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I Watched This Game: Canucks play well enough to win but don't

The Vancouver Canucks came short of eliminating the Nashville Predators in Game 5 of their first-round series in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Vancouver Canucks took on the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night at Rogers Arena in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Vancouver Canucks didn’t play well enough to win in Game 4 and they won.

The Canucks played well enough to win in Game 5 and they didn’t win.

That’s just the way it works in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Game 4 featured some of the ugliest Canucks hockey fans have seen all season but because of four glorious minutes at the very end, it will go down as an all-time classic game in Canucks history.

Game 5 was different. The Canucks came out flying in the first period, crashing in waves on the Nashville Predators to dominate possession and create chances. They faltered in the second but came out strong in the third period and finally gained the lead. 

For a team that has closed out so many one-goal leads all season, that should have been enough. The Canucks should have been able to lockdown the game and then counter-attack to extend the lead when the desperate Predators pushed for the tying goal. 

Instead, an undisciplined penalty and a controversial goal tied the game and the Predators found another goal to take the lead and ultimately the game.

“It just sucks,” said J.T. Miller. “We had a chance to close them out at home with a lead.”

Now the series will return to Nashville for Game 6, giving the Canucks another chance to win the series and move on to the second round.

“We've just got to win the next game. That's the only thing we need to focus on,” said Ian Cole. “Obviously, there were aspects that we need to fix. Let's fix them. Been saying almost the same thing all year long, right? Find what we did wrong. Figure out what to do better to fix it. Move forward, win the next game. That's it.”

When asked if it was frustrating to fall short when the team played so well, Cole dismissed the idea immediately. 

“I had a coach in the past that said, 'Frustration is a useless emotion.' There's nothing productive that comes from being frustrated,” said Cole. “It was a good game. It should have been good enough to capitalize on, it should have been good enough to win, and we didn't do that. That's on us. And ultimately, we've gotta figure out a way to win game six and whether we win in four games, in five games, in six games, in seven games, it doesn't matter. We just need to win the series.”

Ideally, the Canucks would have wrapped up this series on home ice and avoided the long travel back to Nashville. The veteran Cole had words of wisdom for that too:

“If that's where the next game is, go ****ing win.”

I watched this game.

