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I Watched This Game: Canucks come back from 4-0 first-period deficit in wild win over Canadiens

The Vancouver Canucks 7-6 win over the Montreal Canadiens was a lesson in absurdity.
The Vancouver Canucks came out on top in a bonkers game against the Montreal Canadiens, with the two teams combining for 13 goals. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

What do you even say after a game like that? What words could possibly sum up the utter goofy ridiculousness of a game where the Vancouver Canucks came back from a 4-0 deficit, somehow still coughed up a third-period lead, and yet won the game anyway?

This game was absurd in every sense of the word, including the philosophical. The Canucks and Montreal Canadiens took turns rolling a rock up a mountain like Sisyphus, only for it to come tumbling back down the hill, mocking their effort. 

Albert Camus concludes in The Myth of Sisyphus that “one must imagine Sisyphus happy.” Sure enough, when Elias Pettersson won the game in overtime, kicking the extra point on the Canucks’ touchdown of the 7-6 victory, he and his teammates erupted in jubilation with the biggest celebration of the season, exultant that the rock had stayed steady at the top of the mountain for one glorious moment.

Sure, it could come crashing down soon but contentment can be found in accepting the absurdity and enjoying the moment. Really, that’s sports fandom — particularly Canucks fandom — in a nutshell. Fans want to find meaning in following a group of strangers playing a game. How absurd! 

And it’s absurd to keep cheering for this team despite decades of failure and disappointment, the stand-in for the cold, hard universe that faces humankind’s search for meaning in Absurdism.

But there’s something enjoyable about that absurdity, especially when, unlike Sisyphus, the absurdity doesn’t have to be faced alone. Instead, it can be embraced, experienced, and enjoyed with other likeminded souls.

After all, humankind is not alone in their search for meaning, and Canucks fans are not alone in their adoration for a team that keeps rolling rocks partway up the mountain and chasing them back down to the bottom.

I imagined myself happy when I watched this game.

