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I Watched This Game: Are the Canucks actually going to do this thing?

The win over the Stars, along with some help from the out-of-town scoreboard, leaves the Canucks' playoff destiny in their own hands.
The Vancouver Canucks took charge over the Dallas Stars on Monday night and now, against all odds, control their own playoff destiny.

Monday night could not have gone better for the Vancouver Canucks.

Facing a Dallas Stars team that sits in the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, the Canucks put the boots to them in Rogers Arena. The Canucks never trailed at any point and took command of the game with an early goal in the second period before running away with it.

That gives the Canucks six-straight wins as they make a last, desperate push to make the playoffs. Even with the win against them, the Stars might still be out of reach, but the Los Angeles Kings in third-place in the Pacific Division, might be attainable.

Meanwhile, the Vegas Golden Knights, who are also pushing for one of those final playoff spots, were facing the 27th-place New Jersey Devils, who are missing their best player, Jack Hughes, after season-ending knee surgery. The Golden Knights desperately needed to win this game, not just to reel in either the Stars or Kings but to stave off the hard-charging Canucks.

But the Golden Knights faced Andrew “The Hamburglar” Hammond.

Hammond made a name — and a nickname — for himself with an incredible run in the 2014-15 season for the Ottawa Senators where he went 20-1-2 to carry the Senators to the playoffs with a stunning .941 save percentage. He was unable to replicate that success in subsequent seasons and has spent the bulk of his time in the AHL since then.

On Monday night against the Golden Knights, however, he rekindled a little bit of that Hamburglar magic. The Golden Knights out-shot the Devils 44-to-28 but Hammond went HAM, making 42 saves to earn the 3-2 win. One of the only two pucks that got past him was an own goal, going in off the skate of P.K. Subban.

Maybe Hammond did the Canucks a solid because he was born in White Rock and grew up in Surrey. The Canucks were Hammond’s childhood team.

“It’s the team I grew up following and cheering for,” said Hammond of the Canucks a few years ago. “I went to a lot of games in that rink as a fan.”

He ought to be brought back to the rink as a guest of honour in the near future.

Here’s the thing: Hammond really did the Canucks a huge favour. His win over the Golden Knights combined with the Canucks’ win over the Stars means the Canucks are now ahead of the Golden Knights in points percentage.

In other words, if both the Canucks and Golden Knights win all of their remaining games, the Canucks would finish ahead of the Golden Knights in the standings.

More than that, the Canucks actually control their playoff destiny. They’re currently four points back of the Kings for third in the Pacific but they have a game in hand and one of their remaining games is against the Kings.

If the Canucks, against all odds, win out to end the season, they’ll finish with 98 points. That scenario includes a win over the Kings, which means the most points the Kings could get would also be 98 points.

That means we’d go to the tiebreakers, the first of which is regulation wins. The Canucks and Kings currently have an identical 31 regulation wins but the Canucks could guarantee the edge in this tiebreaker by ensuring that at least five of their six wins to end the season are in regulation.

Look, this is an extremely unlikely scenario but it is mindblowing that there is an actual scenario now where the Canucks don’t need help from anyone to make the playoffs. They can do it all on their own.

Keep in mind, there’s still a possibility that the Canucks do get help from other teams. The Kings and Golden Knights might lose some more games, leaving a path for the Canucks to make the playoffs that doesn’t require an utterly improbably, franchise-record winning streak. The door, against all odds, is open wide and the Canucks have an opportunity to step on through the door into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

I was legitimately stunned after I watched this game.

