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I Watched This Game: Canucks strafed by Jets in final regular season game

With the playoffs just days away, the Canucks and Jets both rested some star players in their final regular season game.
The Vancouver Canucks lost 4-2 to the Winnipeg Jets in the most important game of the regular season, game 82.

Every game matters.

But some games certainly feel a lot more ephemeral. 

The Vancouver Canucks have approached this entire season with a day-by-day, game-by-game approach. They have preached never getting too high or too low based on what’s happened in the past and never getting ahead of themselves by looking too far into the future.

But it must have been hard to maintain that same approach for game 82 of the regular season schedule knowing that it would have no impact on who the Canucks would face in the first round of the playoffs — a first round that is just a few days away. It was the same story for the Winnipeg Jets.

That’s why both teams gave a handful of players a rest: J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, Ian Cole, and Filip Hronek were the Canucks healthy scratches, while Connor Hellebuyck, Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Adam Lowry, Vladislav Namestnikov, Josh Morrissey, and Brenden Dillon were all healthy scratches for the Jets.

That’s not to say that the game was entirely meaningless. The winner of the game, whether in regulation or not, would secure second place in the Western Conference behind the Dallas Stars. If the Canucks and Jets face each other in the Western Conference Final, that could come into play: the playoffs will be reseeded at that stage.

“In the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final, home-ice advantage goes to the team that had the better regular-season record,” reads the NHL website, “regardless of the teams' final standing in their respective divisions.”

So, Thursday night was a battle for home-ice advantage in the third round of the playoffs on the off chance that the two teams happen to meet.

Like I said, ephemeral. Not a lot of matter there.

There were a few other things on the line. Quinn Hughes surely didn’t want Cale Makar to catch him in the scoring race with Makar’s Colorado Avalanche also playing on Thursday. Thatcher Demko wanted another solid start to get himself in a groove for Game 1 of the playoffs.

Hughes got an assist, which was ultimately unnecessary with Makar only tallying one assist himself, while Demko wasn’t perfect but made some big saves along the way. Call that mission accomplished.

As for the Jets, they had some other stakes in this game. It was their final home game of the regular season, so they wanted to put on a show for their fans. Also, Brad Lambert and Nikita Chibrikov played their first career games in the NHL, with Lambert recording his first career assist and Chibrikov scoring his first career goal. You can’t say this game didn’t matter for them. 

Really, the only thing that actually mattered for the Canucks is that no one got hurt. Since no one left with an injury, let’s call that a win for the Canucks, even though they technically lost when I watched this game.

  • Let’s be real: there’s not much use in over-analyzing this game. It’s not like it was a preseason game — there was plenty of energy and effort on both sides — but it was ultimately the most meaningless game of the regular season for the Canucks. It’s not worth getting worked up about a 4-2 loss to the Jets under these circumstances.
  • Noah Juulsen, Mark Friedman, Phil Di Giuseppe, and Nils Åman drew into the lineup in place of the healthy scratches. They did okay. Friedman blocked a shot on the penalty kill that looked particularly painful and still crawled around to get into shooting and passing lanes, which shows either guts or foolishness — sometimes there ain’t much differentiating the two. Thankfully, he didn’t miss a shift and even drew a penalty shortly after. 
  • Dakota Joshua and Conor Garland’s chemistry is palpable even when it’s accidental. Elias Lindholm forced the puck in deep then attacked on the forecheck, freeing the puck up for Joshua. As Joshua cut to the net, he lost the handle on the puck, which just happened to send it in front of the net. When Dylan DeMelo tried to clear the puck, he sent it off Garland’s shin and in. Call it a Shinipeg goal. Or don’t. I’m not the boss of you.
  • I know I said not to overanalyze this game but this was a neat moment from Elias Pettersson on a first-period breakout. He could have just forced a pass along the boards to Carson Soucy and put the pressure on the defenceman to break the puck out but instead just calmly held onto the puck, protecting it from Mason Appleton, and sent a pinpoint pass to Ilya Mikheyev. Pettersson has more poise than peanut butter
  • Gabe Vilardi responded with a goal for the Jets later in the first. He took advantage of an overzealous Sam Lafferty chasing the puck below the goal line with Soucy already down low on the boards. Like a cop on a stakeout in an unmarked car, Vilardi was waiting out front and also unmarked — the puck deflected off a skate right to him and he patiently outwaited Demko to tuck the puck in.
  • Early in the second period, Vasily Podkolzin failed to get the puck in deep for a line change and the Jets got a 3-on-1 the other way. That’s been a rare sight for the Canucks this season, so perhaps it’s not surprising that Tyler Myers and Thatcher Demko didn’t seem to know how to defend against it, leading to an easy goal for Cole Perfetti, whose palms were not sweaty nor were his knees weak or arms heavy. 
  • The Canucks first power play unit was missing two key pieces in Miller and Boeser but still came through with the tying goal in the second period. Like they were Keanu Reeves, the replacements stepped up: Elias Lindholm tipped in a Quinn Hughes point shot past a Dakota Joshua screen. 
  • Some miscommunication between two out-of-practice players, Demko and Juulsen, led to a giveaway. Then everyone seemed to get their wires crossed on who was covering who, leading to Chibrikov beating Demko with smoothest release since “Smooth” by Carlos Santana ft. Rob Thomas.  
  • Nikita Zadorov apparently didn’t get the memo that this was a meaningless game, because he was leveling guys like he had a World of Warcraft addiction. That led to a kerfuffle with Vilardi in the third period that was far too heated for the stakes of this game. 
  • Pettersson didn’t have anything to show for it on the scoreboard, but he had a strong game in the offensive zone, including a shift with, weirdly enough, Sam Lafferty and Pius Suter late in the game. They were all over the Jets for a full minute but couldn’t get the final finishing touch. They even got a line change and Demko out for the extra attacker while the Jets were stuck on the ice. It was a dominant shift.
  • Of course, the Jets scored into the empty net a moment later, so all that hard work was for naught. Perfetti had one shot, one opportunity, and he dropped a bomb into the empty net from the defensive zone. Clock’s run out, time’s up, over, blaow.  
  • That's it: the last game of the Canucks' regular season and thusly the final I Watched This Game of the regular season. But don't worry, there ought to be many more games in the postseason and, rest assured, they will be watched. The I Watch This Game feature will continue.