The Vancouver Canucks sometimes feel like a long-term experiment in Murphy’s Law: whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.
The Canucks lost the first draft lottery in their history and have never picked first overall since. They've lost two Stanley Cups in heartbreaking fashion in Game 7 and traded away more than one player who went on to be a 50-goal scorer for other teams.
Along the way, there are so many other smaller instances of Canucks luck: Manny Malhotra getting nearly blinded by a puck to the face near the end of the 2010-11 season stands out. How about Dan Cloutier letting in a shot from centre ice against the Detroit Red Wings when the Canucks were up 2-0 in the series, leading to a first-round exit. Or Brock Boeser fracturing his vertebrae on an open bench door to end his outstanding rookie season. Maybe the Canucks are actually cursed.
With a six-game winning streak, the Canucks have forced themselves back into the playoff picture, to the point that they actually controlled their own destiny: win every remaining game, mostly in regulation, and they would be guaranteed to finish third in the Pacific Division. So, what’s the most Canucks way possible for that streak to end?
It’s not enough that it was ended by a team that is 31 points out of the playoffs — that’s not Canuck enough. How about a former Canuck scores the game-winning goal in the shootout? Just to rub it in, let’s have that former Canuck have no discernible effect on the game beyond that shootout goal.
Adam Gaudette, the one-time third-line centre of the future for the Canucks, scored the shootout winner after playing just 4:29 for the Senators. Heading into Tuesday night, he didn’t have a point in his last 19 games and didn’t have a goal in his last 27 games. He may as well have not been in the Senators lineup at all — he only popped into existence to crush the Canucks’ hopes and dreams at the last second.
You know what, that’s not quite Canucky enough. Let’s add in the detail that Gaudette was taught his shootout move by none other than Canucks goaltending coach Ian Clark and used to practice it on Thatcher Demko all the time when he was with the Canucks. In fact, Gaudette was only in the shootout at all because of his familiarity with Demko.
Only, Demko wasn’t even supposed to be in net. This was his one game off, with Jaroslav Halak getting the start on the second half of back-to-back games. But Halak left the game after the first period with an apparent injury to his hand, forcing Demko into the game. So, Demko didn’t get either his rest or the win, with Gaudette using his familiarity with Demko against him.
And, just for good measure, the Los Angeles Kings won their game on Tuesday night in regulation — a 2-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks on a controversial goal that was initially waved off for goaltender interference but was allowed after video review. Now the Kings have a five-point advantage over the Canucks with the edge in the regulation wins tiebreaker.
“Yep, that was definitely a Canucks game,” I thought after I watched this game.
- Obviously, the playoff race isn’t over just because of one lost point. There’s still a chance that both the Kings and Vegas Golden Knights falter and that the Canucks start a new winning streak in their next game. But right now, that lost point because of Gaudette’s shootout winner really hurts.
- It hurts worse because the Canucks had seemingly dozens of opportunities to win this game in regulation. The Canucks dominated the Senators in the second period — high-danger chances were 13-to-4 for the Canucks in the middle frame, according to Natural Stat Trick — but the Canucks couldn’t buy a goal, allowing the Senators to get back into the game. The Canucks missed the net more than the fish on the left side of the boat.
- The Canucks got off to a strong start in the first period, capitalizing on an early power play drawn by Conor Garland. It was a simple play: J.T. Miller won the faceoff cleanly to Quinn Hughes, the Canucks set up, then Hughes gave the puck back to Miller and he fired a laser past Filip Gustavsson, who never saw the shot as he was mesmerized by the golden locks of Brock Boeser screening in front.
- You could tell the Canucks were feeling confident when even Luke Schenn was doing his dekes, pulling off a nifty move around the forechecking Gaudette in front of his own net.
- The 2-0 goal was practically on the power play as well, coming just after Zach Senyshyn left the penalty box. Brad Hunt was in deep and caught Connor Brown off guard by going deeper still instead of safely retreating to the point. That gave Hunt some room and he set up Brock Boeser, who was left wide open by Travis Hamonic. Boeser busted out his Accuracy Competition form and ripped the puck just inside the post.
- Halak was fantastic in the first period, stopping all 14 shots he faced as the Senators poured on the pressure as soon as they were trailing. It wasn’t entirely clear how Halak got injured but it was definitely clear when — with 1:33 remaining in the first, Halak suddenly pulled back his right hand and shook it violently during a scrum in front of his net. Halak stayed in the game and made four more saves before the end of the period but didn’t return for the second.
- I’ve watched it dozens of times and I still don’t know what happened. Halak seems to react right after Quinn Hughes’s stick makes contact with his blocker but the stick didn’t hit him very hard. After the game, Bruce Boudreau referred to it only as an upper-body injury.
- To add insult to injury, Halak will come just short of one of the performance bonuses in his contract. If he finishes the season with a .905 save percentage or better, he gets $250,000. He's at .903 right now. If he had posted a shutout with at least 11 more saves, he would have reached .905. Even if his injury doesn't take him out for the rest of the season, it's unlikely he'll see any more starts. Of course, that's a boon to the Canucks' salary cap for next season, but it's still unfortunate for Halak.
- The Senators got on the board early in the second period thanks to Alex Formenton, who was left fermenting like fresh wine in front of Demko by Tyler Myers. Formenton made like Tony P. in Mystery Men and gave the puck the shaft, tipping it back past Demko.
- After the Canucks couldn’t cash in on their second period dominance, the Senators struck quickly in the third. Erik Brannstrom sent a perfect bank pass off the end boards to set up Parker Kelly in the slot for the tying goal, with Quinn Hughes momentarily leaving Kelly open as he expected the puck to go behind the Canucks net. Then Formenton got in behind Schenn for a partial breakaway and put the puck top corner to take the 3-2 lead.
- The Canucks were burned earlier this season on video reviews for high-sticking calls but one went their way in the third period. Vasily Podkolzin was initially called for a double-minor for high-sticking Brady Tkachuk, but the video review revealed that Podkolzin didn’t draw blood with his stick but instead by punching Tkachuk, which is, I guess, better? That downgraded the double minor into a single minor for roughing.
- That penalty was a coincidental minor with a Senators penalty, setting up a 4-on-4, where Boeser did a little setting up of his own. He cut to the net, but had no angle for a shot, so cut behind the net and spotted Travis Dermott smartly cutting into the slot. Boeser fired a pass through the defenceman’s legs and Dermott fired a shot through the goaltender’s legs to tie the game.
- The rest of regulation was frantic, as both teams traded chances. The Canucks were desperate for the regulation win and the Senators took advantage of the holes that created in the Canucks’ coverage. Formenton hit the post for the Senators and Tyler Myers hit the crossbar for the Canucks but neither team could find the winning goal.
- Podkolzin was once again one of the Canucks’ best players, so it was confounding that he didn’t see a single second of ice time in overtime. Instead, Sheldon Dries got two shifts in overtime, which, as Tatianna would say, was a choice.
- Then, in the shootout, the Canucks went with Nic Petan as their fifth shooter ahead of, again, Podkolzin. It’s not like Petan has a track record in the shootout — it was his first-ever attempt in the NHL. As for Podkolzin, let’s just say that he has some moves up his sleeve when it comes to the shootout.
- J.T. Miller was the only successful Canuck in the shootout with his usual move of skating wide to the left, then slowly coming back across. Just when it seemed he had completely run out of room, he somehow found a gap over Gustavsson’s pad on the backhand.
- Boeser, Pettersson, Garland, and Petan couldn’t beat Gustavsson, however, setting up Gaudette as the unlikely hero for the Senators. Just imagine if the Canucks miss the playoffs by a single point.