  • Arturs Silovs got his second start of the playoffs after a solid performance in Game 4. He once again gave the Canucks a chance to win, stopping 20 of 22 shots. At this point, even if Casey DeSmith is fully healthy, it might be tough for Rick Tocchet to take Silovs out of the net. Then again, Tocchet is pretty spry for a 60-year-old — with the right leverage, he could probably pull it off.
  • Silovs has impressed with his mental fortitude as a rookie stepping into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and a big part of it is his positive attitude, even after a loss, and refusing to dwell on the pucks that got past him. “A lot of goalies think about the goals,” said Silovs. “I think you have to look at how you moved, how you made saves. So I think, otherwise, it was a good game and you just move forward.”
  • One of the most encouraging parts of this game was the play of Elias Pettersson, who saw the Canucks significantly out-chance the Predators when he was on the ice at 5-on-5. The trouble was that far too often, Ilya Mikheyev was the one pulling the trigger on those chances and he might be the only player on the Canucks more snakebitten than Pettersson.
  • “Yeah, I thought he was better tonight,” said Tocchet on Pettersson. “There were opportunities where he moved his feet, I think that helped him. He had that 2-on-1, he had a good shot on net — he moved his feet right from centre ice and that allowed him to get that chance.”
  • When a team dominates the first period without getting a goal, alarm bells always start ringing in my head. The NHL is too even a league for a team to dominate for a full 60 minutes — like a sub in a town with no BDSM scene, you have to take advantage of any domination you can get. Sure enough, the second period saw the ice tilt in the other direction as the desperate Predators pushed back.
  • “It seems like in the second we're trying for something that's not there,” said Tocchet. “We've just got to manage the game. This year, sometimes it bites us in the butt when we do that. Then you've got to bear down around the net. You know, I think we had a lot of shot attempts. We tried to hit the backdoor a lot and we're missing that a lot. You've got to either reposition yourself or you've got to just shoot the puck on the net and then hopefully there's a rebound. Keep the pucks low too. I think we're shooting the pucks too high into Saros's glove.”
  • It didn’t help that the Canucks’ power play came up drier than Eli Sunday’s oil fields. Not only did they not come up with a goal on their two power plays, they didn’t even come up with a shot. The only scoring chance on the Canucks power play was when Kiefer Sherwood hit the post on a shorthanded 2-on-1 for the Predators.
  • “Our power play was awful,” said Miller. “We need to take a look in the mirror as a group here. It can't just be every other game we decide to play well. We could have been a factor in the game. We weren't.”
  • At least the penalty kill was excellent, holding the Predators power play as shotless as the Canucks’ — at least, until the Predators scored but we’ll get to that. For now, hold the Canucks’ penalty kill close to your heart, like a precious baby bird.
  • The second period ended absurdly, as time seemed to expire as the puck was chipped out of play, but the Predators argued that there was still a fraction of a second remaining on the clock. The Canucks all left the ice and headed to the dressing room, with only J.T. Miller remaining to discuss things with the officials. They put 0.6 seconds back on the clock and Miller went to take the defensive zone faceoff all by himself against a full Predators side, like his own one-man show of 300. Eventually, enough Canucks filtered back onto the ice for the linesman to drop the puck and the horn to sound and it all felt like a grand waste of time for everyone involved, much like the overused slow-motion in 300.
  • After the Canucks’ top forward lines had created two more fantastic chances for Ilya Mikheyev and Pius Suter to squander, Nikita Zadorov took it on himself to open the scoring. He dashed up the left wing and used his eyes to convince Juuse Saros he was planning to pass — the kind of acting with eyes that classically-trained actors spend years striving for. Saros bought it and cheated off his post, allowing Zadorov to send a superb shot over Saros’s shoulder on the short side. It was a brilliant individual effort.
  • Not long after, Dakota Joshua was called for boarding. It was a penalty that seemed blatant from an outside perspective, but Zadorov suggested there was more going on with the context of the whole series. He was careful with his words but still made his displeasure known with the officiating.
  • “It’s the NHL playoffs — every person on the ice should be sharp, not just the players,” said Zadorov. “I don’t know what Dakota is supposed to do. He’s backchecking, he finished the guy. The kid’s been dodging hits for five games straight…You’ve got to protect yourself, it’s a men’s league. I’m trying to find the words to not get fined $25,000 here but everybody saw that. Obviously, the players are responsible for what they do on the ice but the other people on the ice, they have to be responsible too.”
  • The Predators scored on the ensuing power play. Roman Josi caught the penalty kill off-guard with a dash toward the net off a zone entry, but Silovs came up with a huge save, though the puck snuck behind him into the crease. He fell back trying to cover the puck but appeared to be pushed back into the net, sending the puck over the line for the tying goal.
  • “I didn't see who but like I felt like someone just ran into me,” said Silovs.
  • Some might argue that Gustav Nyquist was the one who pushed Silovs into the net. Some might argue that would be goaltender interference. Some might argue that Rick Tocchet should have challenged the goal and taken a chance on getting it overturned. Some might argue for a lot of things.
  • “It’s a 50/50,” said Tocchet. “I don’t know what the NHL would do on that one. If I don’t know 100 per cent…It’s 1-1. We thought about it, but I thought it was 50/50, personally.”
  • From an outside perspective, if you believe you have a 50/50 chance of overturning a goal in a tie game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, especially when your penalty kill has been outstanding all night, you take that chance. The worst that can happen is the goal stands and you have to kill off a two-minute power play in a tie game; the best that can happen is you still have a 1-0 lead. Some might argue, indeed.
  • The Canucks responded with some excellent scoring chances. Brock Boeser got in alone and was robbed by Saros on a backhand move, then Elias Pettersson jumped up ice for a 2-on-1 with Phil Di Giuseppe and ripped a shot off Saros’s mask in a bid for the top corner. It was the type of response that ought to have restored the lead for the Canucks; they just couldn’t beat Saros.
  • The Predators got the game-winning goal on an innocuous-looking shot from the point by Alexandre Carrier — the kind of anticlimactic goal that spit in the face of the grade-A chances the Canucks had just created. Silovs lost sight of the puck and got beaten just inside the post along the ice. 
  • “It was just a great shot,” quipped Roman Josi. “It was, like, I don’t know, 69 miles per hour, probably.”
  • The Canucks did enough good things in this game to feel confident heading into Nashville but nothing is ever comfortable in the playoffs. A lot of things could go wrong but the Canucks just have to follow Ian Cole’s advice: “Go ****ing win.”