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I Watched This Game: Canucks give up 3-0 lead to Predators, lose in the shootout

The Vancouver Canucks fired 45 shots on goal but still coughed up a 3-0 lead to the Nashville Predators.
The Vancouver Canucks ended their homestand on a sour note, losing 4-3 in the shootout after taking a 3-0 lead. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

Four teams this season have come back from a 3-0 deficit to win the game. Two teams have done it against the Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks’ first game of the season against the Edmonton Oilers was an early sign of their fragility and made it immediately clear that no lead is safe for the Canucks. Saturday’s game against the Nashville Predators was more of the same — a 3-0 lead that quickly disappeared and turned into the Canucks’ ninth loss in 12 games.

In fact, it was more of the same in multiple ways. In both games, member of Elias Pettersson’s line opened the scoring less than two minutes into the game. Less than two minutes later, J.T. Miller extended the lead to 2-0. Later on, Andrei Kuzmenko made it 3-0 on the power play.

It seemed like the same script, but the game fell apart in different ways. In Edmonton, the Canucks lost because they fell apart defensively. On Saturday, the Canucks lost because they couldn’t extend the lead despite massively out-shooting the Predators.

Shots on goal were 45-to-30 for the Canucks and they repeatedly created great chances but they couldn’t get that elusive fourth goal.

“We were so good in the first period and then we had a couple of breakaways and we had a couple of ten-bell chances,” said Bruce Boudreau. “We had to get that next one to offset their goal early in the second period — I think that would have put them on their heels but when we didn’t, they thought they had a chance.”

Of course, the Canucks shouldn’t need four-goal leads to win games — not with Thatcher Demko in net. But Demko hasn’t been playing like his usual dominant self this season, even if it hasn’t entirely been his fault.  

Demko has made one-goal leads seem as safe as houses in the past. Now, no lead is safe.

It’s not all on Demko, of course. After dominating the opening 40 minutes, the team as a whole was too passive in the third period and allowed the Predators to dictate the final frame. 

“We sat back instead of [going] after them,” said Boudreau. “Next thing you know, they’ve got two goals.”

That’s all the Predators needed — they were well aware of how vulnerable the Canucks have been this season.

“As soon as we scored that first goal, I felt like we had a mental advantage on them,” said Predators defenceman Mattias Ekholm. “They seemed to be on their heels a little bit. They were just flipping pucks out and we kept coming at them and got another goal and after that, I thought we pressured for a fourth and it didn't come until in the shootout.”

Heck, I felt like I had a mental advantage on the Canucks when I watched this game.

