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I Watched This Game: No surrender for Silovs and Canucks in Game 3 versus Oilers

Arturs Silovs looked like a savvy veteran with a 42-save performance for the Vancouver Canucks in Game 3 against the Edmonton Oilers.
A three-point night from Brock Boeser and 42 saves from Arturs Silovs led the Vancouver Canucks over the Edmonton Oilers in Game 3.

The Edmonton Oilers have now played the Vancouver Canucks seven times between the regular season and the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Oilers have won just one of those seven games and it took overtime to do it. After losing to the Canucks 4-3 on Sunday night, they’re now down 2-1 in their second-round series.

And yet, it’s the Canucks who are the underdogs and the Oilers the Stanley Cup favourites.  

Certainly, the Oilers are the more seasoned team with a recent trip to the Western Conference Final under their belts. They have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in their primes. They’re due. This is their time. If not now, when?

And yet, they’re getting stymied by the Canucks’ third-string goaltender.

Arturs Silovs isn’t necessarily the most typical of third-string goaltenders, of course. Not every team has a World Championship MVP tending the farm in the AHL — a veritable Latvian folk hero, with public artwork devoted to honouring him. 

Still, Silovs had just 9 NHL games under his belt when the Canucks handed him the net after injuries to Thatcher Demko and Casey DeSmith. No one expected him to stand on his head but all he’s done is come through for the Canucks in the biggest moments on the NHL’s biggest stage.

In the deciding Game 6 in the first round, Silovs shut out the Nashville Predators for a 1-0 victory. Then, in a hostile Rogers Place in Game 3 against Edmonton, he made a whopping 42 saves — including 21 saves in the third period alone — to frustrate the Oilers faithful. 

“It’s nice to play in a hostile place,” said Silovs. “Especially [because] winning away games is so important. It’s just fun to win these types of games.”

Despite being a relatively untested rookie facing two of the most dangerous players in the world, Silovs isn’t the least bit rattled. He’s calm, relaxed, and having fun. 

“I’m not really nervous now,” said Silovs. “I’m just trusting what I’m doing and having full confidence.”

You have to wonder if the Oilers are getting nervous. They’re piling up massive minutes for McDavid, Draisaitl, and Evan Bouchard, with the three of them playing nearly — or in Bouchard’s case, over — an hour across the last two games. It smells a little desperate and even their head coach has acknowledged that it’s unsustainable.

“We can’t play them 30 minutes every night,” said Kris Knoblauch. “As tired as they were, they were still creating offence and getting some chances. Our best players have to be our best players and they have been and, as a coach, you just want to give them that opportunity. They’ve been doing well but we can’t be pushing them that much.”

You have to wonder if the Oilers thought this series would be easier. Perhaps the Oilers looked at the injured Demko and felt they had the advantage in net and can’t believe that a 23-year-old rookie is stealing games from them. Instead, it was their own goaltender, Stuart Skinner, being chased from the game after giving up four goals on 15 shots. 

Skinner now has an .877 save percentage in these playoffs. Make that a .793 save percentage in the three games against the Canucks.

The Oilers are now at the point where they’re taking moral victories from the goals they almost scored.

“Well, posts is not good goaltending,” said Draisaitl. “I think we’ve got enough guys in here that can put the puck past him. We’ve shown it so far. He’s obviously playing well and made some big stops for them but we’ve just got to be a little cleaner and look to bear down a little bit more.”

“I think he made some big saves,” said Knoblauch. “I also know that I thought we had him beat three or four times with goalposts, a couple of pucks laying in the crease.”

Ask any goaltender: if you beat the goalie but not the post, you didn’t beat the goalie. There’s a reason they call them netminders and not postminders: if you hit the post, they don’t mind.

The Oilers can have their moral victories; the Canucks will take the actual victory they earned when I watched this game.

