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I Watched This Game: Canucks cling to one-goal lead against Sabres to end road trip with a win

It was a close call, but the Vancouver Canucks managed to avoid turning a multi-goal lead into a loss against the Buffalo Sabres.
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The Vancouver Canucks held on for a 5-4 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

Alex Burrows was once filling in as a colour commentator for the Vancouver Canucks while rehabbing an injury and, during the second intermission, was asked what the Canucks needed to do over the upcoming twenty minutes.

That’s when he once uttered the immortal line, “Win da turd,” with his heavy Quebecois accent. 

“Win da turd” became a rallying cry for Canucks fans as they cheered on the team in the coming years, particularly during the 2010-11 season when the Canucks were regularly doing exactly that — they out-scored their opponents by a ludicrous 100-to-58 margin in da turd…ahem, the third period, giving fans a tremendous amount of confidence in their ability to win any game, even if they were trailing.

The current Canucks badly need that advice. They’ve repeatedly given up multi-goal leads this season, with fans full of doubt and trepidation any time they take a lead. At this point, winning da turd seems out of reach — fans will settle for tying da turd or even only losing da turd by one goal.

That’s what they did on Tuesday night against the Buffalo Sabres. They may have been out-shot 15-to-5 in the third period but they were only out-scored 1-to-0 and that was enough to turn a two-goal lead into a one-goal win.

It certainly wasn’t pretty. The Canucks spent far too much time in their own end of the ice in the final frame and gave the Sabres far too many opportunities to pull level.

“It wasn’t that we stopped playing but we started watching and wanting to be too safe,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau. “You can’t do that. That’s how they got the third goal. The last thing you want them to say is, ‘Uh-oh, here we go again.’”

Fortunately for the Canucks, they didn’t go again — instead of coughing up the last remnants of the three-goal lead they once held, they clung to that one-goal remnant with all they had and it somehow lasted like the oil the Maccabees found after retaking the Temple in Jerusalem. Fortunately, the one-goal lead didn’t need to last eight nights, just eight minutes.

I still counted it as a miracle when I watched this game.

  • With Vasily Podkolzin and Jack Studnicka injured, Will Lockwood got called up from the AHL for his first game of the season and immediately made an impact. Literally. After he took a bad angle shot that hit the outside of the post, he impacted Ilya Lyubushkin with a stiff check, knocking him to the ice to win the puck back. He sent a pass behind the net to Nils Åman, and he sent a one-touch pass cross-crease to Dakota Joshua for the 1-0 goal, giving Lockwood his first NHL point.
     
  • “If I’m going to give kudos, I’ve got to give kudos to that Åman line, I thought they were really good,” said Boudreau. “Lockwood played really good for his first game of the year. Hopefully, he can continue doing that.”
     
  • A minute later, Ethan Bear extended the lead with his first goal as a Canuck. Perhaps inspired by the Sedins going into the Hockey Hall of Fame, it was another beautiful passing play. Conor Garland fought off a check down low to pass to Bo Horvat, who sent a Henrikian blind backhand pass to Bear in the high slot, who sniped past a J.T. Miller screen to make it 2-0.
     
  • The Sabres clawed one back before the end of the first period. Rasmus Dahlin got free of Nils Höglander far too easily, leaving him free to send a cross-seam pass to Jeff Skinner, who Brock Boeser didn’t pick up until it was too late.
     
  • Elias Pettersson restored the two-goal lead in the opening minute of the second period. The puck came to Oliver Ekman-Larsson at the point and he flung the puck towards the net, where Pettersson was cruising through. He made like Tony P in Mystery Men and gave the puck the shaft, knocking it down with the shaft of his stick past Craig Anderson. 
     
  • The Sabres stampeded back with a series of odd-man rushes, hitting the crossbar on two of them before cashing in on the third. Andrei Kuzmenko coughed up the puck in the offensive zone, then let himself be taken out of the play on the backcheck, giving the Sabres a 3-on-2. Ekman-Larsson got undressed by Tage Thompson, who then fed Skinner for his second goal of the game.
     
  • The Canucks were fortunate to get a couple of power plays after Skinner’s goal and they capitalized like Brasilia in 1960. Horvat won a faceoff cleanly and it went straight to Miller in the high slot, while the Sabres defenders did everything but go straight to Miller. Given eons alone, Miller easily sniped top corner over Anderson’s glove.
     
  • “Miller played 25 minutes,” said Boudreau, praising his game on the wing with Horvat. “For a forward, that’s probably the most I’ve ever played a forward in a non-overtime game in my memory.”
     
  • For the record, Miller played 26:20 in a game under Boudreau last season — a 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 12, 2022.
     
  • Horvat got the next power play goal, giving him 14 on the season. Spencer Martin played the puck up quickly to catch the Sabres penalty kill on the long change. Pettersson touched the puck to Boeser, who sent Horvat in alone on Anderson. Horvat cut to the forehand and drove it home like he had one headlight.
     
  • The three-goal lead only lasted a couple of minutes. Sheldon Dries broke his stick while defending, giving the Sabres an impromptu pseudo-power play. Owen Power took advantage of Dries’ sticklessness and went right at him, firing a shot that Alex Tuch tipped past Martin. 
     
  • Dries was unfortunately on the ice for all four Sabres goals in this game, though not really through any real fault of his own. It was just a brutal string of bad luck for His Dryness, which I have suddenly decided is his new nickname.
     
  • For a little while in the second period, Spencer Martin went back to his old chrome mask, one looked upon fondly by goalie gear aficionados. He moved away from the mask because he wanted something less flashy as an NHL backup. But he had to use the chrome mask while his new, less flashy, mask was in for repairs, likely after this shot off the non-chrome dome.
  • The Sabres’ lone third-period goal came just after a power play ended but before the penalized player, Boeser, could get back in the play. It was a broken play, as Dries and Joshua disrupted a play in the middle of the ice but Casey Mittelstadt jumped on the loose puck like Mario on a Galoomba and beat Martin top shelf.
     
  • The Canucks spent the rest of the third period hanging on for dear life. They iced the puck six times in the final seven minutes as they were stuck in the defensive zone so much. I haven’t seen Canucks ice that much since I watched the latest episode of The Great Canadian Baking Show.  
     
  • “I think we needed the icings because we were only using a few forwards out there and they needed a break, so it wasn’t a bad thing,” said Boudreau. “Anytime Bo’s on the ice, I feel you’ve got a good chance of winning the faceoff.”
     
  • Horvat was 17-for-26 in the faceoff circle and is currently 58.5% on faceoffs this season, leading the NHL with 414 total faceoffs. 
     
  • When asked if this was one “you absolutely had to have,” Boudreau laughed and said, “I did, yeah, for a couple reasons,” making reference to the rampant rumours that his job may be in jeopardy. “I mean, the team too. You just don’t want to go home on a losing note with the schedule that is up ahead of us. Hopefully, this gives us a little bit of confidence.”
     
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