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I Watched This Game: Canucks road trip ends with a whimper against the Blues

Careless mistakes with the puck and bad bounces cost the Canucks against the Blues.
The Vancouver Canucks could only get one puck past Ville Husso, falling 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues.

Over the course of the season, there was a lot of Sturm und Drang in the Vancouver Canucks fanbase.

The Sturm und Drang movement stretched across literature, music, and art in the late 1800s that emphasized the expression of extreme emotion and individualism. Since then, it’s come to mean a general state of turmoil — “Sturm und Drang” literally translates from German to “storm and stress.” 

The Sturm has eased off since early December, when the Canucks fired Travis Green and Jim Benning, replacing the former with Bruce Boudreau and the latter, eventually, with Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin. The Drang, on the other hand, still remains.

The Canucks have, improbably, thrust themselves back into the playoff picture after it seemed all but impossible after their dreadful start. But with that push for the playoffs comes a white-knuckle ride for Canucks fans.

Every win reignites the flame of hope for the playoffs and every loss snuffs it out again. With every game of the utmost importance as the Canucks try to dig themselves out of the hole they dug to start the season, it’s all-too-easy to live and die with every result.

The Canucks’ win over the Colorado Avalanche was enormous! Their overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild was heartbreaking. Beating the Dallas Stars on Saturday was massive! Their loss to the St. Louis Blues on Monday was devastating.

Stop. Breathe. 

Yes, the Canucks are in a tough spot. After their loss to the Blues on Monday, the Canucks are now 11th in the Western Conference and need to pass two teams to get into third in the Pacific Division or three teams to get into the last Wild Card spot. Every team ahead of them in the standings except the Vegas Golden Knights has games in hand on the Canucks.

That’s the bad news. But the good news is that the Canucks went 2-1-1 on a very tough four-game road trip, taking 5 of an available 8 points. A worse performance could have sunk the Canucks’ playoff chances for good but if they can pull out a win against the Blues in their rematch on Wednesday in Vancouver, they’ll enter April with a legitimate chance to sneak into the playoffs.

Here’s what awaits them in April. Three games against the Golden Knights — a golden opportunity to make up ground on a team they need to pass. Eminently winnable games against the Arizona Coyotes — two of them! — San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators, and Seattle Kraken. Another game against the Stars that they’ll likely need to win to get into a Wild Card spot.

A strong April could put the Canucks in a position to make their final game of the season a meaningful one — a game against the Edmonton Oilers that, if all goes right, could be a win-and-you’re-in game for both teams.

Four months ago, it would have seemed impossible to imagine that the final game of the season would be at all meaningful. While the odds are still long, the Canucks have a chance to make that game the most meaningful game of the season.

The Canucks are still in this, even though they lost to the Blues when I watched this game.

