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I Watched This Game: Canucks can't quite complete comeback over Wild in home opener

Playing in front of a full Rogers Arena for the first time in over a year wasn't enough to spur the Canucks over the Wild.
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The Vancouver Canucks fell 3-2 to the Minnesota Wild in their home opener on Wednesday.

The Vancouver Canucks spoiled a couple of home openers on their six-game road trip, handing losses to the Philadelphia Flyers and Seattle Kraken in front of their fans.

On Tuesday, it was the Canucks’ turn to have their home opener spoiled.

The night started off well, with a raucous crowd cheering on the Canucks’ Hollywood-adjacent intro video and roaring as each player was introduced. The building continued to buzz as the Canucks made an early push and it was night-and-day from the fake crowd noise that was pumped into the arena when fans weren’t allowed into the building.

The crowd was quickly quieted by the Minnesota Wild, however, who controlled the pace of play for much of the game and made life difficult for the Canucks’ defencemen all game long. The Canucks’ breakout was broken by the pace of the Wild’s forecheck, giving the Canucks’ few chances to cleanly transition the puck up ice.

Nothing takes a crowd out of it like a lack of dangerous rushes and scoring chances but the Canucks fans in attendance did their darnedest to keep the energy up in the building. And when Bo Horvat scored a late goal in the third period to give the Canucks a chance at a comeback, the arena was deafeningly loud.

“It was really fun having fans back in the building again,” said Horvat. “It was awesome to see and when we gave them something to cheer about, they were cheering loud. Unfortunately, we couldn't get them the win tonight, which they deserved.”

“It’s a heck of a lot better than playing in an empty building,” he added.

Agreed. A truly empty building would have meant I wasn’t there, which would have made it very difficult for me to do my job, which I did when I watched this game.

  • The Wild’s forecheck was truly a nightmare for the Canucks all game, forcing them into turnovers and pinning them in the defensive zone. They look like they’re going to be a dangerous team this season, so it’s hard to read too much into the Canucks’ struggles on the breakout — except it feels like they’ve had those troubles all season.
     
  • “You've got to give them credit, they did a great job of getting on top of us and backchecking hard,” said Horvat. “As soon as you thought you were by a guy, they were right back on your butt trying to get the puck back from you.”
     
  • You have to feel for poor Nico Sturm, who took a Matt Dumba slap shot directly to the unmentionables, which regrettably is not the direct-to-video sequel to The Untouchables. I bet Sturm wishes his unmentionables were actually the untouchables after they were touched that hard.
  • This was a rough game for Tucker Poolman for multiple reasons. He was victimized on the opening goals as he lost Mats Zuccarello behind him like a parent losing track of an eight-year-old in a department store. Zuccarello burst out of a rack of dresses on the Canucks’ blue line and Joel Eriksson Ek sent him in on a breakaway, where he beat Thatcher Demko five-hole with a sneaky shot.
     
  • Poolman was struggling to move the puck through the first period, then left the game after three shifts in the third period. His final shift was just five seconds long but nothing obvious happened on that shift or his previous one that might have caused an injury. Head coach Travis Green only said that Poolman had an upper body injury.
     
  • One of the things that truly sets a real crow apart from fake crowd noise is anger and vitriol. The referees gave the fans an opportunity to make themselves heard with two soft penalty calls early in the game: a crosschecking call on Kyle Burroughs that was much more of a push than a crosscheck and an interference penalty on Conor Garland that might have featured a pinch of embellishment from Wild star Kirill Kaprizov. We definitely never heard “Ref you suck!” in the fake crowd noise.
  • At least Conor Garland’s look of baffled disbelief after he got called for — I don’t know, skating in front of Kaprizov? — was delightful.
  • The soft calls were particularly aggravating when Burroughs was sent headfirst into the boards in the third period with no penalty called. The broadcast helpfully cut to his very concerned mother in the crowd, which could have been really terrible if Burroughs wasn't okay. Fortunately, he was, though his head appeared to get stepped on as well by a Wild player coming over the boards. The crowd, meanwhile, got another chance to prove they were not a bot by chanting "Ref, you suck!"
  • Justin Bailey drew into the lineup and had a strong game in a depth role. He may have only played 10 minutes, but he played a key role on the penalty kill and drew a penalty. He had one particularly daring shot block on the penalty kill that drew a cheer from the Rogers Arena faithful, stabbing out his right foot to make a road hockey kick save.
  • “I liked his game tonight. I liked that he gives us a bigger body. He gives us some speed too, I thought he used it well,” said Green. “We told him to go down and kill some penalties down there and he did and we put him right into the fire tonight.”
     
  • The Canucks’ struggles on the breakout bit them on the 2-0 goal. Rathbone knocked down a dump-in but then sent a soft pass into the middle of the ice to no one. Jonas Brodin broke in and broke Burroughs’ stick with his first shot, then broke the plane of the goal line with his second, with Burroughs unable to check him as he still held the lightsaber-handle-length of stick in his hand.
     
  • The Canucks got a goal of their own thanks to another broken stick. Elias Pettersson broke Goligoski’s stick with a slap shot like J.T. Miller broke his axe in the Canucks’ intro video. With the Wild’s penalty kill essentially reduced to three men, the Canucks passed the puck around looking for the perfect shot, much to the consternation of the Rogers Arena crowd. Their patience paid off, however, as Pettersson put the puck right on Alex Chiasson’s stick for an easy tip-in. 
     
  • As the Wild pushed to extend their lead, Demko held the door like Hodor. He made save after save, none better than his highway robbery of Freddy “Not Related to Johnny” Gaudreau with a lunging glove.
  • Demko was so good, in fact, that Francesco Aquilini suggested that someone should buy Demko dinner. Aquilini and his family are, notably, billionaires and own multiple restaurants, so I have a humble suggestion for who that someone should be.
  • The Wild finally got their third goal in the third period, taking advantage of a questionable backcheck by the Canucks’ forwards. Brock Boeser missed the net on the rush, sending the puck careening around the boards, where the Wild beat a pinching Burroughs to create an odd-man rush of their own. An overenthusiastic Vasily Podkolzin attacked the puck carrier, who was already being checked by Jack Rathbone, when he should have picked up the trailer, Matt Dumba. A moment later, a wide open Dumba finished off a pass from Tyler Pitlick to make it 3-1.
     
  • A low-key funny moment from the game that the cameras barely caught: at one point J.T. Miller caused a delay on a faceoff because he had to, well, tie up his pants. It was evidently urgent, so perhaps we were spared a pants-falling-down moment during the third period. 
  • With less than five minutes remaining, the crowd was starting to despair but Bo Horvat came through with a clutch goal to ignite some hope. Tyler Myers went back for a puck and pushed Kevin Fiala off stride, giving him room to wheel out from behind the net and hit Horvat with a beautiful stretch pass. Horvat drove in and sent a backhand top shelf where Grandma hasn’t dusted in a while. It was a brilliant goal.
     
  • Unfortunately, the Canucks couldn’t come up with another goal to tie the game and send it to overtime. It would have been a great time for Pettersson to create some magic but, other than his admittedly great assist on Chiasson’s goal, Pettersson was all-too quiet in this game. There were some sparks there but he’s still not the game-breaking Pettersson we’ve seen in the past. Hopefully, that Pettersson shows up soon.