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers and didn’t arrive in Vancouver until this morning.
The Lightning are trying hard to win the Atlantic Division and elected to preserve Andrei Vasilevskiy for tonight’s game against the Canucks.
And as you’ll see shortly, that appeared to be the right move.
First, let’s see how the Canucks lined up.
Elias Pettersson was a late subtraction from the lineup after not taking part in morning skate with what head coach Bruce Boudreau called a “maintenance day”.
For what it’s worth, Pettersson practiced Saturday in Burnaby, so stay tuned to see if he’s at practice tomorrow.
Let’s do this!
As they so often do, the Canucks began this game on their heels in the first period.
The Canucks were scrambling early on, and this resulted in a couple of goals in the first ten minutes.
The first came on a broken play in front of Thatcher Demko that was banked home by Victor Hedman after the Canucks failed to clear the loose puck from the blue paint. 1-0 Lightning.
The second came less than two minutes later when Ross Colton sniped home a shot from the slot after Travis Hamonic lost the puck to Corey Perry along the boards. 2-0.
The shots were 9-1 in favour of the Lightning at this point, and the shot attempts were 11-1 in favour of the Bolts.
This, as you may have guessed, is not good.
This game could have been 4-0 in a hurry as Thatcher Demko had faced four high-danger chances in the first seven minutes.
The Canucks started to show some signs of life just before the halfway point of the first after some extended zone time by the fourth line that ended with Matthew Highmore drawing a penalty.
The power play marked the Canucks’ first real chance of the game to swing the momentum the other way.
The second unit generated the best chance of the man advantage after Tanner Pearson pulled the trigger on a set play from the bumper position but was stopped by Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The Canucks couldn’t convert and remained down by two.
Just as it looked like the Canucks were going to depart the first period down by just a pair, Steven Stamkos scored to make it 3-0 Bolts.
But wait! Bruce Boudreau and John Garrett’s spidey senses were tingling, and the Canucks successfully sued their coach’s challenge to determine the play was offside. 2-0 Tampa once again.
Thankfully, they showed some signs of life to close out the first period, and you could bet that there was going to be a big pushback in the second and third.
“I have no idea. We’ll get some psychologists in here, and we’ll work with them,” said Boudreau post game when asked about what his team needs to do to stop having slow starts.
“I don’t know if it’s in our head, to be honest with you. We’ve talked so much about coming out harder,” said Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
“We should be disappointed,” added Conor Garland. “We just have to have better starts, that’s killing us right now.”
Tyler Myers took a penalty early on after taking a delay of game penalty for flipping the puck over the glass after being stuck out on the ice for an extended period of time.
The Canucks killed off the penalty, then immediately after, J.T. Miller got the Canucks’ best chance of the game but was absolutely robbed by Vasilevskiy.
In the process, however, Patrick Maroon took a hooking penalty and the Canucks were back on the power play.
The Canucks generated five shots on the power play, and they certainly weren’t low-quality ones by any means, but Vasilevskiy was on another level early on in this one.
Seriously, the second period summary should really just be an Andrei Vasilevskiy highlight reel. First it was Miller getting robbed, then Highmore, then Boeser, then Rempal.
“We played really hard in the last two periods,” said Boudreau. “Sometimes you’re playing a world-class goalie — arguably the best goalie in the world. We had some really great chances and couldn’t get it by him…He was the difference-maker for their team.”
Luke Schenn was called for a phantom cross-check and the Lightning were sent to the power play with just under four minutes to go in the second period.
After Miller misplayed his clearing attempt, Steven Stamkos took two grade-A shots, both of which were stopped by Demko. Without a doubt, he was the Canucks’ best penalty killer, stopping five of the five shots he faced during the Bolts’ two minute barrage.
Conor Garland and Ryan McDonough took coincidental minors with 44 seconds remaining.
The Canucks entered the third and final frame in the same shape in which they entered the second: down by two goals.
The Canucks and Lightning were both fairly stagnant to begin the third, but as you may have expected, J.T. Miller began his team’s comeback effort.
The point streak stayed alive as Miller netted his 70th point of the season. 2-1 Lightning.
Conor Garland appeared to score the tying goal shortly after, but the ref lost sight of the loose puck and blew the whistle before Garland managed to poke it past Vasilevskiy.
The Canucks remained down by a goal as they continued their comeback effort.
The Lightning took a high-sticking penalty after Tyler Motte took a stick to the face — but the penalty was reviewed and subsequently taken away, which caused boos and a chorus of “ref you suck!” chants to rain down on the ice from the Rogers Arena faithful.
“They said it was a follow-through,” said Boudreau of the non-call. “My question was, ‘well isn’t he supposed to be in control of his stick?’ and they said no because it was a follow-through.”
The Canucks continued to press, and with 48 seconds left, called Demko to the bench in favour of an extra attacker but couldn’t convert. 2-1 final.
The Canucks can’t afford many more losses, but are certainly getting some help on the out-of-town scoreboard as of late.
After losing goaltender Robin Lehner to injury, things have gone from bad to worse for the Vegas Golden Knights, who are hanging on by a thread to third place in the Pacific Division with the Edmonton Oilers and Canucks both hot on their heels.
“I’m sick of it,” said Vegas forward Chandler Stephenson after tonight’s 6-4 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. “Everybody is sick of it. Everybody needs to dig deeper, grab their nuts, and work.”
I can tell you two groups of people who aren’t sick of seeing Vegas lose: Canucks and Oilers fans.
As you can see, the Canucks simply don’t have many losses left to give this season, but Vegas — who have lost four straight — going through their current crisis is certainly welcome news for Canucks fans.
The Canucks will be back in action Tuesday when they take on the New Jersey Devils in the two clubs’ second and final meeting with each other.