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I Watched This Game: Canucks can’t find a win in Boudreau’s final game

An emotional Bruce Boudreau said goodbye to Vancouver.
Pass it to Bulis - IWTG. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

“We feel like we let him down.”

That was Luke Schenn after the Vancouver Canucks’ 4-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers in what is almost certainly the final game of Bruce Boudreau’s tenure as head coach of the Canucks and perhaps the final game of his coaching career.

The players wanted to win it for Bruce — they just couldn’t do it.

“All the guys in the room respect Bruce a lot,” said Schenn. “You never play for the perfect coach, but he’s as good of a guy as you’re going to play for. We feel like we let him down, in the room. He deserves better. I think that’s on us as players.”

Perhaps Schenn is being too hard on himself and his teammates. The players may not be winning on the ice but they’re not the ones who left Boudreau twisting in the wind for weeks as word got out that the Canucks were not only already looking for a new head coach but had actually found one.

That Rick Tocchet will be the next head coach of the Canucks is the worst-kept secret in the NHL — even Boudreau mentioned him by name — and is expected to be officially hired on Monday, even though Boudreau quipped, “They haven’t fired me yet.” 

“We were talking about it before the game — amongst the dressing room, a handful of us — It just really doesn’t even feel real,” said Schenn. “It’s just a weird, emotional thing to be going through in the middle of a hockey season…

The situation has put Boudreau in an awkward and painful position that the Hockey Night in Canada panel called “unacceptable,” with Kelly Hrudey calling on the organization to apologize to Boudreau. The truth is, Boudreau has heard nothing from management this entire time.

“I don’t know the reasoning why I’m still here,” said Boudreau. “Maybe because the next games are Chicago, Seattle, and Columbus. For the new group, good luck.”

It does seem awfully convenient that Boudreau’s final days as coach of the Canucks were the toughest part of the schedule, while the new coach will face two of the bottom-three teams in the NHL to kick off his tenure. 

“I thought it was over in November when there were certain things said and it wasn’t,” said Boudreau. “We kept going.”

While Boudreau was put in a difficult position, it also gave him the rare opportunity to say goodbye to his players and to the fans. 

“I was fired once in the middle of the season,” said Boudreau. “George [McPhee] called me to his house and we had a long talk and then that was it. 

“It’s different when you get a chance to say goodbye to the players and they’re emotional and I’m emotional — it’ll obviously be something that stays with me for my whole life. I’ve had a couple people like me in the past but not the way the fans have treated me. The city’s amazing.”

Boudreau said that he had an emotional talk with the players after the game, then had most of the team come speak to him individually: “I just had 15 of them come up to me and we’re all crying together.”

Meanwhile, the fans sent Boudreau off with repeated, “Bruce, there it is” chants throughout the game, with one more at the very end, as Boudreau lingered at the bench to thank the fans.

“You never know if it’s the end,” said a clearly emotional Boudreau. “When you’ve been in it for almost fifty years, the majority of your life and, if it’s the end…I had to stay out there and look at the crowd and just try to say, ‘Okay, remember this moment.’”

“I just wanted to savour looking at the stands because who knows if I’m ever gonna have this chance again,” he added later. “Just keep that in my mind, in the memory, and let it burn there forever.”

I might have said my own, "Bruce, there it is" as I watched this game.

