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I Watched This Game: Canucks season on life support after loss to Blues

Two-straight losses to the St. Louis Blues may have killed the Canucks' playoff dreams for good.
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The Vancouver Canucks badly needed a win on Wednesday night against the St. Louis Blues but they coughed up two leads and came a goal short in the final minutes.

Math is not the Vancouver Canucks’ friend right now.

After Wednesday night’s loss to the St. Louis Blues, the Canucks are sitting on a 32-28-9 record, good for 73 points and an 82-game pace of 87 points. Unsurprisingly, that’s not a playoff pace.

In order to make the playoffs, the Canucks need to either finish in third-place in the Pacific Division, currently held by the Edmonton Oilers, or grab the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference, which belongs to the Dallas Stars by points percentage.

The Oilers are on-pace for 98 points. The Stars are on-pace for 97 points.

With 13 games left in the season, the Canucks would need to win every single one to reach 99 points and finish ahead of the Oilers and Stars’ projected pace. 

The longest winning streak in Canucks history is 10 games.

Okay, so that sounds pretty dire. The Oilers are Stars could, of course, falter down the stretch and prove easier to catch. Maybe the Canucks could afford to lose another game or two and still have a chance to make the playoffs.

The other issue is they won’t be alone. The Vegas Golden Knights will be pushing for those same two spots and they’ve got a five-point advantage over the Canucks. The Winnipeg Jets are also making a push for the last wild-card spot and they’re three points up on the Canucks with a game in hand.

It’s not over but it’s pretty dang close.

“It’s easy to look at the standings and try to calculate how many points you need, but you can’t think about, ‘Oh, we need this amount of games,’” said Elias Pettersson. “You’ve just got to try to win the next game.”

The Canucks just need to win the next game for the rest of the season.

After Monday’s loss in St. Louis, I tried to remain positive. The Canucks still had a chance, after all, but that was predicated on the team bouncing back and starting their winning streak in their rematch against the Blues in Vancouver. The loss was combined with unfortunate results across the out-of-town scoreboard: wins for the Oilers, Golden Knights, and Jets and a win the previous night for the Stars.

It got harder to stay positive after I watched this game.

  • My apologies if I’m at all incoherent in this IWTG. Like Bo Horvat, who left the game after the first period, I have a non-COVID-related illness. I’ve been resting up, so I would be able to still watch and write about this game. Totally worth it.
     
  • “Before the game, I’m hearing he’s sick but he’s going to try it,” said Bruce Boudreau of Horvat. “Ten minutes into the game, you lose him. So, all of a sudden, you’re mixing and matching for the rest of the game. Especially with some of the young guys that we have in there, mixing and matching isn’t as easy as it sounds.”
     
  • The Canucks actually had a strong start to this game, controlling play in the opening ten minutes and out-shooting the Blues 5-to-1, with Vasily Podkolzin, Conor Garland, and William Lockwood all getting some decent chances. The turning point? This uncalled trip on Pettersson, which should have given the Canucks the first power play of the game and allowed them to keep the momentum going. Instead, the Blues took over, out-shooting the Canucks 6-to-0 the rest of the period.
  • That was just the start of a litany of missed calls, as the referees warmed up for the difficult job of not calling obvious penalties in the playoffs. What, do you think refs get that good at ignoring blatant penalties by accident? It takes years of training and on-the-job experience.
     
  • Look, the Canucks didn’t lose this game because of the officiating. It just didn’t help, particularly late in the game when the Canucks were trailing by one goal and Garland took a high stick to the face 15 feet from an official and no penalty was called. The Canucks have had multiple high-sticking calls overturned by video review in recent weeks but there’s no recourse to review a penalty that should have been called and wasn’t. 
  • This was a tough game at times for Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The Canucks may have out-shot the Blues 11-to-6 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5, but high-danger chances were a different story — Natural Stat Trick had them at 4-to-2 for the Blues. One of those high-danger chances came on this 2-on-1 in the first period, where Tyler Myers got caught on a bad pinch and Ekman-Larsson slid to the ice to desperately defend a pass that never happened.
  • Of course, the funniest part of that clip was John Garrett confidently declaring, “Played very well by Oliver Ekman-Larsson,” at the same time that the replay was showing Ekman-Larsson twirling into oblivion while giving Robert Thomas a breakaway.
     
