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I Watched This Game: Canucks bounce back to beat bladeless Canadiens

Casey DeSmith made 30 saves, while Conor Garland led the way offensively with a goal and an assist.
The Vancouver Canucks got back on track after a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, cruising to a 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens

Apparently, there was an unwritten rule on this road trip that every single game had to end in a 5-2 score. 

The Vancouver Canucks nearly failed to follow this rule on Sunday night, heading into the final two minutes of their game against the Montreal Canadiens with a very unsatisfying 3-1 lead. Fortunately, the Canucks and Canadiens rattled off three goals in the final minute-and-a-half to give the Canucks the 5-2 win. 

But there were other, even more satisfying numbers in the wake of the Canucks’ win over the Canadiens.

After a two-point night, J.T. Miller moved into a tie for second in the NHL in scoring with 23 points in 15 games. He’s tied with none other than Quinn Hughes and behind only Elias Pettersson, which means three Canucks are the top-three scorers in the NHL right now.

An empty-net goal gave Brock Boeser 12 goals on the season, good for second behind only Auston Matthews and putting him on pace for 66 goals.

Filip Hronek tallied his 16th assist of the season, extending his point streak to ten games. Just two players in the NHL have more assists than Hronek this season: Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson.

The most important number, of course, is 11. That’s the number of wins for the Canucks through 15 games, just one win fewer than the league-leading Vegas Golden Knights. 

It sure is nice to have a Canucks season where all the numbers are adding up to something pleasant for once. But I didn’t just look at a bunch of numbers. I watched this game.

  • Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet made some changes after their loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, taking out Nils Höglander to get Teddy Blueger in for his first game as a Canuck, switching in former Canadien Noah Juulsen for Mark Friedman, and giving Casey DeSmith the start on the second half of back-to-back games.
  • None of those moves are all that unusual or significant but it’s important to sprinkle in the occasional “Tocchet made moves that led to Canucks wins!” into these things to help his Jack Adams case in the future. Can’t have a clean sweep of the major awards without a Jack Adams (Vancouverite Connor Bedard can be an honourary Canuck when he wins the Calder).
  • Blueger’s game was a bit of a mixed bag, which is not that unusual for someone coming off injury in his first game of the season. He made some good reads and was effective on the penalty kill but, like the surface of Mars, he also looked a little rusty, like when he completely forgot to shoulder check and left Jake Evans wide open behind him for the Canadiens’ best chance early on.
  • Former Canuck Tanner Pearson nearly got some revenge midway through the first when he got in behind Tyler Myers down the left side. Unfortunately for Montreal, Pearson is not Tyler Toffoli, and he clanked his shot off the post. 
  • After a first period with plenty of hustle and bustle but few plays of consequence, the second period was as eventful as March 31 on Ron Swanson’s calendar. Unfortunately, one of those events was Carson Soucy blocking a shot with the back of his leg, which is notably not where the shin guards protect the legs — “shin” and “guard” being key elements of the name of that piece of equipment. Soucy left the game, didn’t return, and will be further evaluated back in Vancouver.
  • The Canucks opened the scoring on a true two-way play by J.T. Miller. First, he made a great read to pick off a pass along the boards in the defensive zone and moved the puck to Ian Cole to start the breakout. Then he got on his horse and burst up ice to receive a cross-ice feed from Quinn Hughes, then slipped a pass through to Conor Garland, who used every inch of his reach to tip the puck past Jake Allen. He stretched so far to reach the puck, I wouldn’t be surprised if Garland grew an inch. 
  • While Garland’s goal came while on the ice with Miller and Boeser, his line with Dakota Joshua and Pius Suter was utterly dominant against the Canadiens all game. Shots on goal were 11-0 for the Canucks when that trio was on the ice together at 5-on-5. I haven’t seen ice that tilted since they flipped over the iceberg in Club Penguin.
  • “Garland’s been playing really well,” said Tocchet. “I had a feeling, too — I put him with Millsy and I got lucky on that one. I shouldn’t say I got lucky, because he deserves to play a little bit more and I put him on that line and he got that big goal.”
  • It looked like the Canadiens had tied the game but a coach’s challenge revealed that Cole Caufield was offside on the zone entry. Like the time the iceberg flipped in Club Penguin, it was a tipping point. Okay, enough about Club Penguin.
  • Instead of it being a tie game, the Canucks extended the lead a minute later. Allen had his stick knocked out of his hand by his own defenceman, Kaiden Guhle, who didn’t even have the courtesy to hand his goaltender his stick as a temporary replacement. While the Canadiens cleared the puck, a quick retrieval and regroup by Andrei Kuzmenko sent Ilya Mikheyev in on the left wing and he beat the unbalanced Allen with a wicked wrist shot, celebrating like the penguins that flipped the iceberg in Club Penguin
  • The indefatigable Garland helped the Canucks make it 3-0 before the end of the period. After his initial shot was stopped by Allen, Garland barreled in on the forecheck behind the net to steal the puck from Mike Matheson, swung a backhand shot on net, then chased down his own rebound in the slot for yet another shot. Dakota Joshua finally finished the play while fighting off Matheson and Jonathan Kovacevic in front. Garland had three shots in nine seconds or, as Marion Ravenwood likes to call it, an average Friday night.
  • Casey DeSmith was excellent in net for the Canucks, stopping 30 of 32 shots, none bigger than his last-minute save on Brendan Gallagher at the end of the second period after an awful turnover by Blueger. DeSmith flashed the leather like a saddle catalogue photographer to keep the three-goal lead heading into the third.
  • Penalties by Tyler Myers and Noah Juulsen gave the Canadiens a 5-on-3 but a big play by Miller limited the damage. He killed off a chunk of the two-man advantage all by himself by winning the initial faceoff to the boards, then chasing it down and clearing it the length of the ice. Miller was critical of himself for losing key faceoffs on the power play against the Leafs, so this faceoff win saved a little face.
  • The Canucks then caught a break, as Nick Suzuki lost a skate blade in a collision with Ian Cole and had to struggle to the bench, effectively turning the two-man advantage back into a one-man advantage for the remaining duration of the 5-on-3. 
  • The Canadiens still scored on the power play but only after Myers had come out of the box, meaning they didn't remain on the power play after the goal. Miller collapsed to the front of the net to take out Josh Anderson in front of the net when he needed to stay on the “rails” — the area between the hashmarks in the slot. That’s where Matheson picked up a loose puck and fired it past DeSmith.
  • There was a minor dispute over whether the Canadiens had too many men on the ice before they scored. Suzuki made it back to the bench but had an awfully hard time actually getting onto the bench, leaving him stuck on the ice long after his replacement had jumped over the boards. Oh well. Still pretty funny. 
  • A few minutes later, Brendan Gallagher lost his skate blade too, this time on a stiff check by Elias Pettersson. Add that to the Selke argument for Pettersson: he hits players so hard their skate blades pop off.
  • Allen was pulled for the extra attacker late, leaving the net without its minder, which Boeser didn’t mind. Dakota Joshua had space to take a shot of his own at the empty net but he instead deferred to the sniper and Boeser padded his goal total from the neutral zone.
  • The Canadiens managed to reply, as Arber Xhekaj — whose last name I spelled correctly as I was writing this but somehow I managed to misspell his first name — evaded Juulsen’s pokecheck and fooled DeSmith past the blocker, sending his shot off the post and in.
  • All that accomplished for the Canadiens, however, was to give them a reason to pull Allen again, leaving the net empty once more. Boeser picked up a clearance from Myers in the neutral zone and this time fed a streaking Miller, who decided that Phil Di Giuseppe could use a goal and passed it off instead of shooting for the empty net himself. Di Giuseppe delivered, making it 5-2.