The Vancouver Canucks believe they’re a much better team than their start would indicate. The question is, after the Canucks have won three-straight games and five or their last six to climb close to .500 on the season, how much do their fans believe the same?
It’s been a solid run, with wins over the defending-Stanley-Cup-champion Colorado Avalanche and first-in-the-Western-Conference Vegas Golden Knights. Even Sunday’s win over the San Jose Sharks to end their road trip is commendable — the Sharks are terrible but the Canucks were facing a rested team, playing on the second half of back-to-backs, had to travel in between games, and had an earlier start time to deal with in San Jose.
The Canucks faced those obstacles as well as a couple of terribly unlucky bounces and they managed to stay resilient. They could have folded like a cheap card table when faced with adversity, the way they did so many times to start the season, but they instead stayed steady and strong, like an expensive, hand-crafted card table, with an inset felt surface and cup holders to avoid spilling on your rare Eurogames.
At the same time, it almost feels like a trap. After being let down so many times in the past, should a Canucks fan dare to believe in the team at the slightest hint of the sun peeking through the clouds?
Maybe you’re the type of fan that never stopped believing. The word is a shortening of “fanatic,” after all, which doesn’t exactly imply a rational thought process. But that’s okay — it’s fun to invest in something and wholeheartedly believe in it despite all evidence to the contrary, as long as you don’t hurt anyone in the process.
But maybe years of supporting the Canucks have left you cynical and jaded to the point that the team would need to have a 3-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final and a 5-0 lead in Game 4 before you would even think about investing a little bit of belief that they might be a good team.
Canucks fans aren’t alone in this. I remember watching the 2013 Super Bowl with a room full of diehard Seattle Seahawks fans and, despite a 22-0 lead at the half, every single one of those fans fully believed that the Seahawks would cough up that lead in the second half and disappoint them in the most heart-rending manner possible. It wasn’t until the Seahawks returned the second-half kickoff for yet another touchdown to take a 29-0 lead that those fans accepted that maybe, just maybe, they might actually win.
If and when the time comes that the Canucks are once again one of the best teams in the NHL and are actual contenders for the Stanley Cup, it would be unfortunate for a fan to reach for that dormant belief and find that it no longer exists.
Maybe the right thing to do is portion out that belief. Allow yourself to believe in the Canucks for short periods of time, like morning stretches to stay flexible for when you might need that flexibility in the future. You never know when believing in the Canucks will become a full-time thing and you don’t want to forget how to do it.
Make it like the King of All Cosmos in Katamari Damacy: “We can believe in you for 25 minutes in Earth time.”
That’s it, that’s all. After a big win, take 25 minutes — or longer, if you’re in the right mood — to unreservedly believe that the Canucks are a great team, ignoring any doubts or uncertainty. Just dwell in the belief that the Canucks have turned things around and will soon storm up the standings to contend for the Stanley Cup.
Then, take a step back, take a deep breath, look at some fancy stats, and return to your former cynicism, perhaps with a slight bounce in your step, if nothing else.
I took a brief dip in believing in the Canucks after I watched this game.
- It feels like Bruce Boudreau has finally realized that his first line is whatever line Elias Pettersson is on, not the line that J.T. Miller is on. Pettersson and his wingers, Andrei Kuzmenko and Ilya Mikheyev, were once again used as a match-up line and excelled, combining for three of the Canucks’ four goals, albeit with one of them coming in overtime when Kuzmenko wasn’t on the ice with his regular linemates.
- Like harvesting beer-making yeast from wasp wings, the Canucks’ opening goal came from an unlikely source. A strong pinch down the boards by Tyler Myers kept the puck in the offensive zone, J.T. Miller kicked the puck out to Bo Horvat, and the Canucks captain set up a one-timer from the point for Kyle Burroughs. Kaapo Kahkonen probably should have stopped it but Kahkonen got off his angle as he came across and it was a well-placed shot, low and hard on the glove side.
