The 2021-22 Vancouver Canucks are basically the villain from a slasher movie. Just when you think they’re dead, they rise up to kill again.
At least, that has to be the perspective of the Vegas Golden Knights, who are attempting to make a push for the playoffs right now. They’re focused on trying to catch either the Dallas Stars or Los Angeles Kings but the team on their tail, the Canucks, refuse to die.
Back at the beginning of April, the Golden Knights probably thought they had dispatched the Canucks for good when they staved off a third-period comeback with an overtime win. That was the Canucks’ third-straight loss and ninth loss in their last 12 games. That should have been enough to write them off entirely, right?
Only, the Canucks bounced back from that disappointment by rattling off four-straight wins. It’s like the Golden Knights opened a mirrored medicine cabinet in their bathroom, then, when they closed it, the mirror revealed that the Canucks were standing right behind them.
The Golden Knights have won six of their last eight games. Those two losses? Both have come at the hands of the Canucks.
Here’s the kicker: if the Golden Knights won both of those games against the Canucks, they’d be tied with both the Kings and the Stars in points and would have the first tiebreaker — regulation wins — over both of them. They would be in playoff position right now if not for the Canucks.
Those wins have also kept the Canucks on the fringes of the playoff picture. It’s still not looking good, particularly with both the Kings and Stars winning their games on Tuesday night, but they’re not dead yet. Like Michael Myers, they just keep coming back over and over again.
Even if the Canucks can’t make the playoffs this season, they may at least have hacked and slashed the Golden Knights’ playoff hopes to a grisly death.
- I joked about the Canucks being like a slasher villain for the Golden Knights, but really it’s just Demko. He killed them in the playoff bubble, destroying their confidence, even when the Golden Knights managed to eliminate the Canucks. In this game, he was back for the sequel, making 41 saves on 45 shots. Heck, he even wears a mask like a slasher villain, even if it’s not quite as classic as the old-school goalie mask worn by Jason Voorhees.
- In a season full of lousy starts, the Canucks jumped out to a great one in this game. Just a minute in, Bo Horvat drew a power play, then, seven seconds later, scored on that power play. It was Horvat’s 31st goal of the season and 9th goal in his last 11 games, as he’s been hotter than asphalt on a summer afternoon in Phoenix, AZ.
- It was a remarkably efficient power play, with all five members of the first unit touching the puck in seven seconds to set up the shot. Horvat won the faceoff and Elias Pettersson jumped in to play the puck back to Quinn Hughes, who shifted to the middle before feeding Miller. Two penalty killers came up high on Hughes and Pettersson, leaving acres of space down low for Miller to send the puck to Chiasson for a one-touch pass to Horvat in the slot for the quick finish.
- That’s points in four-straight games for Alex Chiasson, who has 3 goals and 7 points in that time. Not too shabby for a guy making league minimum.
- The Canucks drew another quick penalty and it seemed like they had control of the game but the Golden Knights took over for the rest of the period, out-shooting the Canucks 13-to-6 by the end of 20 minutes. Thatcher Demko, however, was stupendous and time after time stymied the stars of the Golden Knights, including an outrageous stop on a backdoor chance for Jack Eichel.
- When the Golden Knights finally scored, it was basically a fluke, though getting lucky is a little bit easier when you’re repeatedly firing pucks towards the net. One of those pucks, off the stick of Mattias Janmark, was going well wide when it hit Alec Martinez right in the breadbasket and went in the net. Like a monastery of Gregorian monks that have all taken a vow of silence, Demko had no chance.
- It seemed clear that Pettersson was plugged in right from puck drop because when he’s on his game, he plays surprisingly physical. He threw a few hits early in the game and, even if they weren’t the most effective hits, they were a good sign that Pettersson was fully engaged.
- “I’m not the heaviest hitter but I’m just trying to do the best that I can do,” said Pettersson.
- Pettersson took over in the second period. On an early power play, Pettersson took advantage of the Vegas penalty kill overplaying his one-timer — he wound up for a shot but instead sent a perfect slap pass to Vasily Podkolzin that rivaled that of the Sedins. Podkolzin’s initial tip went off the post but it came right back to him for the putback jam.
- A couple of minutes later, Pettersson got a bounce to go his way to extend the lead but it took a great play to get that bounce. Conor Garland broke up a Vegas attack, then sprung Pettersson the other way. He cut inside on Martinez with a quick change of pace and whipped a heavy shot that Lehner couldn’t handle. As Horvat drove the net, Zach Whitecloud tried to box him out but accidentally put the puck in off his skate. Initially waved off because Lehner swept the puck off the goal line with his blocker, the goal counted after video review.
