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I Watched This Game: J.T. Miller opens and closes the scoring in overtime win over Ducks

Andrei Kuzmenko scored his 30th goal of the season and got some extra produce from Canucks fans.
The Vancouver Canucks' tank went on hold as they won their third game of the row, defeating the Anaheim Ducks in overtime.

Andrei Kuzmenko could stock his fridge solely with produce brought to him by fans at Vancouver Canucks home games.

Kuzmenko was spotted downing a banana and a Pepsi during the Canucks’ 6-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in mid-February, which led to all sorts of jokes. Personally, I think he should adopt “Banana Man” by nineties punk band Ghoti Hook as his theme song, but I digress.

Before the Canucks’ last game against the Nashville Predators, an enterprising young fan used this knowledge of Kuzmenko’s love for bananas to snag a souvenier, trading the technically-a-berry for one of Kuzmenko’s sticks.

“When you see a three or four-year old kid wants a stick and smile so bad, how can you say no?” said Kuzmenko on Wednesday night via pressganged interpreter Vitaly Kravtsov. “I just try to make his life much better.”

Fellow fans took note: during the warm-ups for the Canucks’ game against the Anaheim Ducks, multiple fans brought bananas for Kuzmenko and there were even a couple of oranges, just in case Kuzmenko needed a little bit of vitamin C. It wasn’t just fruit either.

“I saw some guy wanted to trade a Pepsi — maybe next game,” relayed Kravtsov for Kuzmenko. “Today, I’m going to check my fridge, and, depending on that, I’ll choose [the fruit I ask for] next game.”

Technically speaking, fans aren’t supposed to bring outside food and beverages into the arena for Canucks games, so this might lead to a whole smuggling operation to get fruit and Pepsi to Kuzmenko every game.

It’s a sign of how much of a fan favourite Kuzmenko has become in Vancouver. His bubbly personality shines through even when he’s cracking jokes in Russian for one of his younger Russian teammates to interpret for him. His joy on the ice is infectious and the added quirk of his wild hair and predilection for bananas just makes it that much easier to fall in love with him as a fan.

It helps that Kuzmenko is also racking up points. On Wednesday night, he scored his 30th goal of the season, tying Elias Pettersson for the team lead. Sure, it helps that he has the highest shooting percentage in the NHL this season at 25.9% and his 30th goal could not have been any luckier, but it’s still impressive how quickly Kuzmenko has established himself as a top-six forward in the NHL this season.

Kuzmenko’s goalscoring prowess hasn’t come as a surprise to J.T. Miller, though his scoring methods have.

“To be honest, I thought he’d be shooting the puck more,” said Miller. “He’s got one of the hardest wristshots on the team, if not the hardest. I think he looks to pass a lot; I can only imagine if he comes in with a shot-first mentality more, how much more he could score. He’s got so much potential.”

Yeah, just imagine what Kuzmenko could do if he starts eating his veggies too. I was tempted to introduce Kuzmenko to the food pyramid after I watched this game.

