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I Watched This Game: Elias Pettersson single-handedly slayed the Kraken for the Canucks

Despite recovering from the flu, Elias Pettersson played one of the best games of his life.
Elias Pettersson's five points rescued the Vancouver Canucks from the jaws of the Seattle Kraken. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

Elias Pettersson was a game-time decision for the Vancouver Canucks.

That’s an important thing to keep in mind while taking in Pettersson’s absolutely incredible performance against the Seattle Kraken on Thursday night. After a long bout with the flu that kept him entirely off the ice for six days, Pettersson wasn’t even expected to play against the Kraken, as he missed practice on Wednesday and only got back on the ice for Thursday’s morning skate.

“Pretty hard to think that he’s going to be available,” said Boudreau on Wednesday. “He’s missed six days. I mean, he’s a good player, but he’s not Superman.”

Maybe he’s not Superman but has anyone ever seen Superman and Pettersson in the same room at the same time before? Because his performance on Thursday night might have some people wondering.

It’s fair to say that Pettersson wasn’t at 100 per cent. The cameras even caught him coughing at the bench at one point. But it didn’t matter.

Pettersson played one of the best games of his career, with two goals and three assists. It was the fourth five-point game of his career, a franchise record, and the Canucks needed all five of those points, as he scored the game-tying goal with just over a minute left to make it 5-5 and send the game to overtime.

To top it off, Pettersson scored the game-winning goal in the shootout, essentially a hat trick goal and his sixth point of the game, even if the NHL doesn’t score it that way.

“Six days off the ice and then coming on and doing what he did tonight — pretty amazing,” said Boudreau, adding later, “That doesn’t happen. I don’t think you guys realize how much of an anomaly that is — being off the ice six days and then just coming day of the game and playing, that defies the logic of a hockey player…They need the reps on the ice, you lose the conditioning very easily, and he seemed to keep it.”

It was a dominant effort that had many fans on social media comparing it to Michael Jordan’s famous “Flu Game” when Air Jordan delivered a 38-point effort to lead the Chicago Bulls over the Utah Jazz in the playoffs despite being ill.

The difference? Pettersson actually had the flu; Jordan didn’t.

It’s not entirely fair to say that Pettersson single-handedly won the game for the Canucks — other players contributed — but it is fair to say they wouldn’t have won without him. Maybe the Canucks could have scored one goal if the decision at game-time was to give Pettersson one more day of rest.

Then it would have been the third-straight 5-1 loss for the Canucks, all on home ice.

Instead, the Canucks won 6-5. Like taking the path less traveled by, Pettersson made all the difference when I watched this game.

