At 8:09 p.m Pacific Standard Time, the Vancouver Canucks’ playoff chances went from slimmer than John Waters’ moustache to none at all.
That’s when the Dallas Stars took the Vegas Golden Knights to overtime, earning the single point necessary to put themselves out of reach of the Canucks for good.
But look, we all knew this was coming. Rehashing everything that led to this point feels very unnecessary. The dead horse has been thoroughly beaten — or fed horse has been thoroughly sated, to satisfy PETA — and there’s no need for further flogging. Maybe later.
Instead, let’s focus on the big positive story of Tuesday night’s game between the Canucks and the Seattle Kraken. While the result of the game might have been rendered meaningless about halfway through in regards to the playoffs, it was immensely meaningful for Quinn Hughes, who set a new franchise record for the most points by a defenceman in a single season.
The record-setting point for Hughes came just a few minutes into the game, giving him 64 points for the season — one more than Doug Lidster in the 1986-87 season.
That’s a record that stood for 35 years or, put another way, 13 more years than Quinn Hughes has been alive. Odds are, he’ll be breaking that record again in the future.
Actually, Hughes broke the record twice more before the game was done. He tallied another assist in the third period, then added a goal as an exclamation point to his three-point night, making 66 points the new franchise record for points by a Canucks defencemen, with two games remaining for Hughes to improve it even more.
“It wasn’t really on my radar at the start of the season,” said Hughes of the record. “Maybe when I hit the 50-point mark, I was like, okay, I can probably do this. Honestly, we were so close and we were pushing so hard for the playoffs the entire time — that was the dominant thing on my mind.”
“I knew that if we were going to get there, I would have to play good hockey,” he added, “so, I figured the two were kind of connected.”
It makes sense that breaking the record wasn’t at the forefront of Hughes’ mind. Any time you talk to Hughes, it becomes clear that his focus is on his complete game.
“It sounds crazy, but I think I’m more satisfied about the plus/minus and my overall game than I am the points, honest to God,” said Hughes. “There’s still defencemen in the league that are better than me, and I want to be right up there with them. That’s what I’m pushing for.”
To head coach Bruce Boudreau, that’s what separates a great player like Hughes from other players who are merely good
“It’s something that he was consistently talking about, that it was a goal of his to go from minus-24 or whatever he was last year to being a plus player and a player that you can count on in defensive situations,” said Boudreau. “That’s what great players do — they work on the stuff that they don’t think they’re good at.
“He’s a great skater and a great passer — those are great things — but the other things that he didn’t do well are what he was concerned about.”
Hughes is already a great player but the most exciting thing about him is that he has the potential to be even better. It’s thrilling to imagine what he might do in the years to come.
“In my crazy mind, I have more goals that I want to do, and I’ve just got to keep going,” said Hughes.
In my mostly sane mind, I perceived via my eyes Hughes’ record-breaking night when I watched this game.
- The Canucks were a force to be reckoned with in the first period, racking up 12 shots on goal and a 3-0 lead before the Kraken could even get a second shot. It was about as dominant a period as the Canucks have played all season.
- Sheldon Dries opened the scoring with a wicked wristshot on a 2-on-1. The key to the goal, unlike knowing if he loves you so, was in his eyes. Dries’ eyes were on Tyler Myers the whole way, leaving open the possibility of a pass right up until the point he ripped the puck short side on Joey “Okay” Daccord. As Dries celebrated, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
- Less than a minute later, J.T. Miller made it 2-0 on a slick backhand feed from Conor Garland. It started with a record-breaking play by Quinn Hughes, who took a pass in the defensive zone and attacked through the neutral zone with an aggressive burst of speed. After laying the puck off for Garland on the zone entry, Hughes drove to the net, which backed off the defence and gave Miller all the room he needed to step into a one-timer and send it sailing into the top corner.
- Oliver Ekman-Larsson extended the lead to 3-0 on a power play later in the first period. Garland gave him the puck at the point and he got his shot past penalty killer Alex Wennberg, who was too far away to block the shot but just the right distance to keep Daccord from seeing the shot coming. New goal for Wennberg for the offseason: work on his translucency.
- Things went off the rails in the second period and it’s hard not to make the connection to when the Stars took the Golden Knights to overtime, eliminating the Canucks from the playoffs. They would have known the Stars and Golden Knights were tied late in the third period while they were in the first intermission and might have gotten word that the game went to overtime a few minutes into the second period. It’s understandable that some sloppiness and frustration would slip into their game.
