It’s 47 down and nine to go for the Vancouver Canucks on a 2021 season that has decidedly slipped into “not having fun anymore” territory.
The Canucks skated into Edmonton on a six-game losing streak for their third consecutive contest against the Oilers.
With the playoffs already nigh-impossible, and even sixth place and the Ottawa Senators starting to get out of reach, the Canucks were playing for pride, for each other, but mostly just to get this whole mess over with.
Sorry if that’s a real bummer of a “warmup,” but ‘tis the season in more ways than one.
If there’s one thing keeping Canucks fans’ attention and cautious optimism brimming, it’s those small adjustments that have been made to the lineup of late.
There were no adjustments to be made between Tuesday’s lineup and Thursday’s, and that meant that Jack Rathbone remained in and Kole Lind remained on Bo Horvat’s wing.
Thatcher Demko got the start.
On the other side of the scoresheet, Patrick Russell, Ethan Bear, and Caleb Jones came in for Kyle Turris, William Lagesson, and Evan Bouchard. Mikko Koskinen took over for Mike Smith in net.
Forget all that Eeyore stuff in the preamble, because 31 seconds into the game Nils Höglander scored to put the Canucks up 1-0. The forecheck of Tanner Pearson forced a turnover to — who else — JT Miller, who found a wide-open Höglander in the slot. Travis Hamonic, who had dumped it in, picked up the second assist.
A couple shifts later, Hamonic went down the tunnel after an awkward-looking play, but he would return.
And then it happened.
Tyler Graovac forced another turnover on the forecheck, and the puck went to Jayce Hawryluk in the high-slot. His shot attempt was blocked, but Jack Rathbone followed the play, scooped up the puck, and wired it past Koskinen for the first goal of his NHL career — and the 2-0 lead just 4:43 into the game.
Hamonic, back from the tunnel, made it 3-0 less than two minutes later, catching up with a broken play at the right faceoff dot and blasting a slapper off Koskinen’s blocker and in. It was an unassisted tally, Hamonic’s first as a Canuck, and the Canucks’ third goal on as many shots. (Later, Brock Boeser and Höglander would be awarded retroactive assists.)
A high hit from Josh Archibald sent Matthew Highmore to the room briefly, but he would also return — albeit, without the dramatic comeback goal.
The Oilers earned the first power play of the night when Höglander took an interference minor, but 14 seconds into it Leon Draisaitl got frustrated with Alex Edler and chopped his stick, sending the game to four-on-four for a spell.
A McDavid/Nurse/Yamamoto three-on-two ensued, but Demko was able to turn it aside — just barely.
A few minutes later, a Nate Schmidt point-shot hit Hawryluk in front, but Hawryluk was also the first to snag it. He whirled and fired, sneaking a 4-0 puck through Koskinen’s legs. Highmore, none the worse for wear, got the secondary assist, marking his first point as a Canuck.
Koskinen smashed his stick on the post in two clean swings and was subsequently pulled, having made no saves on four shots. Mike Smith then came into the game.
A hard hit with a side of elbow from Connor McDavid, of all people, left Schmidt wincing and spitting up blood on the bench, but he stayed in the game.
And if we’d learned anything about “The Code” in the last few weeks, surely that meant a McDavid v. MacEwen scrap to look forward to in the second period.
A Graovac high-stick put Edmonton back on the power play, and this time they stayed on it for longer than 14 seconds.
After the Vancouver PKers cleared it and went for a change, puckhandler extraordinaire Smith turned things around in a hurry, catching McDavid and Draisaitl ahead of the play. Schmidt, the only defender back, was no match for the highest-scoring duo in the NHL, especially not when McDavid was semi-interfering with him, and it was Draisaitl who finished the rush off to cut the lead down to 4-1 with 3:19 left in the period.
McDavid notched another assist — and his 95th point of the season — less than two minutes later when he set up Jesse Puljujarvi to go post-and-in and make it 4-2.
The tide had certainly turned, so let’s watch that stick-smash one more time before we take a break. Just for a palate-cleanser.
Ah, schadenfreude. You’re always there for us when we need you most.
Rathbone’s wholesome exuberance definitely brought the mood up again. This one’s a winner, Vancouver fans. Cherish him.
The first five minutes of the second period were a whole lot less eventful than those of the first, with nothing much of note from either side save for Schmidt eating another hard hit, this time from Jujhar Khaira.
McDavid, hungry for a hundred, found himself shut down by some tight defence from Quinn Hughes on consecutive shifts.
Hamonic caught Alex Chiasson with a high, stiff check in the neutral zone without Chiasson ever actually touching the puck. Nothing was called, but Chiasson took umbrage and the two dished the mitts for a spirited scrap.
With the fighting major, Hamonic completed the Gordie Howe Hattrick.
Feeling bold, Graovac got on the first-of-the-season train by sniping a shot from behind the goal-line, off the back of Smith’s head, and just under the crossbar for a 5-2 lead. The goal was unassisted.