- The Golden Knights responded right away, scoring the second after Al Murdoch finished announcing Pettersson’s goal. Jonathan Marchessault threw a puck towards the net and Horvat made the poor decision to try to knock it down with his stick in front of Demko, instead tipping it down like he was trying to score. The puck took an additional deflection off the stick of Michael “It’s a-me!” Amadio and snuck past Demko.
- Pettersson restored the two-goal lead with a little help from Brad Richardson. Pettersson made a superb defensive read to pick off a pass, creating a 2-on-1 with Richardson. Everyone in the building thought Pettersson was going to shoot, including Pettersson, until the very last moment when he slid a no-look pass across to Richardson for the tap-in goal.
- “No,” said Pettersson emphatically when asked if he was thinking pass the whole way. “But the closer I got to the goal, the bigger Lehner looked, so I was lucky to have found Richardson there.”
- Pettersson now has 10 points in his last 4 games, all since Patrik Allvin said the Canucks "don't have the superstar." Somebody seems to have taken that personally.
- The Golden Knights played the third period like a team that knows their playoff lives are at stake, like they were the last ones alive at the ill-fated slumber party or cabin in the woods or summer camp and they were the Final Girl trying to turn the tables on the killer. They out-shot the Canucks 17-to-5 in the final frame.
- “I was telling the guys in there,” said Bruce Boudreau, “Have you ever seen the old Bugs Bunny cartoons where he sees another bunny that’s really pretty and the red heart keeps coming out of your chest? I felt like that in the third period.”
- Shea “Alvin, Simon,” Theodore closed the gap to 4-3. It was a combination of Horvat getting caught puck-watching and leaving Theodore open and a bit of bad luck when a shot deflected off Hughes’s skate right to him. With Demko in motion, Theodore sent a perfect shot just over his pad, off the post, and in.
- The third period was really intense, which is probably why this Juho Lammikko pratfall struck me as so hilarious. It cut through the tension like a pie to the face.
- The Canucks were hanging on for dear life in the third, killing off two penalties and surviving a puck off the crossbar, but it was Pettersson that arguably had the best chance of the period. Garland made a fantastic play below the goal line to shake free of two defenders and set up Pettersson for a point-blank chance, but Lehner turned him aside.
- That save loomed large when Theodore drilled a one-timer past Demko in the final minute of regulation. Honestly, it makes sense that Theodore scored two of the goals on Demko — he’s the only guy who scored on Demko in the 2020 playoffs. Demko allowed two goals in that series, both by Theodore. Maybe he’s the real Final Girl.
- The goal earned the Golden Knights an all-important point to stay ahead of the Canucks and gain ground on the Stars and Kings. That’s a tough pill to swallow for the Canucks, who are doing their best to maintain their belief that they can still make the playoffs.
- “Devastating is not the word — it was disappointing, for sure. Obviously, everyone knew how important the game was, they knew how important the game was,” said Hughes. “It was unfortunate, but there’s been no quit in our group the whole year, so from my perspective, the only thing I was nervous about was our overtimes haven’t been great recently. That was the only thing I was thinking of, trying to have a good shift.”
- Hughes had a good shift. As Horvat ran a subtle pick play to give Garland a lane to the net, Hughes went to the front of the net and gave Eichel the old Todd Bertuzzi push-off as Garland took his shot. That gave Hughes all the time in the world to wait out Lehner and backhand the puck into the top of the net.
- Eichel could only go into full surprised Pikachu mode when he realized that the ref wasn’t going to call a penalty on Hughes for embarrassing him so thoroughly.
- “I was really glad to see Hughesy score because he needs to do that. He needs to jump into plays,” said Boudreau. “He’s a great passer but that would just make his game even better.”
- You could tell how much the win meant to the Canucks by how hard they celebrated. They were jumping up and down like they were doing their best Ed Jovanovski impressions. I haven’t seen someone that excited since Gillian Jacobs met the New York Times crossword puzzle editor.
- As happy as they were to get the win, the Canucks are still well aware that they face long odds.
- “It’s pretty clear what we’ve gotta do. We’ve still got to win. Of course, we feel good now we’ve won four in a row but it doesn’t mean…” said Pettersson before trailing off looking for the right word in English, before finally settling on the most accurate one possible. “It doesn’t mean shit — I couldn’t find another word — if we don’t continue on this wave and play good hockey.”