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I Watched This Game: A magical Canucks season comes to a close

The Vancouver Canucks gave their fans a team worth cheering for, even if they couldn't come up with one more magical comeback in Game 7.
The Vancouver Canucks fell 3-2 to the Edmonton Oilers in Game 7 of their second-round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“They put respect back in this city and this jersey.”

That was Vancouver Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet after his team came up just short in Game 7 against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday Night. 

As much as we can (and will) analyze and break down what went wrong and right for the Canucks in this final, climactic game, there’s no denying that Tocchet is right. This group of players made people proud to be Canucks fans again. 

Apart from a brief moment during the 2020 bubble playoffs, being a Canucks fan over the last decade had felt like an exercise in futility. The seasons ceased being disappointing because the expectations every year were dragged lower and lower. It became harder and harder to entertain the notion that, “This season will be different.”

But then the Canucks crushed the Oilers 8-1 in the first game of the season, with Brock Boeser scoring four goals. And then they kept winning and winning and winning. They were first place in the entire NHL for long stretches of the season and firmly held onto first in the Pacific Division even as the Oilers got their act together and made a late push.

This season was different. It was special.

“Fans have got something to be proud about,” said Tocchet. “That’s all because of the players.”

Then, in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Canucks had some extra magic up their sleeves. 

Down 2-1 in Game 1 against the Nashville Predators, the Canucks scored two goals in 12 seconds in the third period to earn the clutch win in front of a deafening Rogers Arena crowd

Game 4 was even more magical, as Brock Boeser scored two late goals to complete a hat trick, including one with eight seconds left to force overtime, leading to an Elias Lindholm game-winner.

Game 1 against the Oilers saw another incredible comeback, with the Canucks storming back from a 4-1 deficit with four unanswered goals for a 5-4 win.

They came agonizingly close to another Game 4 comeback, scoring twice in the third period to tie the game 2-2 before giving up a last-minute goal to the Oilers. But they completed the comeback in Game 5 with a last-minute goal by J.T. Miller.

It defied expectations and explanations, particularly with the Canucks riding their third-string goaltender, rookie Arturs Silovs for most of the playoffs. The Canucks were starting to look like a team of destiny, the kind that Hollywood screenwriters dream up.

With so many incredible comebacks in the playoffs, it was easy to believe they could do it again in Game 7. Even though the Oilers dominated the shot clock and took a 3-0 lead into the third period, there was still hope. Canucks fans still believed. You could hear it in their voices as they chanted for the team and for individual players.

Because being a Canuck is no longer about mediocrity and falling short and being just good enough to not be last in the league. Instead, being a Canuck is about never giving up, never surrendering, and never saying die, even when all hope seems lost.

So, when Conor Garland and Filip Hronek came up with goals in the final ten minutes of the third period with the season on the line, the comeback almost seemed inevitable. The cardiac Canucks were going to do it again, pulling a glorious victory out of certain defeat.

Unfortunately, real life is not a Hollywood movie where a clutch goal decides every game just before the buzzer sounds as the clock counts down to zero. Sometimes, the team that everyone expected to win actually wins. Sometimes, the team that exceeded expectations can only exceed them so much.

It wasn’t enough. It’s never enough. Until a Canucks team finally hoists the Stanley Cup over their heads, it won’t be enough. But, for the first time in a decade, Canucks fans can hold their heads high. This was a team worth believing in; this was a team worth cheering for; this was a team worthy of respect.

For the final time this season, I watched this game.