Tempers continued to flare a shift later. Zack MacEwen took a hit from Darnell Nurse in the neutral zone that sent both sprawling. MacEwen’s stick caught Nurse in the face, drawing blood, and then MacEwen appeared to attempt a half-hearted knee as he skated past the prone Nurse. MacEwen received a double-minor and a chorus of jeers from the Oilers bench, and Edmonton was back to the power play down by three.
Demko stood tall through all four minutes, keeping McDavid and Draisaitl off the board with several key saves. Miller spent most of the kill’s final minute hunched over in pain after taking a Nurse wrister to the ankle, but he stayed out there long enough to get the job done. He’d go down the tunnel and return in the third.
As the teams skated off for a commercial break, Nurse straight-up assaulted MacEwen, assailing him with a suite of slashes, crosschecks, and punches while MacEwen turned the other cheek — in the direction of the officials, who assessed Nurse a single minor penalty.
The Canucks failed to cash in on the man advantage.
Another blocker save on a point-blank shot from Demko, this one from Chiasson, was the only other action worth mentioning in the middle frame’s last couple of minutes. Shots sat at 31-18 in favour of the home team as time expired.
Watching Nurse get absolutely dragged across #Canucks Twitter. That’s what you get for messing with PEI’s finest!
It didn’t take long for MacEwen and Nurse to find one another in the third period. They dropped the gloves in front of the Oilers net less than three minutes in, with Nurse crosschecking MacEwen and then getting the gear off without giving MacEwen a chance to say ‘no.’
Nurse managed to hold the burly east-coaster to the outside for a bit, but then MacEwen got loose and rocked Nurse’s helmet off with a couple of rights. At that point, Nurse — clearly still in tantrum mode — grabbed MacEwen’s pant leg and tried to dump him down on his head.
A rather embarrassing end to a fight for a player who insisted on duking it out. Nurse received an extra minor for crosschecking, but the Canucks did not score on the power play.
A few shifts later, Höglander went behind the Oilers cage and thought about attempting a Michigan, but then fumbled the puck.
Meanwhile, McDavid met Highmore.
With one hand on his stick, Tyler Myers took down Puljujarvi, giving the Oilers their fifth power play of the game and their first in the final frame. Demko continued to gobble pucks up into his equipment, and Edmonton could earn little in the way of genuine chances as the period passed its halfway mark and with them still trailing by three.
McDavid sprang himself on a breakaway but was whacked from behind by Myers, resulting in a penalty shot — the first Demko has faced in his NHL career. McDavid pulled Demko out and then deked around to deftly tuck it in, but Demko stretched his left leg to inhuman proportions and got a toe on it.
Seconds later, however, McDavid would get his self-titled 97th point the boring anyway, posting a secondary assist on a Nurse-to-Draisaitl one-timer that cut the Canucks’ lead down to 5-3 with 7:05 left on the clock.
But the comeback was not to be. The impromptu top line of Horvat, Boeser, and Pearson forced yet another turnover in the Oilers’ zone, then from Boeser to Pearson down-low and back to Boeser in the high-slot for an easy wrister past Smith and a decisive 6-3 lead.
The goal was Boeser’s 20th of the season, extending his goal-streak to three, and 6-3 is how it would end.
Fancy Stats At A Glance
Gameflow from Canucks at Edmonton May 6, 2021 (courtesy of naturalstattrick.com)
Heatmap from Canucks at Edmonton May 6, 2021 (courtesy of naturalstattrick.com)
Corsi Stats from Canucks at Edmonton May 6, 2021 (courtesy of naturalstattrick.com)
How could we not hand it to Rathbone? For the first NHL goal, for the good vibes, for the hope, and for giving the fans something to cheer about this late in a dismal season. Rathbone is here to stay.
Hamonic scored his first as a Canuck, notched an assist, and immediately answered for his own stupid hit so that none of his teammates had to. Hamonic’s first Gordie Howe Hattrick in a decade is definitely worthy of a nod.
With a goal and an assist, the only thing separating Hawryluk from a Gordie of his own was being too cool to break the rules. Hawryluk had an active stick all game and was rewarded for it on this night, his best as a Canuck.
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With actual victories fewer and farther between these days, those that can be considered moral victories become all the more important. Putting up six, recording several milestones, chasing Koskinen, and even outmuscling the Oilers were all reasons for the Canucks to skate away with their heads held high. Sure, they got absolutely spanked in every metric but the scoreboard, but does anyone really care about that right now?
In the short-term, this singular win might not make much of a difference. But in the long-term, these sorts of wins are vital in order to give the team something to build upon as they turn their focus to 2021/22 — and what they hope to be the true opening of their competitive window.
The Canucks get right back to it on Saturday, May 8, with a 7 PM PST matchup against the very same Edmonton Oilers, closing out their final four-game series on the season.