  • Let’s be real, here: giving up 45 shots on goal — plus the three more shots that hit the post, don’t worry Leon, I didn’t forget them — is not, generally speaking, a good way to win a hockey game. That’s especially true when the team taking those 45 shots is the McDavid-led Oilers. The Canucks survived but some of their fans might have gone into cardiac arrest watching that third period, so if they want to avoid further medical emergencies, they’d do well to limit the Oilers’ shots in the future.
  • McDavid played 29:42 in this game, which is the most any forward has played in regulation in the playoffs since 2005. He finished the game with zero points.
  • The Good Job Lads — Conor Garland, Dakota Joshua, and Elias Lindholm — kicked off the game with a heavy shift. Lindholm and Joshua crushed Mattias Ekholm with two big hits, while Garland got hit by McDavid but ended up on top of him as his linemates created a scoring chance. Like “Lust for Life” in the opening scene of Trainspotting or “Danger Zone” in the opening scene of Top Gun, the hits set the tone for what was to come.
  • And then Brock Boeser took an early penalty and the Oilers opened the scoring on the power play to completely ruin the tone. Sure, it was a bit of bad luck — Tyler Myers blocked a shot and the puck bounced right to Mattias Ekholm for an open net — but it was still frustrating to see Boeser head to the box so early in the game when the Oilers power play has been so automatic. There’s no possible way Boeser was going to be able to make up for that mistake, he said facetiously.
  • Boeser helped the Canucks respond just three minutes later on the power play. Normally at the net front, Boeser ended up at the point instead, as Quinn Hughes darted down the left side, drawing two penalty killers with him. That opened up a ton of space for Boeser to walk in and rip a wrist shot. Elias Lindholm made like a life coach and gave the puck a tip that sent it in a new direction: into the back of the net.
  • “It was just on the fly, we were filling spots,” said Boeser about the unusual power play arrangement. “Sometimes you get in different positions and you’ve just got to move the puck around. I thought we had some quick puck movement there and the shot lane obviously opened up.”
  • A few minutes later, J.T. Miller took advantage of a defensive miscue by Ekholm and McDavid to set up Boeser for the 2-1 goal. As the Canucks cycled, McDavid missed a switch in coverage and both he and Ekholm moved to check Miller, leaving Boeser more open than Will Smith’s marriage. With that much time and space, Boeser wasn’t going to miss.
  • Five minutes after that, Warren Foegele was possessed by a spirit of generosity and handed the puck over to Pius Suter in the Oilers’ zone. Suter took advantage of Foegele’s generous gift and slipped the puck through to Boeser behind the Oilers’ defence as they had already started to jump up in transition. Boeser was decisive with the puck, taking one touch to cut to the front of the net and one more touch to snap the puck past Skinner’s glove.
  • Since Lindholm’s first goal was initially credited to Boeser, the 3-1 goal was reported as a hat trick at first, with some eager Canucks fans in the building even tossing their hats on the ice. Somehow, I doubt they minded that they were misled by an ersatz-trick given how the game ended. 
  • Down by two, the Oilers nearly clawed one back in the final minute of the first period, as Vincent Desharnais got a puck behind Silovs. Derek Ryan rushed in to try to jam the puck in but Quinn Hughes got his stick into the crease in time to save a goal and tuck the puck safely under Silovs, after which every single Canuck piled in as if they were trying to see how many players they could fit in the crease, like a poorly thought out youth group game. The answer appeared to be eight.
  • Meanwhile, Silovs reached out with his blocker and grabbed Ryan’s stick — and also Filip Hronek’s — to prevent Ryan from getting another touch on the puck. Is that legal? No. Is it smart? Definitely. 
  • Silovs made a goal-line save of his own in the second period. Corey Perry poked the puck at an open net from a Ryan McLeod centring pass after Hronek turned the puck over. Hughes tried to knock the puck clear but only managed to send it tumbling further away from Silovs but he recovered to pull the puck off the goal line at amazing speed: the quickest glove in the West. The call on the ice was no goal and there was no conclusive evidence to prove otherwise with Silovs glove covering up every possible camera angle.
  • “The Corey Perry one, in my opinion, I thought it was in,” said Knoblauch. “But you can’t prove it, so I thought we had him beat there.”
  • Knoblauch using Perry’s no-goal as evidence that the Oilers beat Silovs more than the score would indicate is funny because the chance came on a delayed penalty for Hronek and Draisaitl scored on the subsequent power play. If Perry’s goal had counted, they wouldn’t have gotten the power play and Draisaitl wouldn’t have scored. The two opportunities cancel each other out, so you don’t get credit for beating Silovs’ twice. That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works.