  • As Andrei “Produce Pete” Kuzmenko left the locker room before his on-camera interview, I jokingly asked him if he was off to go make his hair bigger. He laughed and said, “No, no, no! I’m going to get my translator.” Poor Kravtsov was mockingly rolling his eyes as Kuzmenko dragged him out in front of the cameras, but he was a good sport about the situation. “Nice to meet you guys,” he quipped to laughs from the media as he walked out with Kuzmenko after the interview.
  • We should have seen Kuzmenko’s love for fruit coming. When he showed up in Vancouver to meet with the Canucks during their courtship, Kuzmenko asked for water with a slice of lemon but the Canucks didn’t have any lemons. Kuzmenko bought lemons for Patrik Allvin as a joke after he and his agent got lunch, only to find the Canucks had a bowl of lemons already waiting for him.
  • Why am I talking so much about Kuzmenko and fruit? Because this was one of the most dreadfully boring hockey games I’ve seen in a long, long time. There were five goals and it was still agonizingly dull. There were massive stretches in this game where nothing of note happened. It was painful but exciting enough for the players, evidently.
  • “It’s exciting for us not giving up four a game,” said Miller. “It means you’ve got to score five most nights and it’s really hard…We like watching other teams play that give up nothing 5-on-5. Being hard to play against, that’s the biggest compliment you can give a team.”
  • Phil di Giuseppe was regrettably far too easy to play against on the Ducks’ opening goal. He was looking to intercept a Mason McTavish pass into the slot and turn it up ice, so was leaning the wrong way when Troy Terry lifted his stick and stole the puck. Di Giuseppe could only watch as Terry flipped a backhand over Thatcher Demko to make it 1-0.
  • The Canucks replied with a shorthanded goal. Pettersson made a great read on the forecheck, recognizing that goaltender Lukas Dostal had only one outlet, and he knocked down the pass with a deft stick. He spotted Miller streaking into the slot and sent a pass that Dostal managed to tip but still landed right on Miller’s stick and he went upstairs faster than a teenager sneaking their boyfriend into their room.
  • “In that situation, I felt the goalie only had one play,” said Pettersson. “It’s just guessing or reading. They only had one guy home and he was behind me, so he had to pass it through me. Luckily, I was able to intercept it.”
  • “As soon as he knocked it out of the air, I just tried to get my butt down there,” said Miller. “It was kind of a bouncer, so I got lucky that it landed perfectly flat on my stick, so I knucklepucked it.”
  • It’s interesting to hear both Pettersson and Miller acknowledge how much luck was involved even in a skilled goal like that one. Pettersson used his fantastic hand-eye coordination to knock down the puck, but it’s still pretty lucky it bounced right to his feet. Miller’s finish was perfect, slinging the puck right into the top corner, but it depended on the puck luckily bouncing just right onto his stick. 
  • Along with the shorthanded goal, the Canucks killed off both of their penalties in this game. The 2-for-2 night brought their penalty kill percentage for the season up to 68.3% — 0.1 points higher than the 1979-80 Los Angeles Kings and their all-time worst 68.2%. It’s time for a parade and a “Not the worst penalty kill in NHL history” banner to go up in Rogers Arena.
  • There’s a certain irony that Miller suggested Kuzmenko needs to shoot more when his 30th goal came on a pass. Kuzmenko was cutting to the net on the backhand, then slipped a pass to Pettersson at the backdoor, only, like Noah Calhoun’s 365 letters, it never made it to its destination. The pass deflected off Mason McTavish’s skate and went top shelf where Anne Hamilton probably hid all those letters.
  • The Ducks responded before Kuzmenko’s goal had even been announced in the arena. Trevor Zegras fired a shot on goal immediately after a Ducks faceoff win and Demko spilled a rebound to Brock McGinn, who, unlike Default’s Dallas Smith, wasted no time tying up the game at 2-2.
  • The only noteworthy thing that happened in the third period is that a deflected puck hit Quinn Hughes in the face and he briefly left the game. “Man, he gets hit in the face more than anybody I’ve ever seen,” said Miller. “He’s a warrior, really. He plays 25-30 every night in all situations and plays through everything. A lot of times, he’s our best player and he’s really taken a lot of strides in the leadership category on this team.”
  • Overtime was mercifully brief. Miller burned down the right wing, took advantage of a grotesquely-large gap from the Ducks’ defence, and ripped a wristshot past Dostal just 20 seconds into the extra frame. It was a gorgeous shot. 
  • “That part was kind of ad-libbed,” said Miller. “We do a double drop every time and try to get as much speed as we can and hopefully they lose their gap. I think their guy just kind of gave me a lane because Quinn went back again. At that point, I think they were flat-footed — I’m not 100 per cent sure — but you don’t get many chances to just attack in overtime with a free lane to shoot.”
  • This is the first time the Canucks have won three games in a row since December 27, which also happens to be the last time the Canucks won two games in a row. It was also the only time all season the Canucks have been above .500 and was immediately followed by the Canucks losing seven of their next eight games. In terms of the tank, that would be ideal, but it’s unlikely to happen: the Canucks are hitting their groove and have a soft schedule ahead of them. The tank might be getting mothballed, folks.