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I Watched This Game: Canucks complete comeback over Rangers in overtime thriller

Canucks finally get their first home win of the season in massively entertaining fashion.
The Vancouver Canucks completed the comeback against the New York Rangers in overtime.

The Vancouver Canucks were down 2-0 after two periods and the Rogers Arena crowd was restless.

It’s not just that they were trailing by two goals heading into the third. It’s that the Canucks were already 0-and-3 on home ice to start the season. It’s that the Canucks hadn’t scored an even-strength goal for seven-straight periods. It’s that the Canucks had gone 0-for-5 on the power play so far after scoring no power play goals in their previous two games.

It seemed like the crowd was at a tipping point. 

Fortunately, the Canucks were able to tip the crowd back in their favour with a stunning one-two punch to kick off the third period, scoring two goals in the first five minutes. Then some stunning work by Thatcher Demko, particularly on the penalty kill, forced the game to overtime

“It was pretty quiet until we started scoring some goals, which is expected, I guess,” said J.T. Miller. “That 5-on-3 was pretty awesome. That was the loudest I’ve heard this place, by far. Obviously, Thatcher made some unbelievable saves.”

In overtime, Miller made sure the crowd went home happy with the game-winner, giving the Canucks three unanswered goals for the come-from-behind win.

“That was maybe the loudest I’ve heard Rogers,” said Thatcher Demko. “It’s a great atmosphere getting the fans back in here. Definitely helped us sustain that momentum when we got that first one.”

It was a major turning point — Miller even talked about how quiet the building was before the goals — but perhaps we should have seen it coming. The first two periods were immensely frustrating with the Canucks’ inability to score, particularly on the power play, and with the New York Rangers taking advantage of their power play opportunities to take the lead, but there were also some signs that things were turning in the Canucks’ direction.

The Canucks out-shot the Rangers 22-to-14 through the first two periods and it wasn’t just because they had five power plays. In fact, they were far more dominant at 5-on-5, out-shooting the Rangers 14-to-6 and out-attempting them 24-to-12. The Canucks were all over the Rangers,  which is a big reason why they drew those power plays in the first place.

It wasn’t just throwing the puck towards the net, either: they were creating quality chances but just couldn’t finish. Conor Garland hit the post on the power play; Jason Dickinson put one between Igor Shesterkin’s five-hole but it somehow stayed out; Tanner Pearson put a shot under Shesterkin’s arm but it hit the post; Miller knocked Shesterkin’s stick out of his hands with another chance; Shesterkin robbed Elias Pettersson on a 2-on-1; and Vasily Podkolzin had the puck slide off his stick as he was checked last second on a power move to the net.

The bounces just weren’t going their way. As Garland said, it’s tough to score goals sometimes, but at other times it’s all too easy.

“I’ve had plenty go off my foot, off my face, it’s just sometimes they go in in odd ways and we need that,” said Garland. 

In this game, they didn’t need those types of goals. They managed to get three good ones, with no odd bounces required. And maybe the rest of the game leading up to those three good ones is a sign that the puck is going to start bouncing the Canucks’ way soon.

I may have seen a turning point when I watched this game. 