  • I feel like the whole “Hometown Hockey” thing has run its course. It was quite jarring to watch a hard-fought hockey game with serious playoff implications for the Canucks and suddenly shift to pre-recorded content about smalltown Alberta and awkward interviews. It might be a fun experience as a live event but it was a cringeworthy replacement for legitimate intermission analysis.
  • While the Canucks occasionally looked fatigued and out-paced by the faster St. Louis Blues, I didn’t think they played that poorly. They created some quality chances at 5-on-5, killed off all three Blues power plays, and mostly defended well. It just felt like a few key turnovers and some bad bounces cost them the game.
  • Bruce Boudreau disagrees. “I don’t think we were very good tonight,” he said. “I don’t think we had enough guys playing with the sense of urgency that is needed at this stage of the season.”
  • The Canucks nearly opened the scoring when Will Lockwood took a beautiful stretch pass from Nic Petan and burst through the Blues defence with his speed. Unfortunately, the puck rolled on Lockwood as he moved the puck to his backhand and it slipped off the end of his stick, colliding with the post instead of nestling into the net for his first career goal. 
  • A puck did end up in the net off Lockwood’s stick but it was at the wrong end of the ice. He and his linemates got hemmed into the defensive zone, which is a recipe for a bad bounce. A centring pass from Vladimir Tarasenko went off Lockwood’s stick towards the net, but Jaroslav Halak was able to get his arm on the puck and direct it over the net. Unfortunately, the puck then hit the shaft of Halak’s stick and came back out front, banking into the net off Marco Scandella, which is a Happy Gilmore final putt level of absurdity.
  • A miscue by Conor Garland really got the Canucks in trouble. Travis Dermott pinched down the boards and Garland came back to cover for him and picked off a breakout pass. Unfortunately, he then immediately lost the puck to Ivan Barbashev with Dermott still in deep, giving up a 2-on-1 the other way. Barbashev slipped a pass by Brad Hunt and David Perron ripped the shot. Halak nearly made the save, but he kicked the puck into the crossbar and in.
  • That was Garland’s last shift of the first period, a rough one where he also took a bad penalty. He was much stronger in the second period and his line with J.T. Miller and Tanner Pearson created the team’s best offensive zone pressure, with all three finishing with five shots on goal. Still, something is a little off about Garland’s game, as he frequently seemed to be forcing plays that weren’t there.
  • “He didn’t play very well and we need more out of him,” said Boudreau of Garland. “I think he’s pressing really hard to score because he hasn’t scored in a while. You can’t do it all by yourself when you’re pressing. You’ve got to use your teammates and I think he could’ve passed the puck. He carried it a little too much.”
  • Colton Parayko is a very helpful fellow. He kindly informed Will Lockwood that he was offside at one point, likely recognizing that Lockwood was a rookie and needed a little bit of assistance. Very kind.
  • Despite the score, Halak had another strong game. His best save was likely this lunging stop on Pavel Buchnevich as he cut across the slot after losing Lockwood at the point. With traffic in front, Halak did well to read the play and get his pad and glove stacked up to stop his backhand.
  • The Canucks out-shot the Blues 17-to-9 in the second period, with Vasily Podkolzin and Tanner Pearson forcing some great saves from Ville Husso. Elias Pettersson came closest to beating Husso — in fact, he did, sneaking a surprise shot under Husso’s right pad after taking a bank pass from Quinn Hughes down the left wing, but the puck hit the post. Pettersson could scarcely believe it didn’t bank in off Husso.
  • Boudreau, however, thinks the Canucks made life too easy for Husso. “Shoot it on this goalie where he has to make a move,” he said. “We're hitting him in the chest on every shot.”
  • The Canucks were still in striking distance after two periods and have done well to come back in past games with some quick goals early in the third. The opposite happened. The Blues pinned the Miller line in the defensive zone on the first shift and Miller lost track of his man, Tarasenko, who got two cracks at Halak: the first was going wide but hit Halak’s stick and came right back to him, then he chipped the second over Halak’s pad. 
  • “I actually had a good play before that, a good stick on him,” said Miller, blaming himself for the “missed assignment” on Tarasenko. “I just puck watched for one second. I know he's over there, I really do, I was just being stubborn. Buchnevich made a really nice pass over there but all it takes is one second with good players and I just watched the puck for a little too long and it's in the back of the net.”
  • Not long after the goal, Boudreau juggled the lines, reuniting the Lotto Line and putting Tanner Pearson back with Bo Horvat. If he was hoping for an offensive spark, it didn’t really happen. Only Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman in the Star Wars prequels had less of a spark.
  • The Canucks did get one goal back thanks to Brad Hunt. Travis Dermott took a hit below the goal line to move the puck to Vasily Podkolzin, whose pass to Juho Lammikko took a lucky bounce into the neutral zone. Hunt jumped up in the play to make it a 3-on-1, then took the shot himself as Lammikko drove to the net. It was a laser beam under Husso’s glove.
  • That’s all the Canucks could get past Husso. A third-period power play turned into two great shorthanded chances for the Blues instead of a comeback goal and Tarasenko eventually put the game to rest with an empty-netter. 
  • “It's disappointing. Definitely looking in the mirror for myself,” said Miller. “I don't think I brought it today, I just kind of wasn't as engaged as I needed to be for some reason. Maybe a little tired but I definitely take some of the onus on myself to not lead a little bit better.”
  • “Individually — we weren’t very good as a team. We weren’t very good,” said Boudreau. “There wasn’t a lot of forwards that played the way that they are capable of playing. It is what it is, I’m not going to dissect everybody’s play individually. But we can all be better.”