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I Watched This Game: Gonzo third period sees Canucks cough up another multi-goal lead to Vegas

“It’s inexcusable. It’s nothing to do with systems or what the coaches are telling us. It comes down to battle and compete."
The Vancouver Canucks couldn't hold the lead in a wild third period against the Vegas Golden Knights. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

The Vancouver Canucks are like a group of friends posing for a photograph — they smile pleasantly for the first two photos and then someone says, “Okay, now let’s do a silly one,” and they scrunch up their faces, stick out their tongues, and contort their bodies into ridiculous poses.

And then they fall off the cliff that was behind them this whole time that I didn’t tell you about.

That’s the Canucks in the third period — after two normal, logical periods of play, they do a silly one and everything goes to hell in several handbaskets. 

The Canucks didn’t look all that bad against the Vegas Golden Knights in the first two periods. Sure, they needed Thatcher Demko to play like he was back in the bubble, but that seemed to be easy given the opponent. It was a one-goal game after forty minutes and the Canucks were right there with the Golden Knights.

Then the third period went wild, like a pitch thrown by Ricky Vaughn, and it was just as detrimental to the team’s chances of winning the game. Not only did the two teams combine for six goals in third period, it also featured one of the goofiest disallowed goals you’ll ever see. 

It was bonkers, madcap, zany, and all sorts of other synonyms. It was also depressing, because it resulted in yet another blown multi-goal lead for the Canucks.

The first three goals in the third period were all scored by the Canucks, turning a one-goal deficit into a two-goal lead. But just as quickly as they gained that lead, it started slipping away. 

“I just find we get too complacent,” said Canucks captain Bo Horvat. “I feel like a broken record. It’s something we should’ve learned by now — how to hold leads in those kinds of situations that we’ve been in a lot of times this year. We should know how to handle it by now.”

“It’s inexcusable,” said Luke Schenn bluntly. “It’s nothing to do with systems or what the coaches are telling us. It comes down to battle and compete. We’re getting out-muscled and out-battled in front of the net and in the blue paint.”

The Canucks sagged back defensively, allowing the Golden Knights to gain the blue line with massive gaps, then giving them all kinds of space around the outside that gave them all kinds of time with the puck. 

Here’s the thing: despite giving them space on the outside, the Canucks also completely failed to defend the middle of the ice. They let the Golden Knights stomp all over them in every area of the ice, which obviously wasn’t the gameplan.

“We talk about playing forward and playing aggressive and going at them and not backing in and getting it deep and forechecking and doing all of the things that got us to where we got the lead,” said Boudreau. “But it’s a game of hockey and they want to win too. So, they come out and they throw four guys at you and if they’re a little quicker, they get to the puck a little faster and that’s when bad things happen.”

For the Canucks, bad things have been happening far more frequently than good things. They’re 29th in the NHL with a 6-10-3 record, even as they have a forward second in the league in goalscoring, another just outside the top ten in points, and a defenceman who is second in points per game among NHL defencemen.

“Scoring goals isn’t our issue,” said Schenn. “It’s keeping them out of the net and giving up leads and finding different ways to lose.”

“We’re in most games, if not leading in a lot of the games,” he added. “It all comes down to defending. We have more than enough goals to win games — it comes down to competing, winning battles in the corner, being strong in front of the net, being assertive in the D-zone, and not letting guys get inside. Sometimes, it’s just way too easy and that’s why you lose games.

I watched this game.