  • A whole bunch of things have happened in Canucksland over the past couple of days that I haven’t been able to write about because I’ve been sick. It’s not COVID-19, thankfully, just an old-school cold, but it still knocked me sideways for a little while. 
  • So, to sum up what I missed while sick, Travis Hamonic is back; he was, in fact, unvaccinated and still isn’t fully vaccinated; Jack Rathbone got sent down because he’s the only defencemen who is exempt from waivers; Bo Horvat had a strong statement about the NHLPA in the wake of the Kyle Beach report and interview; and the Canucks wore some fun costumes for Halloween, featuring Tyler Myers as Cruella de Vil and J.T. Miller as one of his dalmations, and Justin Dowling in a flawless Cousin Itt costume.
  • Back to the game at hand: an early highlight, from a purely “this entertained me” standpoint, was Miller taking a blatantly obvious tripping penalty on Artemi Panarin in the neutral zone and not even breaking stride as he went straight to the penalty box, opening and closing the door himself. He didn’t even change direction, just pivoted on his skates.
  • The Canucks’ power play struggles are concerning. By the end of the night, they were 0-for-6 and experimenting with multiple different looks, trying to find an answer. Part of the problem honestly seems to be Miller quarterbacking the play on the left half-wall. With his reluctance to shoot, predictable set of plays, and dangerous giveaways at the blue line, either Miller needs to change things up or the Canucks need to find a different look.
  • Like the first couple of periods as a whole, there were some positive signs suggesting a breakthrough might be on the way for the power play. The second unit was creating some decent chances and the first unit started to show more movement, such as Pettersson and Quinn Hughes swapping spots and Alex Chiasson going in motion from the net-front to break up the penalty killing box and provide another shooting option. If they can build from that and find some more looks to challenge opposing penalty kills, the power play could become dangerous again. 
  • It doesn’t help that the Rangers power play made it look so easy. Miller lost the puck on a shorthanded foray up the ice, leaving the Canucks out of formation as the Rangers countered. Mika Zibanejad snuck in behind Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Artemi Panarin found him with a superb pass, leaving Demko no chance.
  • The Rangers also got some of the best chances on Canucks power plays. After a Miller giveaway on a zone entry, Jacob Trouba and Chris Kreider attacked 2-on-1, forcing Demko to make a fantastic stop on the shorthanded shot. 
  • The Rangers’ second power play goal made it look even easier. Ryan Strome won a faceoff back, Adam Fox sent the puck across to Panarin, and he blasted a one-timer that tipped off Tucker Poolman’s stick and past Demko. That power play lasted just four seconds, which is longer than the average hug, but only just barely. So, most likely the Rangers celebratory hug after the goal lasted about the same length as their power play.
  • Pettersson had a glorious chance to score the first Canucks goal but Shesterkin utterly robbed him. Miller set him up on a 2-on-1 and Pettersson tried to tuck the puck under the bar, but Shesterkin just barely got his blocker on the puck, redirecting it off the crossbar. That kind of save ought to be illegal and Pettersson should be entitled to damages. With the way Shesterkin is playing this season, it might need to be a class-action lawsuit.
  • This was a much stronger game for Pettersson, who was effective defensively, limiting the Rangers to just three shot attempts when he was on the ice at 5-on-5, and effective offensively, setting up chances for the likes of Pearson and Garland with his passing and creating his own chances. Shot attempts were 11-to-3 at 5-on-5 with Pettersson and it really looks like he just needs one bounce to go his way for the floodgates to open.
  • Getting on a line with Garland seemed to help, as the two combined to set up the Canucks’ first goal. Pettersson spotted Garland open down low as the Canucks rotation around the zone discombobulated the Rangers’ defence. Miller cut to the net and Garland put the puck on his tape for the tap-in.
  • It was Garland again setting up the tying goal. It was an odd sequence for Podkolzin, who was tackled along the boards by Alexis Lafrenière away from the puck with no penalty call, but it backfired for the young Rangers first overall pick: when the two got back to their feet, Podkolzin had an inside lane to the net and Lafrenière was left behind. Garland fed him the puck and Podkolzin put goals in: he went to one knee to propose a goal and the puck said yes! It said yes!
  • The 2-2 score held up but only just. The Rangers got a 5-on-3 power play when Ekman-Larsson was forced to take a blatantly obvious hooking penalty on Filip Chytil as he drove to the net unopposed that in no way deserved the “Ref, you suck!” chants that ensued. That led to a wild and woolly adventure in the Canucks’ zone that might have been the turning point in the season.
  • After Nils Höglander got out of the box to make it a 5-on-4, a backdoor chance forced Tucker Poolman to block a shot with his hand, with Miller diving over Poolman in desperation,  accidentally knocking off Demko’s blocker in the process. With no blocker, Demko waved to get the ref’s attention, but they’re not required to blow the play dead in that situation: Demko was forced to play the rest of the situation blockerless.
  • Demko first made a pad-stacking kick save on Panarin, then ended up flat on his belly and scorpion-kicked his right leg up, just barely getting his skate on another Panarin shot to send the puck up over the net. It might be the save of the season.
  • “I saw that he was scrambling,” said J.T. Miller. “So, I was just playing goalie behind him, just in case. None of the pucks got to me, he’s pretty good.”
  • “I’m just glad that those pucks didn’t hit me and they hit him,” Miller added. “It felt like he didn’t have any of his gear on for a second, it’s a full scramble and panic...He was just laying on his stomach when he threw his leg up, that was nuts.”
  • Demko wasn’t done. Finally accepting that the refs saw his blockerless hand and weren’t going to blow the play dead, Demko tucked it behind his back like a baseball catcher and made one more save on a Panarin one-timer, proving that he could literally stop one of the best players in the NHL with one hand tied behind his back.
  • “I mean, I’ve been playing for a pretty long time — the net hasn’t moved,” said Demko about his scrambling saves.
  • Absolutely incredible. It doesn’t get any better than that. Of course, that entire sequence doesn’t need to happen if Tyler Myers had just cleared the puck when he had the chance instead of backhanding the puck directly into Ryan Strome. Maybe it was worth it to see that Demko save.
  • Miller wasn’t having his best game through the first two periods but you can’t complain about the end result. He had the first goal that sparked the comeback, then capped it off with the winner. Sometimes the whole “what have you done for me lately” thing really works out.
  • On the goal, Pettersson made a great defensive play, covering for Miller after he got beat by K’Andre “Also Named” Miller. That freed up the puck for Quinn Hughes, who sent Miller — the Canucks one — on a breakaway. Shesterkin made the save on Miller’s initial backhand but Miller found the puck behind the net and tucked it in with a backhand wraparound before Shesterkin could get back into his net.
  • “I made a pretty sour move and got lucky that it came back to me,” said Miller humbly. “Was trying to get it in there off of something and got lucky.”
  • Maybe the Canucks needed some luck after all.