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I Watched This Game: Daddy Di Giuseppe drives Canucks to Game 5 win over Oilers

Phil Di Giuseppe had an outstanding game in his return to the Vancouver Canucks lineup after the birth of his son.
The Vancouver Canucks came up with their best game of the playoffs to beat the Edmonton Oilers in Game 5.

All of the attention ahead of the game was on the new linemates for Elias Pettersson, as he moved to the wing with Elias Lindholm and Nils Höglander.

Turns out, what everyone should have been focussing on was a different lineup change: the return of Phil Di Giuseppe.

The fourth-line winger has had a lot on his mind this season as his wife, Maggie, has gone through a difficult pregnancy.

“It's been a battle over nine months for her,” said a clearly choked-up Di Giuseppe after the game. “Obviously, with my job, I've been away a lot and she's been in the hospital a lot. We've had a lot of family coming in and out and supporting us.”

Di Giuseppe took two games away from the team to be with his wife as she gave birth on Sunday and spent a few more days together with her and their newborn son, Sam, in the hospital. 

On Thursday night, Di Giuseppe seemed energized to not only be back with the team but also have that stress lifted from the shoulders of him and his family. He played his best game of not just the playoffs but the entire season.

“He’s got the baby legs,” said fellow dad J.T. Miller. “It’s a real thing, I swear. I've seen it a lot now where guys come in and play their best game. It does something to your brain. He was unbelievable.”

Di Giuseppe came up with the biggest goal of his career in the second period, tying the game 2-2 on a spinning backhand. But it wasn’t just the goal — his fourth line with Nils Åman and Vasily Podkolzin was fantastic all game, pushing possession in a positive direction with their work in the defensive zone and on the forecheck.

“Åms and Podz played amazing,” said Di Giuseppe. “They won every puck battle and I felt like any time I was moving my feet, they were giving me the puck. So, kudos to those guys.”

“That line just created a lot of energy,” said Miller. “It's a contagious thing when our team skates and we create stalls on the forecheck. It seems like we do it for the next ten minutes every time.”

The fourth line’s ability to control possession played a major role in the Canucks controlling the pace of play all game. And any time Di Giuseppe might have been tired after those high-pace shifts — not to mention dealing with such a stressful time at the hospital — the fans gave him an injection of energy.

“This building's unbelievable,” said Di Giuseppe. “There's times I might be tired on the bench and I just close my eyes and just try to charge up with all that energy. They bring it and I'm glad we could bring it for them.”

Di Giuseppe seemed almost overwhelmed, as he fought to hold it together. It’s been a whirlwind for the winger, who described his goal as the “cherry on top” after the “unbelievable” experience of having a baby boy, while his teammates cheered and called him, “Daddy.”  

“It’s been crazy but it’s good emotions,” said Di Giuseppe. “Kind of on a high right now.”

I’m pretty sure that every Canucks fan is on nearly as much of a high. I don’t blame them. After all, I watched this game.

