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I Watched This Game: Canucks can't complete comeback despite Hughes' monstrous game

"Quinn Hughes was a monster...he was the main reason why we got back into it."
The Vancouver Canucks came back from a 5-2 deficit to force overtime, but couldn't quite complete the comeback against the St. Louis Blues.

Three-goal leads have not been safe in Vancouver Canucks games this season.

Tuesday night’s game against the St. Louis Blues, where the Canucks erased a 5-2 deficit to force overtime, was the sixth time this season that a three-goal lead disintegrated in a game involving the Canucks.

That feels like a lot. A three-goal lead ought to be safe as houses, to the point that the Toronto Maple Leafs giving up a three-goal lead in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins eight years ago became a meme that lasts to this day: “It was 4-1!” 

Giving up multi-goal leads has been a league-wide trend this season and the Canucks have given up a ton of two-goal leads, but the blown three-goal leads are still surprising. It’s been both ways, as well: the Canucks have blown three three-goal leads and so have their opponents.

It started right from the first game of the season, when the Canucks took a 3-0 lead against the Edmonton Oilers only to lose 5-3. Less than a month later, they did it again against the Nashville Predators, blowing a 3-0 lead and losing 4-3 in the shootout. In January, the Canucks took a 3-0 lead against the Pittsburgh Penguins but gave up the lead within the first period, going on to lose 5-4.

But the Canucks have had their fair share of comebacks from three goals down. In December,  the Montreal Canadiens taking a 4-0 lead on the Canucks, only for the Canucks to come back for a wild 7-6 win in overtime. In February, the Canucks clawed back from a 4-1 deficit to the New Jersey Devils to force overtime, even though they lost 5-4.

On Tuesday night in St. Louis, it was a similar story. The Blues took a 5-2 lead but the Canucks worked their way back to force overtime, only to lose 6-5.

It’s a product of Canucks games being amongst the highest-scoring games in the NHL. The Canucks have allowed the fifth-highest rate of goals per game at 3.66 and have scored the 11th-highest rate of goals per game at 3.38.

That’s an average of 7.04 goals per game between the two teams every time the Canucks play. Only the Edmonton Oilers (7.30) and Buffalo Sabres (7.23) have a higher average.

At the very least, when you watch the Canucks play, you’re guaranteed to see some goals. I definitely saw some goals when I watched this game.

  • Let’s jump right into those goals. The Canucks opened the scoring thanks to Quinn Hughes, who had a fantastic game while yet again playing way too many minutes. Hughes led the rush, then drove towards the net after laying the puck off for J.T. Miller. He set up Brock Boeser for a one-timer that was intentionally hard and low to create a rebound. Looking like if Trea Turner played hockey, Jordan Binnington smoothly slid right out of his own net making the save on Boeser, leaving an open net for Hughes to finish off the rebound.
  • Guillaume Brisebois came back in the lineup for Jack Rathbone and was immediately responsible for a goal against. Brisebois tried to pass to J.T. Miller, who was covering for filip Hronek at the point, but Alexey Toropchenko anticipated the pass and took off like a Toropedo and ripped a wristshot past Thatcher Demko’s glove to tie the game.
  • The line of Anthony Beauvillier, Sheldon Dries, and Conor Garland had a tough time, particularly in the first period, where they got hemmed into the defensive zone a couple of times. One of those times was costly, as they failed to get the puck out and then all got caught puck-watching, leaving Justin Faulk wide open. Faulk made like Thor heading back to Asgard and hammered it home. 
  • The Canucks tied it up before the end of the first with a power play goal. They made it look easy. J.T. Miller casually drifted along the side boards like the S.S. Georgie. Andrei Kuzmenko casually rotated to the top of the crease. Then Miller casually passed it and Kuzmenko casually chipped it up over Binnington’s pad. All very cool, very casual.
  • Things went all kinds of wrong in the second period. Boeser turned a puck over in the defensive zone and it quickly turned into a goal for Jakub Vrana. Then Rob Thomas said to the puck, “Maybe it’s time to come home,” and sniped it past Demko on the power play. Just over a minute later, a bad pinch by Tyler Myers created a 2-on-1 that Pavel Buchnevich finished off to make it 5-2.
  • Hughes was clearly frustrated with how he played the 2-on-1 on the Buchnevich goal, but he made up for it with some brilliance at the blue line on the power play. Under pressure at the point, Hughes danced around Rob Thomas like a Carlos Santana guitar lick the immediately attacked the middle of the ice to blast a point shot that Boeser tipped in from the slot.
  • “Quinn Hughes was a monster,” said Rick Tocchet. “Very assertive in all facets of the game. I love his compete tonight, even when it was 5-2, you could tell, he had a gleam in his eye. He didn’t think we were out of it. And, obviously, he was the main reason why we got back into it.”
  • Hughes did a little bit of everything in his 28:33 ice time. He had three points, eight shot attempts, two blocked shots, and one drawn penalty. When he was on the ice at 5-on-5, high-danger chances were 8-to-1 for the Canucks according to Natural Stat Trick. Like Jobu Tupaki, Hughes was everywhere, doing everything, seemingly all at once. 
  • The play of the game, however, came from Elias Pettersson, who channeled the Wizardous Sedinerie of his Swedish predecessors. Kuzmenko passed to Pettersson in the slot, then as Kuzmenko cut past him, Pettersson faked a backhand pass, then instead swung a blind forehand pass right onto Kuzmenko’s tape. Binnington, trying to see past a Dakota Joshua screen, never saw it coming and Kuzmenko had an open net. 
  • It seemed like an odd choice to put Dakota Joshua with Pettersson and Kuzmenko, but there was clearly method to the madness. Joshua has shown this season that he has more offensive upside than your typical fourth-line forward and has the north-south game that Tocchet loves. Joshua also has more subtlety than you might expect from his size and physicality, as he’s adept at picking pockets on the forecheck with agile stick-lifts. Don’t be surprised if he continues to play a puck-retrieval, front-of-net role on a top-six line next season.
  • Joshua was even one of five forwards on the ice when the Canucks went 6-on-5 with the empty net and he played a crucial role in the tying goal. On a scrambled faceoff draw, Joshua picked the puck free and moved it to Boeser, who fed Hughes at the line. Like a waitress scanning to the bottom of a receipt, Joshua went looking for the tip, but Hughes’ point shot instead went off Marco Scandella’s skate and past Binnington. 
  • In overtime, things went wrong as soon as Hughes stepped off the ice with what appeared to be a skate blade issue. Myers came on to replace him and immediately failed to stick with Vrana as he dropped the puck to Brayden Schenn. Instead of staying with his man — the norm in 3-on-3 overtime — Myers followed the puck to Schenn, who was already being covered by Boeser. Vrana took Schenn’s return feed and deposited it past Demko to win the game for the Blues.
  • In the big picture, the Canucks should be happy with the loss. The overtime loss gives them an identical 34-34-6 record as the Blues, tying them for 23rd in the NHL with 74 points. The Blues have the edge, however, with the first tie breaker, which is regulation and overtime wins. If the Canucks are still tied with the Blues at the end of the season, this loss might give the Blues the edge and thereby give the Canucks a better draft position. 
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