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I Watched This Game: Canucks end sour road trip with sweet win over Hurricanes

“I heard I scored right after he passed, so that’s pretty powerful," said Ethan Bear of Gino Odjick. "It was meant to be, maybe he was there for me on that shot.”
Brock Boeser scored a last-minute goal to get the Vancouver Canucks to overtime against the Carolina Hurricanes, eventually winning in the shootout. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

The Carolina Hurricanes are one of the best teams in the NHL, with the second-best record behind only the Boston Bruins.

So, naturally, the only team the Vancouver Canucks beat on their five-game road trip was the Hurricanes.

Perhaps the Hurricanes are exactly the type of “good team” that the Canucks match up well against. They’re a relatively low-scoring team as top teams go, landing 18th in the NHL in goals per game without a single player in the top-50 in NHL scoring. That makes them a little bit easier for the Canucks’ porous defence to deal with.

How the Hurricanes succeed is with their relentless puck pressure and highly-detailed and smothering systems play, allowing the fewest shots on goal in the NHL. But the Canucks have a few stars that can break through those systems and score, with a top-ten offence despite being near the bottom of the NHL standings.

The last time the Canucks faced the Hurricanes was at the tail-end of their seven-game losing streak to start the season. The 3-2 score in that game didn’t accurately reflect how much the Hurricanes dominated possession but the Canucks didn’t have Quinn Hughes for that game and had yet to trade for Ethan Bear — he was still a healthy scratch for the Hurricanes that night. That left the Canucks defence helpless against the Hurricanes’ forecheck.

It’s amazing what a couple of defencemen who don’t treat the puck like a grenade will do.

Bear was particularly effective on Sunday night in Raleigh while facing his former team. It was clearly a big game for him and he was one of the Canucks’ best players, with the Canucks out-shooting the Hurricanes 9-to-5 and out-chancing them 6-to-3 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5.

More importantly, he scored the Canucks’ first goal, starting the Canucks on the comeback trail after falling behind 2-0 in the first period. 

“It was an emotional game for me,” said Bear. “I had a lot to prove tonight. To score tonight, it felt great, on top of the win — they’re a really good team over there and they do everything right. It just shows that we can do it too.”

His goal took on added meaning for Bear when he found out that Gino Odjick, one of the most well-known indigenous players in NHL history, had passed away. Odjick had taken the time to talk to Bear when he came to Vancouver as a healthy scratch with the Hurricanes.

“He said he was rooting for me to come here,” said Bear. “I heard I scored right after he passed, so that’s pretty powerful. It was meant to be, maybe he was there for me on that shot.”

Odjick may have played his last NHL game when Bear was just four years old but he still had a major influence on the young defenceman.

“Everybody knew who Gino Odjick was growing up,” said Bear. “He was definitely one of the first indigenous players to make a trail for the rest of us. Whenever you lose a legend like that and someone who’s a big influence in the native community, it’s tough.”

Bear talked about how Odjick would message him, whether he was “playing well” or “needed to step it up,” providing invaluable advice, saying, “I’m definitely going to miss him.”

We all will.

I watched this game.

  • The game started poorly for the Canucks, as a Jack Studnicka turnover quickly turned into the game’s opening goal. It was a disastrous shift for Studnicka, as he also botched his defensive coverage, leaving a wide-open passing lane for Andrei Svechnikov. Paul Stastny was the recipient of that pass, left wide open when Sheldon Dries inexplicably just skated away from him. Regarding Dries play on the goal, I can only quote Cecily Strong: “It’s an outrage. It’s a tragesty. It’s like, what are we even doing, and, like, why, and, like, don’t.”
  • The Canucks nearly escaped the first period only down by one until a dreadful turnover in the final minute gave the Hurricanes one last chance. Like Batman fighting Superman, miscommunication was to blame: J.T. Miller thought Bo Horvat would be waiting for his soft pass, Horvat assumed Miller would make a more forceful clear and blew the zone early in hopes of chasing the puck down, and Superman should have just explained to Batman that Lex Luthor had kidnapped Martha Kent. Instead, Jaccob Slavin jumped on the loose puck and gave it to Jordan Martinook, who fired a shot bar down after his initial backhand attempt was blocked, and Batman nearly killed Superman. Communication, folks; it matters.
  • Studnicka made up for his gaffe on the opening goal with a strong forecheck on the Canucks’ first goal. He caught Brett Pesce off guard with his speed and got the puck free for Andrei Kuzmenko, who spotted Bear sneaking up the right side. Bear hugged the inside post with his shot, sneaking it by Pyotr Kochetkov on the short side.
  • “I just jumped up in the rush and Kuzy made a nice pass to me,” said Bear. “I just remember I got that chance earlier in the second and I tried going far side, so I figured I’d go short side this time and it went in.”
  • One of the most bizarre aspects of the game was that Bo Horvat got dominated in the faceoff circle. Horvat is one of the top faceoff men in the league but he won just 7 of 24 faceoffs in this game and won just 4 of 16 faceoffs against Jesperi Kotkaniemi. It was legitimately alarming, like dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.  
  • Collin Delia came up with a massive save when Kotkaniemi got in the clear behind Oliver Ekman-Larsson and J.T. Miller for a breakaway. Kotkaniemi went between his own legs for the fancy finish, but Delia got his blocker up to stop him like he was Chris Christie being asked an off-topic question: "You have been stopped."  
  • The play was definitely offside anyway, but still, nice save.
  • The Canucks tied the game with a nice pass by Hughes and some hustle from Miller. Hughes hit Miller in stride in the neutral zone and Miller gained the Hurricanes' zone and rifled a shot off the post. Before anyone else even reacted, Miller jumped on the rebound and poked it like he was on Facebook in 2007, tying the game 2-2. 
  • With three minutes left, the Hurricanes seemingly put the game away when Sebastian Aho got behind a flatfooted Luke Schenn for a breakaway and snapped a quick shot past Delia to make it 3-2. It was just a dreadful route by Schenn, who looped high in the neutral zone and allowed Aho to blow right past him like he was a self-driving Tesla coming to a sudden stop.
  • In the last two games, Kuzmenko has been on the bench in the final minute when the Canucks needed a tying goal, with Curtis Lazar and Lane Pederson on the ice instead, with both of them failing to convert on chances. Like Scientology’s underlying system of beliefs, it was really weird and made no sense. Fortunately, Bruce Boudreau smartened up and had Kuzmenko on the ice for the final minute with the Canucks down 3-2.
  • That proved crucial, as Kuzmenko got the puck down low from Hughes and swung a pass out to Horvat for a great chance. He was stopped by Kochetkov but Brock Boeser, after circling around the net with Brent Burns in tow, popped in the rebound with 17 seconds remaining to tie the game 3-3. Why was Burns chasing Boeser behind the net? Allow me to let you in on a secret: he’s never actually been all that good at defence.
  • Kochetkov and Delia kept the game knotted at three through overtime with some stellar saves, so this game went to a shootout. The Hurricanes probably should have wrapped things up there, but both Burns and Teuvo Teravainen hit the crossbar on their opportunities. Svechnikov avoided the crossbar and scored, Kuzmenko was clinical with quick hands and a snap shot, while Miller was stopped on his usual wide-skating move, leaving it to Elias Pettersson to wrap things up.
  • Pettersson’s move was a thing of beauty, a perfectly-executed Forsberg deke that left Kochetkov helplessly watching Pettersson tuck the puck in past his pad with one hand on the stick. It was the smoothest move since WarioWare for the Nintendo Wii.