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I Watched This Game: Stamkos tallies goal 500 (and 501 and 502) as Canucks fall to Lightning

For the 20th time this season, the Vancouver Canucks gave up at least five goals in a game.
The Vancouver Canucks couldn't keep up with the Lightning in the first period, falling behind 4-0, and were unable to claw their way back. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

There are a lot of things to talk about from the Vancouver Canucks’ game on Wednesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning that are not actually about the game.

There was a meaningful tribute to Gino Odjick ahead of the game, with a moment of silence and a ceremonial puck drop featuring many of his former Canucks teammates, as well as further tributes to Gino from Garth Butcher, Geoff Courtnall, and Pavel Bure (via video) during the game. 

There was the return of the beloved skate jersey or, rather, the introduction of a new third jersey that mostly resembles the beloved skate jersey. 

There was Steven Stamkos scoring his 500th career goal, which was sort of about the game, but transcended the game at the same time.

There was a weird sound on the broadcast that sounded like a fart, leading John Shorthouse to jokingly ask John Garrett, “Was that you?” and it was all anyone could talk about on Twitter for the entire game. 

Also, John won a car!

But don’t let any of that distract you from the Canucks allowing five goals against for the 20th time this season, tying the most times they’ve allowed 5+ goals in a season since 1991 and it’s only the 44th game of the season.

There was no riding the emotion of the Odjick tribute or embracing the intimidating colours of the black skate jersey — the Canucks collapsed in the defensive zone just like they’ve done so many times this season and were down 4-0 before the first period was even over.

It wasn’t just that the Canucks gave up four goals but the kind of goals they gave up, as the Lightning picked apart the Canucks’ defence as easily as plucking petals off a daisy. 

“In the D-zone, we made a lot of mistakes right off the bat,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau. “They were relatively easy mistakes.”

“We were a little bit scrambly in the first,” said Luke Schenn. “We battled and fought hard in the end but when you’re giving up those plays — they were gifts. That’s the way we started the game and it’s pretty hard to battle back on a team like that when you’re down four-nothing.”

It’s been an issue all season long. It has been far too easy for opposing teams to exploit the Canucks’ defensive structure to create cross-seam passes for grade-A scoring chances. The Lightning made it look frightfully easy in the first period before sitting back in the second and third, knowing that they had another game in 24 hours. 

“It’s our own fault for not being able to do what the coaches are preaching,” said Schenn.

It was my own fault that I watched this game.