  • I’m just going to do my best to ignore the other possibility: that the Canucks could set a new record for the most points by any team to miss the playoffs. The current record is 96 points, set by the Boston Bruins in 2014-15 and matched by the Florida Panthers in 2017-18 and Montreal Canadiens in 2018-19. The Canucks could conceivably get to 97 points — or even 98 if their wins come in overtime and they lose the first tiebreaker — and still miss the playoffs. Would that be the most Canucks thing to have ever happened? I think it might.
  • Alex Chiasson was a late scratch for this game due to illness, which is surprisingly a major loss considering how hot he’s been. Chiasson had 5 goals and 9 points in his last 5 games. Fortunately, the Canucks were able to replace him with a quality depth player: Brock Boeser, back from injury.
  • With Chiasson out, Conor Garland joined J.T. Miller and Vasily Podkolzin on the top line and they had a dominant game with their forechecking pressure and puck control down low. One of their shifts midway through the first period led to the opening goal but even before they scored, they had already set up Oliver Ekman-Larsson for a chance on which he hit the post. That line was draped all over the Stars like a garland on a Christmas tree.
  • After Ekman-Larsson hit the post, he quickly retrieved his own rebound and fed the puck down low to Garland. With Miller screening in front, Garland set up Podkolzin in the high slot but, instead of shooting, Podkolzin one-touched the puck right back to Garland for a one-timer. Like it was Bruce Willis being a ghost the whole time, goaltender Jake Oettinger never saw the shot coming and it beat him five-hole while he was still trying to look around Miller. 
  • Boeser’s night got off to a rough start when he took a penalty right after the opening goal and the Stars made short work of the power play. Miller lost a puck battle along the boards, which happens, but then he got caught puck-watching instead of hustling back into position. As a result, Roope Hintz was open for a nifty between-the-legs drop pass from Radek Faksa to tie the game.
  • Faksa had a golden opportunity to give the Stars the lead five minutes later, given an open net from a superb pass by Michael Raffl, but he somehow missed. It could have been a much different game if Faksa had put that in, but the Canucks had a similar miss in the second period when Elias Pettersson set up Boeser on the power play, but the puck went off the toe of his stick on the backhand and just wide.
  • My favourite moment of the game came when the puck got stuck as Jason Dickinson battled with Jamie Benn and Miro Heiskanen in the corner. “Move! Dickinson, move!” said referee Graham Skilliter, to which Dickinson replied, “I can’t!” Skilliter then went to first-name basis: “Jason, move!” and Dickinson again replied, “I f***ing can’t!” The puck finally got free and Skilliter, proving he’s got a carrot to go with his stick, said, “Good job, boys!”
  • Referees obviously know all these players by name but it’s not often you hear a referee audibly call a guy out on the ice by both his last name and his first name. Combined with Dickinson’s plaintive, “I can’t!” it was the funniest thing that happened all game.
  • Pettersson gave the Canucks the lead but the true kudos belong to Sheldon Dries. The AHL call-up picked up the puck when Pettersson’s first attempt to drive to the front of the net was stopped. Appropriately for someone named Dries, he put the Stars in the spin cycle (shoutout to @theonlystowie on Twitter) and sent a pass back to Pettersson against the grain. Pettersson took the pass neatly off his skate and tucked the puck in.
  • The Canucks kicked off the second period with a quick goal to extend the lead. After Boeser broke up a Stars zone entry, he jumped up the ice with Pettersson on a 2-on-1 thanks to a neat touch-pass by Dickinson in the neutral zone. Both Oettinger and defenceman John Klingberg overplayed Pettersson leaving Boeser more open than the Kwik-E-Mart (except for that one time), and he hammered home Pettersson’s pass. 
  • Hintz got one back shorthanded on a penalty drawn by Pettersson and on a breakaway where Pettersson was the last man back. Alas, much like Hoobastank, Pettersson is not a perfect person. 
  • The 4-2 goal started with a great play by Garland at the blue line to hold the puck in the Stars’ zone. He threw a puck on net, then jumped off for a line change, allowing Boeser to step on the ice. Brad Hunt picked up the Garland rebound, wheeled behind the net, then found Boeser, who stepped into what looked like a massive slap shot from the point. Instead, Boeser sent a pinpoint pass to Dickinson at the side of the net, who tipped the puck past Oettinger.
  • That was the end of Oettinger’s night and Scott Wedgewood came in to replace him. The usual backup, former Canuck Braden Holtby, has been solid this season but he’s been out for over a month with a lower-body injury. 
  • I’m generally opposed to fighting in hockey at this point. But if there’s going to be a fight, it may as well be Luke Schenn beating the tar out of Jamie Benn after a clean but largely unnecessary and forceful hit on Quinn Hughes. Did that fight really need to happen? No, but you can bet Schenn’s teammates — particularly Hughes — appreciated it. The fans in Rogers Arena definitely did.
  • A quick third-period goal put the game to bed. In the opening minute, Hughes jumped up the ice and flipped the puck to Podkolzin skating down the left wing and he ripped a shot right through Wedgewood. The goal could be best described like Drag Race’s Willow Pill: acute angle.  
  • The Canucks gave the Stars nothing the rest of the game, even as the Stars pulled the goaltender for the extra attacker with five minutes left. Dickinson and Boeser both got shots at the empty net, then the third time was the charm for Pettersson, who completed his fourth three-point performance in his last six games to make it 6-2.
  • Pettersson now has 7 goals and 14 points in 6 games since Patrik Allvin said the Canucks don't have a superstar.