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I Watched This Game: Facing the Bruins, Canucks find a way to win for a change

After weeks and weeks of finding ways to lose winnable games, the Canucks finally found a way to win a losable game.
The Vancouver Canucks hung on against the Boston Bruins to get the game to the shootout, where J.T. Miller and Bo Horvat came through for the win.

The Vancouver Canucks are undefeated under Bruce Boudreau.

Sure, it’s just two games, but when it’s just the third time all season they’ve won two games in a row, that’s noteworthy. 

The most impressive part is that they won the game with Oliver Ekman-Larsson out of the lineup, giving them a defence that was horrifyingly bad on paper. With the team’s right-side defence being one of their biggest issues, the Canucks dressed five right-side defencemen, with two of them playing on their off side.

On top of that, Travis Hamonic left the game late in the second period, so the Canucks had to play the entire third period with just five defencemen. 

Earlier in the season, the Canucks would have found a way to lose this game. On Wednesday night, they found a way to win.

Sure, it was just barely, by the skin of their teeth — which is just the grossest phrase if you think about it for even a second — but every win counts, especially for a new coach that is trying to get his players to buy in.

“When you're trying to sell something, and if it doesn't go right, that message goes out the window pretty quickly,” said Boudreau after the game. “My goals are to win the week and so you get one out of the next two and you've won the week and it's a positive week and then you start over again.”

The Canucks are well on their way to winning the week.

They had some help getting the win from an unlikely source: the Boston Bruins. High-danger chances were 7-to-1 at 5-on-5 for the Bruins and 12-to-2 in all situations but the Bruins either couldn’t beat Thatcher Demko or shot themselves in the foot.

The Bruins hit two crossbars on golden opportunities; Taylor Hall whiffed on a wide open net on a 2-on-1; David Pastrnak put the puck back through the crease on a backdoor pass on the power play; Erik Haula scored a breakaway goal that was called back after an offside challenge. This game could have gone very differently.

But it didn’t.

For this Canucks team, that feels massive. This was only a 2-1 shootout win but, for the players, this has to feel like confirmation of their fervently held belief that they are good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like them.

And, no matter what, it always feels good to beat the Bruins. I doggone liked it when I watched this game.

  • The highlight of this game, shockingly, was the Canucks’ penalty kill. We haven’t had much of a chance to see how new assistant coach Scott Walker’s penalty kill looks at in-zone defence because their aggressive attack in the offensive zone and neutral zone never lets the puck get there. 
  • The Canucks’ second period penalty kill was magical to watch, as they swarmed the Bruins power play and created multiple turnovers and several dangerous shorthanded chances. The only problem was they issued the net every time.
  • “How many almost breakaways did we have in that first short handed thing and I don't think we hit the net one time,” said Boudreau, who said that many of his players are “trying to pick so cute a corner sometimes instead of just shooting the puck at the net.”
  • What jumps out the most about the penalty kill is how many players are taking regular shorthanded shifts. Eight forwards, including Elias Pettersson and Vasily Podkolzin, played on the penalty kill, as did five defencemen. Most noteworthy: the odd man out on defence wasn’t Quinn Hughes — it was Kyle Burroughs. Hughes played 1:21 on the penalty kill and didn’t give up a single shot attempt.
  • Right after their fantastic second period penalty kill, the Canucks nearly threw all their momentum away when Erik Haula snuck behind Tucker Poolman for a breakaway. Haula made a fantastic move to the backhand to roof the puck over Demko; less fantastic was his move at the blueline when he skated over the line before the puck got to him, allowing the Canucks to successfully challenge for offside.
  • It’s time for the picking on Tucker Poolman section of the IWTG. Poolman was part of the Canucks’ excellent penalty kill and didn’t have a bad game overall, but this is one of the worst icings I have ever seen and I’ve seen a lot of The Great British Baking Show when they try to ice a hot cake. Under minimal pressure, Poolman fires a puck that rings around the glass at about elbow height, impossible for anyone to tip.
  • Conor Garland has let it be known that he does not like the “Angry Little Elf” nickname, which is fair enough. Besides, judging from him expertly goading Nick Foligno into a penalty in the first period, he’s not an elf — he’s a troll.
  • Hamonic left the game after taking a hit from Brad Marchand, who got an interference penalty on the play. The injury didn’t seem to come from the impact of the hit, however, but rather how Hamonic landed on the ice after jumping to absorb the hit. Hamonic wasn’t putting any weight on his right leg as he struggled to the bench and went straight to the room. 
  • Boudreau had no update on Hamonic after the game.
  • The Canucks opened the scoring on the Marchand penalty. J.T. Miller sent a hard pass through Derek Forbort’s legs to Brock Boeser’s blade and he sent the puck ramping up into the top corner, which is worth 100 points in Skee-Ball. It’s his second goal in as many games under Boudreau.
  • “I don't actually remember too much from college,” said Boeser after the game. It wasn’t a non sequitur, he was asked about playing in the bumper position on the power play for the University of Minnesota. Still funny, though. 
  • Boeser’s goal was nice but his blind, backhand pass between the legs that set up a 2-on-0 for Miller and Podkolzin was sublime. Miller set up Podkolzin but the pass was a little too far ahead of him and Podkolzin couldn’t quite deke to his backhand to tuck it in. Would have been glorious.
  • You can file this under “Things You Love To See”: a good, old-fashioned reverse hit by Elias Pettersson. This is a good sign for Pettersson, who always seems to play better when he gets involved physically. 
  • Pettersson’s line with Garland and Podkolzin had some strong shifts in the offensive zone but I’m honestly not sure it’s the best fit for Pettersson long-term: both Garland and Podkolzin love to have their puck on their stick and work along the boards; Pettersson loves to have the puck on his stick and work in open ice. I like Garland and Podkolzin together but their style of game might not bring out the best in Pettersson.
  • Miller can be such a frustrating player at times. He’s passionate, driven, and tremendously talented but he can also be prone to taking too many risks in the defensive zone, trying to do too much with the puck, and some boneheaded decisions. His undisciplined goaltender interference penalty that put the Bruins on a 5-on-3 could have cost the Canucks the game.  
  • The Bruins made short work of the two-man advantage. Bo Horvat, who is a great faceoff man but not a great penalty killer, lost the faceoff to Patrice Bergeron and then could only watch as Bergeron tipped in a perfectly-placed slap pass from Pastrnak. 
  • The Canucks should have been given a chance to win the game on the power play with seven minutes left in the third period. Directly in front of a referee and away from the puck, Foligno crosschecked Pettersson from behind, sending him flying into the boards. I have no idea how this isn’t a crosscheck or interference or both. It’s an absolutely baffling non-call.
  • The Canucks got some quality chances in overtime, with Hughes and Tanner Pearson robbed by Swayman, who is a real player for the Bruins, I’ve discovered, and not the instructions that a hippy on a California beach gave me when I needed to relax: “Just sway, man.”
  • I apologize for that last joke. Those responsible have been sacked. 
  • Miller and Bo Horvat were both brilliant in the shootout to secure the win. Both skated wide to the left, but finished in very different ways: Miller went with the deke, cutting back to the forehand to tuck the puck in on a helpless Swayman before screaming his way back to the bench. Like Tim Thomas’s tires in 2011, Miller was pumped up.
  • Horvat went with the shot, putting the puck top corner with what appeared to be no release whatsoever. One moment the puck was on his stick, the next it was in the net. Swayman didn’t even move. It was like a magic trick or, as Gob Bluth would say, an illusion.