  • Pettersson’s new line might not have been the story of the game but it was still a significant story. Pettersson, Lindholm, and Höglander dominated puck possession, with the Canucks out-attempting the Oilers 16-to-8 with Pettersson on the ice at 5-on-5 and out-shooting them 8-to-4. Individually, Pettersson looked more energized than a time-traveling Delorean as he looked like his old self with some nifty dekes and a game-high 11 shot attempts.
  • The fans spurred Pettersson on with loud “Let’s go, Petey!” chants before the game and throughout the first period, showing their support in spite of his struggles in the playoffs. Given the sometimes harsh criticisms that have been leveled at him in recent days, it was pretty cool to see that kind of unconditional. love.
  • “It means lots,” said Pettersson. “It was encouraging to have the fans behind you — I always have that here but just to hear them chant my name, it makes me want to work even harder for them.”
  • A key component to the win was how completely the Canucks shut down Connor McDavid. Shots were 8-to-3 for the Canucks when McDavid was on the ice at 5-on-5 and every time he touched the puck, the Canucks smothered him with pressure like a helicopter parent. It was an outstanding performance by all of the Canucks but particularly Carson Soucy, Tyler Myers, J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, and Pius Suter, who matched up against McDavid the most.
  • “Without being disrespectful, I thought that the last couple of games, me, Brock, and Sutes have been kind of giving Connor a little too much respect,” said Miller. “Like, playing not to get scored on a little bit and when you do that he just gets more time with the puck. I thought we went back to playing our game and being more aggressive.”
  • This play by Pius Suter from the second period is illustrative of how little the Canucks gave McDavid. His hustle to provide backpressure completely takes away what should be an easy pass to gain the Canucks zone, then Suter is all over McDavid on the outside, knocking him off balance and easily picking the puck off to break back the other way. With plays like this, the Canucks simply didn’t spend much time in their own zone when McDavid was on the ice.
  • Ian Cole’s struggles in this series continued, as he was once against the goat on a goal against. He had multiple turnovers on one shift that allowed the Oilers to hem the Canucks in, then he whiffed on a chance to pick off a puck along the boards. That puck came to Leon Draisaitl behind the net and he set up Evander Kane with a pass from below the goal line, creating a chance that was nigh-unstoppable for Arturs Silovs.
  • Pettersson and Lindholm nearly responded at the tail end of a power play in the first period. Pettersson flung a puck on net that hit Lindholm in front. Lindholm couldn’t get all of the loose puck and it inched agonizingly slowly toward the net like a shopping cart toward an animal cracker display. At the last possible second, Vincent Desharnais pulled the puck off the line, probably because he got enough sleep the night before to keep his reflexes sharp.
  • The Canucks tied up the game a moment later. Di Giuseppe drove down the right wing to gain the zone, leading to a Tyler Myers point shot that didn’t get through traffic. As Podkolzin tried to get a shot away from the slot, Corey Perry knocked the puck away but gave it right to Carson Soucy, who dragged the puck in to change the shooting angle before sending the puck top corner where heathens dog-ear the pages of books.
  • “It’s kind of nice when [the puck] almost goes too far and you’ve got to reach for it,” said Soucy. “Then they’ve got to get in that puck lane and I can pull it in and get it past that first defender.”
  • 22 seconds later, however, the Oilers regained the lead. Soucy gambled on a loose puck in the offensive zone with three forwards deep and Conor Garland didn’t recognize the danger in time to cover for him defensively. When Soucy fell, the Oilers burst back 3-on-1 and Connor Brown set up a Mattias Janmark tap-in off the rush. Garland snapped his stick on the crossbar, seeming to think Soucy was tripped, but like James Murphy, Soucy just lost his edge.  
  • The Canucks completely took control of the game in the second period with one of the best periods they’ve played all season. Shots on goal were 17-to-4 for the Canucks, while high-danger chances were 8-to-0. The only trouble was that the puck mostly refused to go in the net. It’s not even like Oilers goaltender Calvin Pickard was playing all that well. It almost seemed like pure happenstance when he would be where the Canucks shot the puck. 
  • Di Giuseppe was the only Canuck who could score in the second period. He kicked things off with a strong forecheck on Mattias Ekholm to force him to reverse the puck behind the net, then Åman harassed Evan Bouchard, causing him to cough the puck up to Di Giuseppe. The grinding fourth-liner then flashed some surprising skill with a spinning backhand that slid through Pickard’s legs like it was Usher on roller skates.  
  • “I got in on Ekholm and then Åms came flying in on Bouchard,” said Di Giuseppe. “I don't know if he coughed it up or if Åms poked it off him — I gotta watch it again. But [Bouchard] took the net away from me so I spun around and scored.”
  • Midway through the second period, there was one of the most inexplicable penalties I have ever seen called. As Warren Foegele skated in hard for a bodycheck, Pettersson popped back with a reverse hit and was shockingly called for charging. It was a shock because that kind of hit has never been called charging at any point for as long as I — or Ray Ferraro, for that matter — can remember.