  • This game was a hot mess. But as any fan of reality TV will tell you, a hot mess can be wildly entertaining.
  • The Canucks started this game really, really well. They were all over the Canadiens in the opening minutes, peppering Sam Montembeault with shots and forcing multiple Grade-A saves. Shots were 9-to-1 for the Canucks after six minutes. They just couldn’t get the puck to cross the line, probably because the puck is woke now and doesn’t want to offend anyone. 
  • Like a truck stop diner’s signature burger, the game fell apart in a hurry. It started with a defensive zone turnover by Sheldon Dries, who fired a breakout pass into Conor Garland’s skates. Jordan Harris picked up the loose puck and fed Cole Caufield for a one-timer past a sliding Spencer Martin. 
  • Shortly after, Luke Schenn absolutely leveled Juraj Slafkovsky with what appeared to be a legal hit. The hit was so devastatingly huge that the referee assumed that it had to be a penalty of some kind, spun the wheel in his head, and landed on interference.
  • The Canadiens made it 2-0 after J.T. Miller turned over the puck with his go-to blind backhand pass to the point at the end of a power play, which opposing penalty kills appear to be anticipating pretty easily at this point. Elias Pettersson swept the puck back into the offensive zone but Kaiden Ghule hit Nick Suzuki with a stretch pass and the Canadiens captain sent a hard shot on goal that Martin got a piece of with his glove but, like Bob Barker, he didn’t want a piece; he wanted the whole thing.
  • The Canucks played the back half of the first period like they had taken a 3-0 lead in the first half. They were hapless on the penalty kill with five minutes left in the period, with penalty killers Curtis Lazar, Nils Åman, Riley Stillman, and Tyler Myers completely exhausted. As the penalty ended and Brock Boeser tried to get back into the play, Myers missed his rotation to cover the man in front, Sean Monahan, and he was gifted a tap-in goal from Suzuki.
  • A minute later, it was 4-0. As the Canadiens attacked in transition, Myers overplayed the puck-carrier and got caught out of position. Myers rushed back into the play and was able to get his stick on a centring pass, but that just left the puck loose in front of Martin and Michael Pezzetta swatted it in. 
  • It could have been worse. Caufield whiffed on a one-timer with a completely open net at one point, while Kurby Dach hit the post on another open net. The Canucks seemed like supporters of extreme net neutrality with how open they were leaving the net.
  • The fourth goal knocked Martin out of the net and it seemed like he would surely get his second regulation loss as a Canuck. After all, there was no way the Canadiens could cough up a 4-0 first period lead. Now comes the part where we throw our heads back and laugh.  
  • Delia was a bit squirrelly when he came into the game. Literally squirrelly, as in he was moving about his crease like a hyperactive squirrel. The most nerve-wracking moment was when he turned the puck over behind the net and had to scramble back to the net, spinning like your little brother mashing the low kick button with Ryu in Street Fighter II.  
  • “Not a great pass on my part, so just had to get back as fast as I could,” said Delia. “It's not always pretty, but I was talking to [referee] Wes McCauley and he said, 'Did the puck go over the line?' I said, 'No.' And he said, 'It doesn't matter how you get it done.'”
  • Garland got the Canucks on the comeback trail in the second period. He picked off a Harris pass in the neutral zone and fed it ahead to Andrei Kuzmenko, who spun the puck off the boards back to Garland in the middle. With Arber Xhekaj slipping and falling, Garland had enough time to perform Final Fantasy VII’s Knights of the Round summon before calmly deking to the backhand to finish off the scoring chance like he had just finished off Sephiroth. 
  • Kuzmenko was with Garland and Dries on the third line because Boeser joined Elias Pettersson and Ilya Mikheyev on the top line after finding success there in the third period on Saturday. The move rejuvenated both lines like a Chug Splash and they were the Canucks’ best two lines against the Canadiens.
  • “Boeser was skating. You could tell the difference in his skating the last two games, I think — I can, anyway — and he’s completing that line,” said Bruce Boudreau. “Kuzmenko, on the other line, now he’s playing against the third set of D and I think it’s making him better. I mean, that’s maybe short-term, we don’t know, but for the last two games it’s been like that.”
  • Boeser used his skating on the forecheck to steal the puck from Montembeault and start a dominant offensive zone shift for his line. He and Pettersson were cycling the puck like the Sedins, while Ilya Mikheyev was darting in front of the net like Alex Burrows. One of those darts came at just the right time and Pettersson found Mikheyev from behind the net for the heavily-accented finish to make it 4-2.
  • “I honestly believe the whole time — I was pretty convicted,” said Delia about his belief that the Canucks would come back. “We had the belief the whole time.”
  • That belief paid off in the third period as they got three goals in the first ten minutes. They erased a multi-goal deficit like they were playing against the Canucks.
  • Riley Stillman kept the puck in at the line and flung the puck vaguely netward and Nils Höglander tipped it a little more directly netward, where it hit Bo Horvat in the skate. As is his wont, Horvat quickly moved it actually into the net for his 20th goal of the season. 20 goals in 26 games. Who saw this coming? Certainly not Canucks management, who didn’t prioritize re-signing him in the offseason.
  • Here’s another thing no one saw coming: a two-point game from Riley Stillman. He once again kept the puck in at the blue line, then moved it down to Elias Pettersson, who sent a superb pass through the legs of Harris to Mikheyev at the back door. Mikheyev went down on one knee to propose a goal to the net and the net said yes.
  • The Canucks took their first lead of the game thanks to Jack Studnicka. Well, mainly thanks to Montembeault, who turned the puck over to Studnicka, then didn’t learn from Delia’s spin kick masterclass at the other end of the ice and couldn’t get back to the net in time to keep Studnicka from ripping the puck upstairs.
  • The lead didn’t last. Off a faceoff that Boudreau passionately believed should have been in the neutral zone, Evgenii Dadonov drove to the slot and sent a backhand on net and Delia gave up a juicy rebound. Christian Dvorak was completely unmarked to put in the rebound, possibly because the Canucks were expecting QWERTY and could only stare in confusion when it was Dvorak instead.  
  • Shortly after, Quinn Hughes got his first goal of the season. Unfortunately, it was into his own net. He got caught being over-aggressive in the neutral zone, giving up a 2-on-1. Delia made the first save but again gave up a big rebound that went off Hughes’ skate and tumbled over Delia into the net to give the Canadiens the 6-5 lead.
  • “Felt terrible obviously,” said Hughes. “Like, 6-5 and we and we came back all that way. So, definitely very relieved when we scored on the power play.”
  • Spoilers, Quinn! The Canucks got a power play with 1:32 to go and pulled Delia for the extra attacker, going with five forwards and one defenceman, as has been their typical tactic with an empty net, even when not on the power play. The Canucks planted both Brock Boeser and Andrei Kuzmenko at the front of the net and it worked immediately. Just seven seconds into the power play, Miller fired a pass to Kuzmenko at the backdoor while Boeser screened Montembeault, giving Kuzmenko the tip-in goal to tie the game 6-6.
  • Overtime lasted just 12 seconds. Mike Matheson, who infamously choke-slammed Pettersson in his rookie year, slipped and fell in his own zone. It initially looked like Pettersson tripped Matheson but it was a good non-call, as Matheson had already lost his edge and was falling when Pettersson tapped him in his pants.
  • “I was thinking maybe they would call it,” said Pettersson. “I didn’t touch his skates, so I was just playing, hoping they wouldn’t call it. It wasn’t anything.”
  • Pettersson looked like he might drive across the front of the net or pass it to Horvat at the backdoor. That caused Montembeault to start to push across, opening up his five-hole and Pettersson tucked the puck home for his third point of the game and the 7-6 win, kicking off a joyous celebration on the ice. 
  • “I’ll tell you right now, that was not fun — it got fun in the third but it’s very high stress,” said Miller. “You never want to be in a 7-6 game and that kind of sucks but the way we got back in it was awesome.”
  • “I think it’ll be a game you remember for a while,” said Boudreau. “Coaches would rather win 3-to-1 but…a win is a win.”
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