  • Here is one of my major pet peeves: when a strong shift in the offensive zone is ended by a low-percentage shot. The Canucks’ line of Garland, J.T. Miller, and Tanner Pearson was buzzing around the offensive zone and the Blues skaters had been on the ice for over a minute. Just as Ekman-Larsson took the puck from Garland, the Blues made a crucial mistake, with two players moving to Ekman-Larsson, leaving Miller wide open, but instead of taking advantage, Ekman-Larsson threw a shot into Ville Husso’s chest from the sideboards.
  • At best, he was hoping for a tip, but the Canucks had the opportunity to create a much better chance. Things like this are why the Canucks’ shot advantage with Ekman-Larsson on the ice did not translate into a chance advantage.
     
  • The most frustrating part of this loss for the Canucks is that they had the lead twice and couldn’t hold it. They opened the scoring in the second period with a goal from the fourth line. Ekman-Larsson put the puck in deep and Brad Richardson took it behind the net and slipped a lovely backhand pass to Alex Chiasson, who patiently pushed the puck further in front to get a better angle and put it just over Husso’s left pad.
     
  • Unfortunately, the Canucks got hemmed in their own zone and Demko gave up a very uncharacteristic goal from a point shot. Demko seemed to anticipate the puck would go higher and initially raised his shoulder, then couldn’t squeeze his left arm tight enough against his body when the shot was lower than expected.
     
  • The Canucks regained the lead against the flow of play thanks to the Petey Connection. Nic “Petey” Petan got his stick on a breakout pass on the forecheck and Elias “Petey” Pettersson jumped on the loose puck. Pettersson deftly settled the bouncing puck and whipped it past Husso like it was a pelota in jai alai.  
     
  • They had a chance to extend the lead on the power play but everything went wrong. Pettersson carried the puck into the zone but bobbled the puck. As the first man into the zone, this might have been okay, but Quinn Hughes was caught flat-footed by the speedy Thomas and Miller didn’t move at all. Thomas made no mistake on the shorthanded breakaway to tie the game.
     
  • “A mistake like that can’t happen,” said Pettersson. “I’ve just got to do a better play, I can’t just turn it over there.” 
     
  • “You’re anticipating, if we can get one here and go up 3-to-1, good things are going to happen, and then they come back and tie it up, sorta was a deflating goal, for sure,” said Boudreau. “I think [Pettersson] expects a lot from himself. He made a mistake — we all make mistakes, it’s part of the game.”
     
  • The Blues quickly turned the 2-2 tie into a 3-2 lead on a power play of their own. Ryan O’Reilly found a soft spot in the middle of the Canucks’ penalty kill and a quick passing play got Demko moving and gave O’Reilly a wide-open one-timer. 
     
  • The Canucks didn’t seem to have much left in the third period and when a broken play gave Nathan Walker the 4-2 goal on a fortunate bounce, it seemed like it was all over. The Canucks, however, were not quite dead yet and didn’t want to go on the cart.
     
  • Boudreau loaded up a line with Pettersson, Miller, and Garland and it paid off. Travis Dermott pinched in deep and got the puck down low to Miller and he spotted Garland darting into the middle like he was thrown by Ted Lasso. Garland didn’t quite get all of his shot but it worked out — the puck fluttered to Pettersson at the top of the crease and he got just enough of the puck with the shaft of his stick to deflect it in.
     
  • The goal sparked both the Canucks and the crowd — which only grew more boisterous after the missed high stick on Garland. Pettersson, already with two goals, gave Pearson the Canucks’ best chance in the final minutes with a slick backhand pass but Husso robbed him with the glove. And that was it.
     
  • “They looked tired a little bit out there,” said Boudreau. “The last five minutes, they had energy — the crowd gave them energy once they scored the goal…They looked like they had played five games in eight days.”