  • Pettersson did leave his feet on the play but there are two things to note. First, players jump up all the time when they’re about to be hit. It keeps their skates from getting caught on the ice, which would cause them to pitch forward and fall. Second, while “jumps into” is part of the charging rule, charging has always been about the “distance traveled” to make a hit. Pettersson didn’t travel any distance at all; he was standing still. 
  • Anyone who divorces the “jumps into” portion of the rule from the “distance traveled” portion is ignoring how the penalty has been called throughout the entirety of hockey history. For further evidence, the NHL’s video rulebook shows three examples of charging. All three involve players traveling a long distance to make a hit. The rule has never been interpreted to include a player jumping while standing still. Never.
  • When I asked Pettersson if he got an explanation for the charging penalty, he could only chuckle as he said, “No,” eliciting laughter from the gather media, because what possible explanation could he have received? As he walked past me after, he gave me a grin and said, “That was good, eh?” Sure seems like confident Petey is back.
  • Fans certainly didn’t like the penalty, vociferously voicing their complaints, with some even throwing debris on the ice. Don’t do that. Debris belongs on de cheese board, not on de ice.
  • Nathan Fielder, arguably the funniest man in television right now, was at Rogers Arena for the game. In keeping with his socially awkward persona (and other appearances at sporting events) he simply stared blankly and shifted in his seat when shown on the big screen instead of acknowledging the crowd. But then the camera cut back to him later in the game and he had donned a Canucks jersey and stood to seemingly pump up the crowd, only to hold up a sign encouraging irate fans to “be nice to the refs.” It was an outrageously funny — and, according to Canucks staffers I talked to, impromptu — bit.
  • Here’s the thing: as much as some of the penalty calls were hard to understand or frustrating, they ultimately didn’t matter because the Canucks’ penalty kill was outstanding. The Oilers got five power plays, which would have meant as many as five goals in previous games, as the Oilers’ power play has been pretty much automatic. Instead, the Canucks killed off all five and allowed just three shots, as they seemed to finally have the measure of the Oilers’ power play schemes. It was a real “Happy learned how to putt” moment — if the power play is no longer a game-changing advantage for the Oilers, that might be the series.
  • With the penalty kill cruising, the Canucks seemed to take all of the penalty calls in stride — and Pettersson’s wasn’t the only questionable call on the night. Tocchet even said that he was the only one getting upset, much to his chagrin.
  • “The bench was calm, even though we were taking those penalties,” said Tocchet. “There wasn’t a lot of yelling and screaming and I’ve gotta give them credit. It was more me. Honestly, I watched them when — I think it was the third penalty, I don’t know what penalty I didn’t like — and I looked at the bench and they weren’t even mad. I’m like, ‘Okay, wow, these guys are dialed in, I better get my shit together.’”
  • Instead, it mainly seemed to be the Oilers complaining to the referees, with Nikita Zadorov outright mocking Evander Kane at one point by making a crybaby face towards him, saying, “Wah, wah.” It seems he was oh-so-subtly suggesting that Kane was whining a little bit too much.
  • The Canucks were crushing the Oilers in possession, shots, and chances, but they just couldn’t find the go-ahead goal, which was concerning given how opportunistic the Oilers can be. It had the feel of a game that could slip away at a moment’s notice. But then Arturs Silovs stopped every shot he faced and that moment never showed up to be noticed.
  • The one missed opportunity that felt it might come back to haunt the Canucks was when Pettersson neatly tipped a Filip Hronek shot to Höglander for what could have been a tap-in goal and Höglander LaFayette’d the puck off the post instead. Between that and Lindholm’s near goal being swept off the goal line, Pettersson should have already had two assists heading into the final minute of the game.
  • The cardiac Canucks waited until the final minute to finally get the go-ahead goal. Tyler Myers hoisted the puck into the offensive zone, where Pettersson knocked it down for Lindholm. As J.T. Miller beaver-tailed for the puck in the high slot, Lindholm instead decided to throw it to the net, where it hit Bouchard’s skate as he tried to tie up Pettersson in front. The puck hit the post and Miller beat McDavid to the rebound to go under the bar like Lasha Talakhadze.  
  • “I was kind of open for a split second early and I'm kind of glad that Lindy didn't force it there. McDavid was ready to go the other way,” said Miller. “If he forced that there, Connor, I could see him waiting. If he grabbed that, we were in one.”
  • It was an astounding turnabout, narratively, from what happened in Game 4, where Miller blamed himself for the Oilers’ game-winning goal with 38.1 seconds remaining. In Game 5, after an outstanding performance shutting down McDavid, Miller got the game-winning goal with 32.6 seconds remaining. That’s magical.
  • “I’ve known Millsy for a year and a half now and he obviously wears his heart on his sleeve,” said Tocchet. “He’ll tell you, when he sucks, he sucks. That’s what I love about him. And there hasn’t been many suck games from him. He’s been a monster for me since I’ve been here, since day one, and that was a monster effort again.”
  • Seven wins down; nine to go.