  • The Canucks were essentially a one-line team. It seemed like the only time they created anything offensively was when Pettersson stepped on the ice with his linemates, Andrei Kuzmenko and Lane Pederson. Yes, Pettersson’s bargain-bin knockoff, Pederson, was the beneficiary of Pettersson’s largesse, and Pederson also had a great game. Turns out all he needed to unlock his NHL potential was to play with an elite centre. Who knew?
  • “Obviously, first time I played with Pederson but it’s easy to play when you play with a guy with skill and he has it,” said Pettersson. 
  • Jared McCann opened the scoring for the Kraken by catching Spencer Martin leaving his net a split-second early on what he expected to be a dump-in. Instead, McCann fired the puck on net and Martin couldn’t scramble back in time to make the save. Colour commentator John Garrett, a steadfast member of the goalie union, did his best to excuse Martin by suggesting that McCann “turned his wrist” to fake like he was going to dump the puck in, all while the replay showed that McCann did no such thing and simply shot it directly towards the net.
  • It has been suggested in some corners that I’ve blamed the Canucks’ defence too much and been too easy on the goaltenders, so let’s be clear: that goal was at least 75% Martin’s fault. Maybe 76%.
  • Leading up to the goal, the Kraken were all over the Canucks, who didn’t get a shot on net for the first eight-and-a-half minutes of the game. It’s too bad it was a home game, because a “shotless in Seattle” joke is just sitting there. 
  • The Canucks woke up after the goal and it was the Pettersson line that got them even. Quinn Hughes made a great bank pass to Kuzmenko, who hooked the puck into the path of the onrushing Pettersson for a 2-on-1 with Pederson, who may as well have not existed with how little attention the Kraken paid to him. Pettersson predicted Pederson’s path and put a pretty pass in the perfect position for Pederson to pop it past Martin Jones, whose name is frustratingly non-alliterative.
  • The second period nearly went off the rails for the Canucks, as the Kraken scored twice in a ten-second span. First, a Conor Garland turnover in the offensive zone caught Luke Schenn out of position and Oliver Bjorkstrand cashed in on the subsequent 2-on-1. Ten seconds later, Oliver Ekman-Larsson was too slow to Daniel Sprong off a faceoff and he tipped in an Adam Larsson point shot.
  • Pettersson stemmed the bleeding a few minutes later. He moved the puck to the point, then moved himself to the net, sneaking in behind the Kraken’s defence, with Pederson cutting across the slot to draw some attention away. You can see the cleverness in putting Pederson on Pettersson’s line — the Kraken would never have left Pettersson that wide open without a similarly-named decoy on the ice. Pettersson then neatly tipped in Luke Schenn’s shot from the half-wall, swatting it down under Jones’s glove.
  • Even with Pettersson, the Canucks remain a defensive disasterpiece. Riley Stillman, in the lineup instead of Ethan Bear, looked awful on the 4-2 goal, with a gap on the zone entry so wide you could fly a super star destroyer through it. He then coasted to the side of the crease and stood and watched as the rest of the play unfolded. Despite being ostensibly a defenceman, he played approximately zero actual defence on that entire play.
  • With Stillman a non-factor, the 4-on-3 was essentially a 4-on-2. Garland attempted to block a shot from Will Borgen and slid right out of the play, turning it into a 4-on-1, with only Kyle Burroughs actually there trying to defend. To top it off, Martin challenged Alex Wennberg too aggressively on the rebound and, with no one there to stop him, Wennberg dragged the puck into the slot and fired it into the vacated net.
  • Down by two to start the third period, it was up to Pettersson to spark the comeback, but it took a great defensive play by Oliver Ekman-Larsson for it to be possible. Five minutes into the third period, the Kraken had a 3-on-1, with Ekman-Larsson the lone man back. He played it about as well as he possibly could, staying central and laying his stick on the ice to take away the pass that would have led to a tap-in goal for Yanni Gourde. 
  • After that chance, the Canucks attacked in transition. Pederson gave the puck to Pettersson who drew in defenders who seemed to recognize that he was the real one, but that left Pederson open for Pettersson’s cross-ice pass. Pederson showcased his one skill, smoothly catching and releasing Pettersson’s pass and sending it to Kuzmenko at the backdoor. After fanning on his first shot, Kuzmenko hoisted the puck up over Jones’ pad to make it 4-3. 
  • The Kraken regained the two-goal lead a minute later on an awful turnover by Tyler Myers. He handed the puck over to Brandon Tanev at the blue line then exacerbated the problem by falling over and leaving his check, Daniel Sprong, wide open for the tap-in goal. Not to get all technical in my analysis of that play, but Myers did badly. It was bad. Really, really bad.
  • It cannot be overemphasized how much better the power play looked with Pettersson on it. When the opposing penalty kill has to constantly keep someone in his shooting lane, it creates so much space, and taking away his shooting lane doesn’t even stop him. He instead just fired a pinpoint pass to Boeser’s backhand for the deflection to make it 5-4. You can’t stop Elias Pettersson; you can only make him succeed vicariously. 
  • As the Canucks were playing 6-on-5 in the final minutes, Vince Dunn cleared a loose puck right onto J.T. Miller’s stick. He did the smartest thing possible; he immediately gave the puck to Pettersson. It was a superb cross-seam pass and Pettersson turned on the puck like he was Theon Greyjoy and the puck was Robb Stark to score the tying goal.
  • Overtime solved nothing, but only just. In less than a minute, the Canucks hit three posts: first Miller, then Pettersson, then Hughes. They were hitting more iron than the Time Grappler in Andor. Quite literally, actually, because the Time Grappler’s anvil was made out of beskar and not iron.  
  • “Oh my god,” said Pettersson with a laugh when asked about the three posts. “Couldn’t believe it. I was running on no energy there, just wanted the puck to go in.”
  • Full credit to Miller for not only his great assist on the tying goal but his assist in the shootout — without his clinical finish on his go-to wide-left move, Pettersson never would have had the chance to win the game. 
  • Pettersson’s move was lovely, a swizzle-stick deke that left Martin Jones lunging back with his right pad, leaving just enough of a gap between his pad and the ice for Pettersson to tuck the puck under like a Bill Barilko hockey card under a 50 mission cap.  
  • “I was actually hoping he was going to shoot,” said Boudreau, “because he’s deked the last two times and it hasn’t worked out well but one thing about Petey, he’s stubborn. If he knows he can do something, he’s going to do it and he’s going to keep doing it.”
  • Seriously, that was a monumental game from Pettersson. He is an incredibly special player; do not forget to cherish him