  • Interesting wrinkle to the Canucks power play in the second period. The defenceman on the second unit wasn’t Hronek; it was Nikita Zadorov. Considering Hronek has zero points in the playoffs (and hasn’t scored a goal since February 24) and Zadorov has 4 goals and 7 points in 9 playoff games, that actually makes a lot of sense. 
  • Carson Soucy left the game in the second period after blocking a shot off his foot. He returned for the third period and played eight minutes, which hopefully means that he won’t miss any time. At least, he won’t miss any time due to injury. He might miss time because of something else. We’ll get to that.
  • The Canucks struck again on the power play to take a 4-2 lead in the second period with an absurd goal. Miller fired a pass through to Lindholm as he drove to the net and the puck got caught underneath Lindholm’s right skate, as if he’d trapped it like a soccer ball. Lindholm glided in with his skate on top of the puck, then flicked the puck up to his stick and tucked it inside the post on the backhand. It was a wild piece of improvisation that you'll likely never see again.
  • Sure, Lindholm’s goal was nice, but the most satisfying highlight of the game was Zadorov sending Kane tuchus over teakettle into his own bench with a massive hit. Zadorov got a roughing penalty for being a little too vociferous in trying to get his stick free from the Oilers’ bench after but it was even out by a roughing penalty to the Oilers’ bench, perhaps because they were making it a little too hard for him to get his stick back in the first place.
  • Did Kane intentionally kick Zadorov in the head with his skate? I mean, I sure hope not. That's a terrifyingly dangerous thing to do. Also, Kane was literally upside down at the time and may not have had the best spacial awareness, so I'm going to vote for "no." 
  • Linus Karlsson came into the lineup for Nils Höglander and stepped into his spot on Elias Pettersson’s wing. Karlsson played a decent two-way game and had a scoring chance or two but head coach Rick Tocchet limited his minutes — he played just 9:48 — which also limited how much Pettersson played, as even with additional time on the power play and penalty kill, Pettersson had just 15:49 in ice time. 
  • Pettersson didn’t have much of an impact on this game but I’m not sure what you can expect out of him when his two linemates are an AHL forward playing under ten minutes of ice time who has yet to tally a single point in the NHL and the eternally snakebitten Ilya “Ouroboros” Mikheyev. 
  • Heck, maybe if Pettersson had played more than five shifts in the third period, the Canucks might have spent slightly less time in the defensive zone, considering two of the Canucks’ only three shots on goal in the third period came when Pettersson was on the ice. Just a thought.
  • The Oilers dominated the third period, out-shooting the Canucks 22-to-3. The Canucks have had fewer than 22 shots in seven of their nine playoff games so far, so it was a bit much. 
  • Despite the limited shots, the Canucks came close to extending the lead, with Nils Åman, into the lineup in place of Phil Di Giuseppe, nearly setting up Boeser for what would have been his actual hat trick goal. You could have given me a thousand guesses at a scoring combination and I wouldn’t have predicted Åman to Boeser. 
  • With two minutes left and Pickard pulled for the extra attacker, Miller came inches away from sealing the game for good but hit the post on the empty net from the defensive zone. According to Draisaitl and Knoblauch, that’s pretty much a goal, so congratulations to Miller on his twelfth point of the playoffs.
  • The game nearly ended without it’s legally-required Ian Cole blooper but with just over a minute left, Evan Bouchard shot a puck that hit Cole in the chest at the side of the net and banked in to make it 4-3. That’s two games in a row with Bouchard scoring the ol’ Cole goal. Cole didn’t find it droll and probably wanted to crawl into a hole. It might console his soul to know it at least didn’t cost them the game this time.
  • It was a wild finish, as Silovs had to come up with one more save on McDavid at the side of the net, then stretched across to make a brilliant save on Bouchard that was entirely unnecessary because the final horn had sounded. But it was still a boss save, so here you go:
  • The big controversy at the end of the game was the altercation between McDavid, Soucy, and Zadorov. Soucy gave McDavid a shove and McDavid responded with a two-handed slash to Soucy, to which Soucy took exception, slashed him back, and went to give him another shot to the chest. Only, before he could do so, Zadorov crosschecked McDavid from behind, pitching him forward so Soucy hit McDavid in the face instead.
  • Let’s unpack this: McDavid escalating things with the slash was not a smart move but the real issue was Zadorov stepping in when Soucy had things well in hand. Soucy had no intention to hit McDavid in the face and honestly seemed apologetic after, as the two were talking amicably to each other while their teammates were scrumming it up around them. 
  • Soucy received a crosschecking penalty, which was a bit of a moot point considering the game was over, but it at least acknowledges that something happened. To me, this was an unfortunate accident as tempers flared and I don’t expect any supplemental discipline. Perhaps a fine but a suspension, as some are calling for, seems unnecessary.
  • Six wins down, ten to go.