  • I’m going to be real with you: some of that hard-earned respect was nearly defenestrated in Game 7 because the Canucks were very much not good for the first half of the game. It’s somewhat forgivable because they were so clearly missing Brock Boeser and their rejiggered lines seemed a little out of sync early on.
  • At least Arturs Silovs showed up for the whole game. He made some brilliant saves — two of them were arguably the best saves of the entire playoffs — to keep the Canucks in the game. The Canucks could have been done when Thatcher Demko was knocked out of the playoffs with an injury; their third-string, rookie goaltender ensured they weren’t. 
  • Silovs’ best save in the first period came just over a minute in. Dylan Holloway was given room to come out of the corner for a free shot that Silovs kicked aside but it went off a skate to the pinching Brett Kulak, who seemed to have an open net until Silovs lunged across like Harvey Keitel to stab the puck away with his blocker. 
  • Gambling that Ilya Mikheyev, on a line with J.T. Miller and Elias Pettersson, would have fresh legs and might be able to finally end his goalscoring slump didn’t pay off. While his legs did look fresh, his hands were as stony as ever. He had a glorious chance to open the scoring six minutes into the first period when he was sent in alone by Miller but had the puck roll off his stick on a deke to the backhand. His offseason priority has to be to find the ancient crone who cursed him and do whatever it takes to make up for how he wronged her.
  • Part of the issue is that this Canucks team only has two bonafide top-six wingers — Boeser and Garland — and several middle-six wingers that look like top-six wingers if you squint really hard. With Boeser out, Garland arguably should have gotten the assignment to play with Miller and Pettersson. By the end of the game, he did, but it was a little too late by then.
  • Elias Pettersson did not have a good postseason but he poured his heart out on the ice in Game 7. He threw five hits, saw the Canucks out-attempt the Oilers 21-to-5 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5, and set up some glorious chances for his linemates. Regrettably, those chances landed on the sticks of players like Mikheyev and Phil Di Giuseppe, who couldn’t finish them. 
  • Pettersson was playing through pain too, as he took a high stick just below his lip that required stitches outside and inside his mouth. He said the worst part was the “four or five” shots of freezing that he needed to numb the pain during the first intermission.
  • While those shots might have been the worst part for Pettersson, it was the lack of shots on the subsequent power play that was the worst part for the Canucks. That four-minute man advantage near the end of the first period ought to have been the turning point of the game. Arguably, it was — it's just that it turned the game into oncoming traffic. 
  • With Boeser out, the Canucks put Filip Hronek on the first power play unit, then sent out Carson Soucy and Nikita Zadorov on the second unit, giving them two defencemen on both units. In this era where essentially every team uses one defenceman on the power play, it felt like the Canucks were being far too cautious. Worst of all, it didn’t work: the only shot on the power play was on a shorthanded breakaway by Connor Brown.
  • “Looking back, you point to the four-minute power play for us,” said Quinn Hughes. “Can’t change anything now but it obviously would have been nice to have more success than what we had there. Who knows if that changes the outlook of the game?”
  • It was an enormous missed opportunity because it was very clear the referees weren’t keen on calling anything in this game. That was clear when they flatly ignored Evander Kane clipping Ian Cole from the blindside away from the puck, one of the most clearcut examples of interference we’ve seen all playoffs. There couldn’t have been any clearer indication that the refs were in “let them play” mode and, sure enough, the Canucks didn’t get another power play the rest of the game.
  • “It was execution. We were a little bit off in our execution,” said Tocchet. “That four-minute power play, we lost a little juice. I thought we lost some energy there because of it. I think that was a little bit of a zapper.”
  • The simple truth is that two shots on goal in the first period of a do-or-die Game 7 isn’t enough. This was a Canucks team that scored first in 53 of their 82 games during the regular season and forced their opponents to come from behind instead of having to manufacture so many comebacks themselves. Mikheyev’s miss and the failed power play loomed large in this game.
  • The biggest area that Silovs needs to work on is seeing shots through traffic, which is a much bigger factor in the NHL than at other levels. That’s where the Oilers got to Silovs in the second period. After an icing by Tyler Myers, Holloway won the faceoff for the Oilers and Cody Ceci’s point shot seemed to take a slight deflection of Nils Åman to beat Silovs over the shoulder.
  • Look, the officiating was definitely not the reason the Canucks lost this game. In fact, the officiating was largely fine. No issues with it. But if you’re going to let pretty much everything go and “let the players play,” how on earth does this very obvious dive by Evan Bouchard get called a trip? I’m not complaining, I’m just asking: how?
  • At least the subsequent power play gave us one of the best highlights of the game. Leon Draisaitl had a wide-open net on a pass from Connor McDavid, so knew exactly what to do: shoot the puck off Ian Cole to ensure that it would go in the Canucks net. But what had been a guaranteed goal all series couldn’t find the back of the net this time, as Silovs stretched back with his glove and snagged the puck like a loose-knit sweater. 
  • Call it Grand Larturseny. Or don’t, you are your own person, don't let me tell you what to do.
  • After Nikita Zadorov shot over the net on a golden opportunity, the Oilers made it 2-0 on a point shot by Evan Bouchard that was tipped by Zach Hyman in front. Once again, Silovs couldn’t see the shot and the puck went off the post and in. By that point, the Canucks had just two shots on goal in the second period.
  • The Canucks finally showed some pushback after the 2-0 goal but the Oilers made it 3-0 on the power play. Bouchard’s point shot went wide but banked off the traitorous Roger Arena boards to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Silovs seemed to get caught on Hyman just outside of the crease and was a split-second late to get back to the post.
  • Conor Garland was a sparkplug all night and he got the Canucks on the comeback trail midway through the third period. Out with Pettersson and Miller, Garland jumped on a whiffed breakout pass by Ryan McLeod. Unlike so many other times the Canucks had chances, Garland neither hesitated nor missed the net, quickly snapping the puck under Stuart Skinner’s blocker. Unlike Garland, that goal was huge.
  • This might have been the most agonizing missed opportunity of the game. Pettersson took the puck in the neutral zone, shaded wide to draw two defenders in, then flipped a pass to Phil Di Giuseppe for a breakaway. In alone, the hero of Game 5 shot the puck over the net. He went sky high like Kurt Russell.
  • Filip Hronek has been invisible in the offensive zone all playoffs but he popped into view with five minutes remaining like Gollum had just bitten off his ring finger. Off a faceoff win by Elias Lindholm, Quinn Hughes put the puck in Hronek’s wheelhouse and he blasted a one-timer past an inadvertent screen by Mattias Ekholm as he battled with Dakota Joshua. Just like that, it was 3-2 and the hope for a comeback was alive.
  • They almost did it. With 13 seconds left, Pettersson dug the puck out of a battle in the corner and set up J.T. Miller at the top of the left faceoff circle. His one-timer had a chance, with Skinner late to react, but the Canucks, who had so many bounces go their way to start their season, had one last bounce go against them to end their season. The puck seemed labeled for just inside the far post but it hit Nikita Zadorov's skate and deflected away.
  • This is the last I Watched This Game of the season. I want to thank all of you for reading and — hopefully — enjoying these recaps. This was a special season to cover and I hope I helped make it even a tiny bit more enjoyable with my quips and analysis. On to the offseason and here’s hoping next season is even better.