- The parade to the penalty box was almost literal. I could have sworn I saw a marching band follow J.T. Miller into the box after his second penalty of the second period. The Canucks gave the Kraken eight power plays, including two extended 5-on-3s, and they weren’t exactly borderline calls. For example, Tyler Myers broke his stick on Morgan Geekie with a crosscheck, which is a no-no even if the refs missed a high stick by Geekie a moment earlier.
- Bruce Boudreau seemed somewhat irate after the team’s eighth penalty of the game and he made it pretty clear that it was the players he was frustrated with and not the officials when the Sportsnet cameras caught him yelling at the bench, “Don’t get mad at the f***ing referees! Holy f***!”
- “Dumb penalties,” said Boudreau after the game. “They were penalties. We want to yell at the referee but every one was a penalty, from the hook to the trips to the unsportsmanlike — those are penalties! We can yell and get mad at them all we want. I guarantee, they were looking for penalties on [Seattle] to try to even it up a bit but they only found that one interference when he knocked the stick out of his hands.”
- I was reminded of my days refereeing soccer when I would call a foul on a player and his teammate would get in my face and my response was, “Don’t get mad at me, I didn’t trip the guy.”
- “When you’re doing that, there’s a lot of guys that aren’t playing — they don’t kill, so they get cold, it’s a snowball effect, and you end up not looking very good,” said Boudreau. “Thank god Spencer Martin was incredibly good tonight again… His effort on the first 5-on-3 alone was outstanding and without the stick too. He wants to prove that he’s an everyday NHLer.”
- Martin made 30 saves on 32 shots, with 14 saves in the second period alone, including a pair of early breakaways. He now has a .953 save percentage across four starts for the Canucks this season, with a 2-0-2 record. With his new two-year, one-way contract, he looks like a lock to be Demko’s backup next season.
- The Kraken finally got to Martin on their second 5-on-3 power play, which is why you don’t typically give an opposing team two 5-on-3s in one game. It came off a failed clearance by Quinn Hughes but let’s just take a moment to appreciate that Hughes was out there killing off a two-man advantage.
- Some sloppy defensive coverage by Juho Lammikko left Geekie wide open to narrow the Canucks’ lead to 3-2 a few minutes later. That was it for scoring from the Kraken, however, as Martin made like me every time my kids go out the door for school in the morning and shut the door the rest of the way.
- I thought this was a neat replay of Jared McCann’s apparently literal buzzsaw of a shot. It’s not often you see a puck slice through a stick like that. It continued on as if it was barely impeded and forced a glove save from Martin.
- In the second intermission, the Canucks knew they, like The National, better get their s*** together, better gather their s*** in. They did so in the third period after a few more sharp stops by Martin. They managed to stay out of the penalty box and added a couple more goals to comfortably cruise to the win.
- Luke Schenn made it 4-2. After he made a nice move to get the puck to Matthew Highmore for the zone entry, Schenn continued to the net, where he got a fortunate bounce. Highmore’s shot ramped up Daccord’s stick like a skee-ball ramp and landed in the crease behind Daccord for Schenn to shovel in.
- Finally, Hughes finished off the scoring on Garland’s third assist of the night. The two short kings took advantage of a Kraken turnover and took a crack at a 2-on-1. Garland’s sauce was flawless and Hughes’ finish looked effortless. The only thing that looked unnatural about the goal was the massive grin on Hughes’ face after he scored.
- “I think it’s important for our culture moving forward to grind out the next two,” said Hughes after the game when he was present the game belt by Jason Dickinson and the team seems to be unanimous in that view that, even though they fell short of the playoffs, they’ve still done something important over the last few months for the culture of the team. There’s a sense that they’re building a culture where winning isn’t a hope — it’s an expectation.
- “When Francesco asked me about the job, I said, ‘We’ll make the playoffs,’ and I’m sure he laughed inside but it was my goal,” said Boudreau. “And we didn’t accomplish the goal.”
- “I always believed — up until I think with two minutes to go in the Dallas game,” said Boudreau, who outlined all the reasons why he still believed the Canucks could make the playoffs, right down to thinking he could call Ryan Getzlaf to implore the Anaheim Ducks to put in some extra effort in their final game against the Stars. “I hate it…I’ve only missed the playoffs once in a season that I’ve started and that’s from the time I started coaching in 1992. It’s not something you like to feel. I hate it. I’m all about winning, so it’s a sour taste even when you say what our record is.”