  • The game started off so well. Quinn Hughes let a puck slip under his skate to escape the offensive zone but a quick regroup from Luke Schenn sent Hughes back into the zone as the Predators were on a line change. A quick backhand pass sent Ilya “Mix Master” Mikheyev in on the left wing and he fired a dart over the pad and under the glove, cuz nobody can do it like Mix Master can.  
  • Shortly after, defenceman Jordan Gross coughed up the puck to Bo Horvat’s forecheck. Horvat swung the puck to Nils Höglander, who sent a low shot to Juuse Saros’s pads, forcing him to kick a rebound into the slot, where J.T. Miller was lying in wait to pop it back in like a fidget toy.
  • The Canucks dominated the opening period despite giving up three power plays. Matt Duchene had a golden opportunity on the power play but Ethan Bear slid across to make the block and send the puck flying over the open net. Bear played over 21 minutes and was the second defenceman over the boards in overtime after Hughes, which is a sign of how quickly he’s earned the trust of the coaching staff.
  • J.T. Miller had two clearcut breakaways and another partial breakaway — not to mention a shootout attempt — but couldn’t solve Saros. Well, couldn’t solve him a second time after his rebound goal. If only he had someone with him on his breakaways to shoot first and create a rebound. Alas.
  • “That guy had my number, that’s for sure,” said Miller. “I could have broke the game open multiple times and didn’t, so I’ve got to find a way to bear down on my chances…I tried shooting both sides.”
  • Andrei Kuzmenko, fresh off his hat trick, gave the Canucks the 3-0 lead on the power play, by setting up shop in front of the net and presenting his stick for a hard Miller pass. That’s really all there was to it because Predators defenceman Jeremy Lauzon was playing tight to Horvat in the bumper, leaving the down-low passing lane wide open. Kuzmenko just had to tap it in. Give it a little tappy — tap-tap-taparoo.
  • “It’s the threats all over the ice,” said Miller. “That’s what opens it up. Typically, we understand as a unit — in the past even with Brock [Boeser] there — all the lefty threats make that guy open…It’s when people are cheating to Bo and Petey and I can play a little lower.”
  • The Predators got one back in the second period after Tyler Myers got an instigator penalty for fighting Tanner Jeannot after he blew up Bear behind the Canucks net with a big hit. Asked if he was surprised that Myers got an instigator penalty, Boudreau replied, “No. He instigated.”
  • On the power play, Nino Niederreiter fired the puck towards the net and a Gross tip sent it up over Demko’s glove. It was a disgusting tip, really, the type that makes you wonder who Jordan Gross is and why a defenceman was in front of the net on the power play in the first place and how was that his first career NHL goal when he’s 27 years old.
  • Gross got his second career goal early in the third period with a wrist shot through traffic that found the top corner. It was tough for Demko to pick up the puck past the four bodies that were lined up between him and Gross — he would have had an easier time if the shot had come from Gross point blank.
  • The tying goal came off some atrocious defending by Riley Stillman. Ekholm went for a skate behind the Canucks net and Conor Garland was keeping pace with him. For some reason, Stillman decided to try to check Ekholm, leaving Nino Niederreiter wide open behind him to get two shots from in tight, tucking the second under Demko’s pad. 
  • Demko lifted up his right pad on the goal, allowing the puck to go underneath. “I was trying to push back over to seal that shortside post,” said Demko. “He was just jamming away and I’ve got to seal the net there.” It was tougher than Demko might’ve thought: Niederreiter had the puck near the shortside post but then kicked it up to his stick to go inside the far post. 
  • A few minutes later, Stillman made another questionable play: with the Predators on a delayed offside, Stillman inexplicably hammered the puck around the boards as if he was under tremendous forechecking pressure. The puck went the length of the ice for an icing and Stillman was subsequently benched for the rest of the game.
  • “Unfortunately, we all have games like that and his was tonight,” said Boudreau diplomatically.
  • In a game where the Canucks out-shot the Predators 33-to-22 at 5-on-5, the Canucks were out-shot 7-to-3 when Stillman was on the ice at 5-on-5, the worst ratio on the team. Don’t be surprised if his benching turns into a scratching.
  • Elias Pettersson remains a delight even as the Canucks struggle. With five minutes left, he somehow took a deflected pass from Ilya Mikheyev that vaulted high in the air and turned it into a shot on goal by juggling the puck up in the air with one hand on his stik, then backhanding it on net out of mid-air. If there was any justice in the world, that puck would’ve bounced between Saros’s legs.
  • Overtime solved nothing, so the game went to the shootout where Pettersson lost the handle last second on an otherwise perfectly-executed Forsberg move and Miller was stymied while trying to go five-hole. Matt Duchene gave the Predators the advantage with his own five-hole finish, leaving it up to Horvat to try to tie the game.
  • Unfortunately, Horvat left the puck behind at the hashmarks as he skated in. Call it bad ice, call it a metaphor for the entire Canucks season so far, but you have to admit, the Canucks are coming up with new ways to lose games.
  • “That one stings a lot,” said Horvat, who had to be on After Hours on CBC immediately after that embarrassing moment. “I’ve done that route and that move a lot of times and the puck just bounced on me. It is what it is.”
  • “It’s creeping into our game a lot this year,” said Horvat when asked by John Garrett why the team seemed afraid to lose. “We dominated, I thought, 50 minutes of that hockey game…it’s just those little lulls.”