  • The Canucks seemingly opened the scoring towards the end of an uneventful first period thanks to some dogged determination by Dakota Joshua on the forecheck. He won several puck battles along the boards, then went behind the net and sent a pass against the grain to Curtis Lazar, who stuffed the puck past Logan Thompson. Like Much Ado About Chutney, it was a jam play.
  • Alas, poor Yorick — a quote from Jamlet, a completely different jam play — the goal didn’t count. 33 seconds earlier, Nils Åman tried to keep the puck in at the blue line but brought it back in offside, so the goal was disallowed. Those 33 seconds of Joshua’s brilliant forechecking were erased like they never happened.
  • Add those 33 seconds to the 15 seconds of disappeared time from another disallowed goal in the third period and this game didn’t actually last 60 minutes. In a tribute to the World Cup, there was a full 48 seconds of added time. 
  • The Canucks opened the scoring for real in the second period. Quinn Hughes was wheeling and dealing at the top of the zone and spotted Brock Boeser coming off the bench. Reilly Smith gambled on picking off the pass but missed and Boeser deked right past Zach Whitecloud, who left Andrei Kuzmenko alone in front. Boeser thought Kuzmenko looked lonely and sent him the puck to keep him company but Kuzmenko deflected it into the net instead.
  • The Golden Knights responded with two goals in one minute, both scored in similar ways — Jack Eichel took a shot from near the point and first Mark Stone tipped the puck in, then Will Carrier. It was a combination of problems: too much space for Eichel at the top of the zone and an inability to box out and tie up sticks in front of the net.
  • Bo Horvat tied up the game early in the third period thanks to a brutal defensive play by Chandler Stephenson, who was covering for his defenceman. The Canucks regrouped in the neutral zone thanks to a good stick by Boeser to steal the puck and a quick pass up by Riley Stillman, then J.T. Miller slipped a pass through to Bo Horvat, who was wide open because Stephenson got lost in the woods like Kristoff. Horvat snapped the puck in for his 15th goal of the season.
  • A few minutes later, Quinn Hughes showed off the fanciest feet since Gene Kelly with a brilliant spin at the blue line to escape Jonathan Marchessault, then saucered the pass over Smith’s stick to Schenn, whose hopeful wristshot deflected in off Nicolas Hague.
  • “They were pretty unbelievable little plays,” said Schenn. “He was dancing out there on the line tonight, then made a nice little saucer pass over the guy’s stick to me.”
  • Elias Pettersson, who was the Canucks’ best all-around player in this game, extended the lead 36 seconds later. Ilya “Mix Master” Mikheyev centred the puck to Pettersson and he rang the post before out-battling two Knights to chip in the rebound. William Karlsson literally tried to bear hug him but it didn’t matter — like Jerry Seinfeld when he met Kesha, Pettersson refused to be hugged. 
  • Less than a minute later, the Golden Knights responded. It was chaos in the Canucks’ zone and Demko made two saves, but then Carrier put back the rebound, while J.T. Miller, who had failed to get position on Carrier, cross-checked him from behind. 
  • The game continued to unravel for the Canucks, as three minutes later Smith made it 4-4. The goal came after a giveaway by Demko, as he tried to throw the puck up the middle, but the Canucks could have recovered. Instead, Mikheyev did a fly-by of the front of the Canucks net instead of taking Smith, making it all too easy for him to jam in the loose puck.
  • That’s when the bizarre no-goal call happened. Oliver Ekman-Larsson flung the puck around the boards and it took an odd bounce and a second black circle when skittering across the ice. For a moment, I thought the puck had broken in half, but it was a piece of a camera lens — the puck had hit a camera poking through the camera hole in the corner. The Golden Knights took advantage of the confusion to seemingly score the go-ahead goal.
  • The Canucks challenged the goal and after a long review, it was overturned. Referee Corey Syvret announced, “It was determined the puck hit the camera in the hole. The whistle shoulda went. Therefore, we have no goal.” I like the official ruling there — The whistle shoulda went but it didna, so there isna goal."
  • “You can’t have an instrument that’s out of play and then hit it and come back into play,” said Boudreau. “To me, it was an easy challenge…Once I found out it was a piece of the camera — I didn’t know what it was but I knew it was something.”
  • The stroke of bizarre luck gave the Canucks a new lease on life but they immediately defaulted on their very first payment. Stillman realized too late that Mark Stone was his man, giving him too much room to find Alex Pietrangelo, who darted past Boeser to the front of the net to tuck the puck past Demko. 
  • The line of Miller, Horvat, and Boeser struggled in a match-up role with the Eichel line. Horvat and Boeser were on the ice for three goals against, while Miller was on the ice for four goals against and now leads all forwards in all-situations goals against — or trails all forwards, depending on how you sort the list. 
  • Pettersson literally did everything in this game. He was making fantastic defensive plays in front of the net, he was the team’s best penalty killer, and he even made a brilliant butterfly save late in the third period when the Canucks pulled Demko for the extra attacker. It was a legitimate save, with impeccable technique.
  • Reminder: we’ve seen Pettersson play in net before — he suited up as a goaltender for a video with On the Bench and showed that he has some solid skills. Turns out, he can do more than rob some goofballs on YouTube — he can rob Jonathan Marchessault as well.
  • Unfortunately, Pettersson’s efforts didn’t inspire a heroic comeback in the final minute. Kuzmenko did his best, getting the puck to the net for one last desperation jam play — The Canning of the Fruit — but to no avail.