  • "I don't think I lost the room, I just lost games," said Boudreau, in an underrated turn of phrase.
  • “It’s pretty awesome,” said Boudreau about coaching in a Canadian market. “Quite frankly, if you’re Canadian and you love hockey, if you fear being criticized — if you fear them throwing a jersey on the rink — then that’s a problem for you. Because that’s the stuff that makes sports. That’s what you embrace, is the thrill of doing something other people can’t do and having people judge you when you fail. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I think this is a great hockey market and, when they do start to win eventually, the people will see how great this is.”
  • Boudreau made it clear that he doesn’t want to stop coaching: “I own a junior team, I might have to fire my kid and coach there.” That would be the Hershey Cubs in the USPHL, where his son Brady Boudreau is the Associate Head Coach. 
  • When asked how he’s been able to keep such a cheerful demeanour, Boudreau grinned and said, “I’d like to say alcohol,” then laughed and added, “but I don’t drink anymore.”
  • The Canucks looked like a team that wanted to win it for Bruce early on, with Elias Pettersson’s line with Ilya Mikheyev and Andrei Kuzmenko creating a couple of early chances, then Dakota Joshua got robbed on a puck he batted on net out of midair. It was a pretty good opening minute.
  • Immediately after that, J.T. Miller and Bo Horvat collided in the offensive zone, allowing Zach Hyman to break out with the puck, and he sprung Connor McDavid on a breakaway, as he skated past Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers like they weren’t even there. McDavid slipped the puck five-hole past Spencer Martin to open the scoring 1:26 into the game.
  • The Oilers made it 2-0 on the power play. Miller had the puck deep in the Oilers’ zone when Tyler Myers decided it was a great time to skate to the front of the Oilers’ net. Miller tried to find him with a fancy spinning backhand pass, which was easily picked off. With Myers and Miller caught deep and Mikheyev not covering as far back as a defenceman like Myers would, the Oilers got a 2-on-1. Riley Stillman played the 2-on-1 remarkably poorly and McDavid had no trouble finding Zach Hyman at the far post for the tap-in goal. It was — all of it — very bad penalty-killing.
  • Stuart Skinner showed why he’s going to the All-Star Game as one of the two goaltenders for the Pacific Division, and it’s not just because every other goaltender in the Pacific has been awful. He came up with some big saves to maintain the Oilers’ lead, none better than his lunging blocker save on Lane Pederson after Jack Studnicka set him up on a 2-on-1. 
  • Fellow All-Star Leon Draisaitl made it 3-0 when he took advantage of Tyler Myers coming onto the ice on the long change. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sent a stretch pass to Zach Hyman on the boards, then he slipped the puck inside to Draisaitl who was all alone and he caught Martin off-guard with the quick-snap one-timer, sending the puck five-hole.
  • The Canucks copied the play that led to the Draisaitl goal. Quinn Hughes caught the Oilers on a line change with a great stretch pass to Pettersson on the boards, then he slipped the puck across to a sneaky Kuzmenko, who got the puck to his forehand and went past Skinner like he was trying to see the Aurora Borealis localized entirely within his kitchen.  
  • Pettersson was giving it everything he had out there, even throwing the biggest hit of the game when he sat down Philip Broberg like he was about to teach him about the birds and the bees.
  • Miller got the Canucks within one in the third period on a set play off an offensive zone faceoff. Bo Horvat won the draw and Miller made a beeline for the point. Hughes put the puck in Miller’s wheelhouse and he drilled a one-timer past Horvat’s screen to make it 3-2 and give fans hope that the Canucks might actually win it for Bruce.
  • I don’t know what made Pettersson’s mom do this but she did this and I want you to see that she did this.
  • There’s a limit to how much influence a coach can have on what happens on the ice — they put the system, the gameplan, and the lines together, then the players have to execute. But one direct influence on the game is the coach’s challenge, which Boudreau used to nullify what appeared to be the 4-2 goal, but was overturned because Hyman made contact with Martin, which was especially alarming for Martin because he’s not married yet.
  • Before the goal got disallowed, Miller had quite the emotional outburst at the bench. If my amateur lipreading is correct, Miller said, “Jesus Christ, that was fucking soft,” if you’ll pardon my language. 
  • “When that goal got disallowed there at the end, the only thing you’re thinking, really, win aside, is to get it for Bruce,” said Schenn. “That’s what guys were fired up for and we fell short again.”
  • The Canucks tried. Pettersson laid out to break up a 3-on-1. Lazar made a great backcheck to disrupt a 3-on-2 chance, then Martin stretched out to get his stick on what looked to be a sure goal in the ensuing scramble. They tried. 
  • Unfortunately, the Canucks struggled to get Martin out of the net for the extra attacker, with Kuzmenko missing a Pettersson pass that went for an icing, wasting a solid minute in the defensive zone on the ensuing faceoff because they couldn’t move the puck up ice. When they finally did, Miller couldn’t handle a Kuzmenko ring-around and Hyman was able to move the puck ahead for a Nugent-Hopkins empty-net goal. 
  • This wasn’t the send-off Boudreau deserved. But at least he got to say goodbye. It's not often that the most popular person in an NHL organization is the head coach who is about to be fired. In fact, the opposite is generally the case.
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