- Thatcher Demko was back in net for the Canucks and he was quite good, making 32 saves on 35 shots. Two of the three goals that got past him came on flukey bounces that must have made Demko feel like this season is cursed, while the third was a backdoor play that was all but impossible to stop. Getting such a steady Demko start was nice to see because as good as the Spencer Martin ride has been this season, the Canucks won’t go far without Demko at the top of his game.
- The Sharks’ first goal was bizarre. Matt Benning sent a pass to Nick Bonino, who was left open by Sheldon Dries and Bonino deflected the puck toward the net. It hit Luke Kunin’s back, went high up in the air, and everyone lost sight of the puck as it absurdly parabola’d up over Demko and under the crossbar. Stupid law of gravity that imposes that what goes up must come down. As Of Montreal once said, “Physics makes us all its bitches.”
- The 2-1 goal was equally lucky. On the Sharks’ lone power play, Bo Horvat lost the faceoff — he was 16-for-24 during the game, so that was already unlucky — then Logan Couture’s one-timer went off Ethan Bear’s stick, then his leg for an absurd double-deflection past Demko. It’s hard to blame Demko for being unable to stop a puck that literally zig-zagged on its way to the net.
- “At that point, you’re just laughing a little bit,” said Demko. “Like, what are you supposed to do? I try to stop as many as I can — sometimes, you’re just not going to do it.”
- The Pettersson line quickly responded. Pettersson nearly banked a puck in from behind the goal line, then appeared to try to send a hard shot off Kahkonen’s pads as a pass. The puck didn’t make it to Kahkonen, instead banking off Kuzmenko’s skate out to Mikheyev, whose one-timer went five-hole. That’s the easiest assist of Kuzmenko’s career.
- Mikheyev put in a bit more effort for his assist a couple of minutes later. After a strong board battle by Kuzmenko, Mikheyev tried to drive to the middle and had the puck knocked off his stick. He didn’t give up, diving out to poke the puck back to Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who smartly sent the puck to Pettersson at the side of the net, who neatly tipped the puck back through his own legs to beat Kahkonen. Like the blade of a Japanese Yari, it was a deadly tip.
- The Canucks seemed exhausted late in the third period and the Sharks came in waves like it was mating season at the beach. With just over five minutes left, the Canucks were trapped in the defensive zone for a long shift and Bear couldn’t get the puck out of the zone when he had a chance. That led to Erik Karlsson jumping up the right side and finding Kunin open at the backdoor. Nils Höglander left Kunin to take his man at the point and Nils Åman never picked Kunin up, so nil Nilses took Kunin.
- It’s a shame that Bear had the Sharks’ second goal deflect in off him and had the turnover at the blue line on the third goal because he honestly had a great game. He was excellent on the breakout, regularly retrieving and transitioning the puck up quickly, resulting in the Canucks out-attempting the Sharks 16-to-11 and out-shooting them 9-to-4 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5, best among Canucks defencemen.
- The Canucks can thank Timo Meier for the overtime gamewinner. The Sharks’ leading scorer, at least among their forwards, had a chance to drive to the net off the rush but instead pulled up and gave the puck away. Shortly after, Meier went for an ill-timed line change, removing himself from the passing lane up the middle, allowing Miller to send a stretch pass to Kuzmenko for a breakaway. Fortunately for Meier, he managed to get off the ice in time to avoid a minus-1 on his plus/minus, which is what really matters.
- Kuzmenko was clinical on his breakaway, keeping the puck in front of him with his stickhandling to keep Kahkonen guessing, then quickly cutting the puck to his forehand and firing a snap shot off the post and in. Unlike Saturday, when he scored two goals and didn’t even realize it on either one, Kuzmenko was fully aware he scored the gamewinner and gave us a one-knee-sliding, bow-and-arrow-firing, fist-pumping celebration.
- "He's a funny guy,” said Demko about Kuzmenko. “I always try to put myself in his shoes and if I was over there, I wouldn't be saying a word and this guy doesn't shut up. It's a good thing. It’s something that brings a smile to a guy’s face. Half the time, he leaves the room, we don't know what he said, but it still makes us laugh."