  • There’s a certain kismet to the planned return of the skate jersey coinciding with the first home game after Gino Odjick passed away. Even though there was a certain uncanny valley aspect to the revised skate jersey, it just felt right for the Canucks to honour Odjick while wearing a facsimile of the jersey he wore the most in his career.
  • Unfortunately, the nineties throwback jerseys seemed to lead to some nineties throwback defence from the Canucks in the first period, except without the clutching, grabbing, and hooking that made that defence tenable. The Canucks actually out-shot the Lightning 18-to-12 in the first period but it sure didn’t feel like it.
  • It seemed inevitable that Steven Stamkos would score his 500th career goal against the Canucks after scoring his 499th career goal on Thursday when the Canucks were in Tampa Bay. At least he killed the suspense and got it out of the way early, opening the scoring less than five minutes into the game.
  • It was a disasterpiece of defending, a monstrous Monet of malignance. Kyle Burroughs stepped up to hit Alex Killorn but bounced off him as Killorn passed to Anthony Cirelli. Ethan Bear broke up the pass but tripped over Cirelli before he could get the puck, so Killorn jumped on the loose puck with a path to the net. That’s when Ilya Mikheyev left Stamkos to chase after Killorn, only to get toe-dragged right out of his jockstrap. Suddenly it was a 2-on-0 down low and the man wide open at the backdoor for the tap-in was one of the greatest goalscorers of his era. 
  • “He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, for sure,” said Schenn. “Heck of a career and obviously, he’s a good buddy of mine and I’m happy for him.”
  • The Rogers Arena crowd gave Stamkos a standing ovation for his achievement, which was a classy gesture. “The ovation from the fans was something I’ll remember forever,” said a grateful Stamkos.
  • “What I love about Vancouver is the fans are educated and they appreciate the history of the game and they appreciate watching good players,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. “You can see that by the respect they showed. I’m really proud of the Vancouver fans.”
  • “We were really hoping that he’d get it in Seattle,” quipped Boudreau, “but it didn’t happen that way.”
  • The Lightning were flying around the Canucks’ zone like it was a Tesla Coil, causing another disastrous defensive breakdown. Tyler Myers was checking Nikita Kucherov, then left him to cover the front of the net, seemingly thinking Oliver Ekman-Larsson would pick him up. Instead, Ekman-Larsson focused on lifting the stick of Cal Foote as he cut to the net. That left the Canucks’ supposed shutdown pair both covering Foote, who has four career goals, while Kucherov, who has 263 career goals, was wide open for a one-timer off a cross-seam pass to make it 2-0.
  • Brayden Point made it 3-0, finishing off a rebound from an Eric Cernak shot, with Curtis Lazar not close enough to check him. It wasn’t a great rebound off Spencer Martin’s pad — you’d like to see that one either deflected into the corner or kicked out with the same intensity that MC5 kicks out the jams.  
  • Stamkos added another goal to make it 4-0. Burroughs gave the puck away with an ill-advised pass behind his own net then didn’t have position on Stamkos as he cut to the net to capitalize on a pass from Killorn. There was no standing ovation for his 501st goal. 
  • There really was a weird fart sound on the broadcast. It wasn't just on the Canucks broadcast but on the Lightning broadcast and the radio too. Turns out, it was just Collin Delia’s skate skidding against the ice as he skated out to play a puck after he came in to replace Spencer Martin.
  • “I think it was a message to everybody,” said Boudreau, not about the fart sound but about pulling Martin. “The goalie, the defence, the forwards. It came on nine or ten shots — they were grade-A shots — but his confidence would have been gone by that time and you needed a change.”
  • Conor Garland was on the first power play unit where Brock Boeser or Andrei Kuzmenko normally plays. It didn’t really work. Garland was a little too short to properly screen the 6’2” Brian Elliott and he didn’t peel off to the side of the net when Elias Pettersson had the puck to create a tap-in opportunity. 
  • Kuzmenko, whose parents were in the crowd to watch him play in the NHL for the first time, got bumped up to the first unit in the third period and it immediately paid off. Kuzmenko got the puck down low and moved it to J.T. Miller, who set up Quinn Hughes for a one-timer. Kuzmenko rotated out front at the perfect time to tip the puck past Elliott to give his parents something to cheer about.
  • "I was thinking that Kuzy was going tonight," said Boudreau about bumping him back up to the first unit and back onto a line with Pettersson. "When he's skating and he's handling the puck, he's pretty dangerous and that's the coach's job to find that out and make those switches during the course of the game."
  • That goal worked because of Kuzmenko moving the puck from below the goal line, as the Lightning penalty kill was otherwise playing a very high diamond that put a lot of pressure at the top of the zone and prevented clean puck movement. I asked Hughes about that after the game.
  • “We usually just work it between me, Millsy, and Petey, so teams are probably just going to diamond out on us three,” said Hughes, acknowledging the issue. “So we’ve got to incorporate some low plays going forward.”
  • Hughes exploited that high penalty kill, however, to score his first power play goal in 200 games, which is an absurd statistic given how talented he is. He took a drop pass from Miller, cut around Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and slipped past Killorn, giving him a free path to the net. He cut hard to the net as if he was trying to get to the far post, then chipped a backhand under Elliott’s arm on the short side.
  • “It happens quick, but I’m seeing that [Victor] Hedman in front was worried about me going backdoor to Kuzy, so I just took it to the net,” said Hughes.
  • "When he scored his goal, that's what we want," said Boudreau of Hughes. "If he can make that move and then go forwards rather than sideways, I think it opens everything up and I think he's finding that out too. That's going to make him a more dangerous player than he already is and he's pretty dangerous."
  • That was as close as the Canucks would come but you have to give credit to J.T. Miller for keeping it that close. With the net empty behind him, he faced Point one-on-one and slid to the ice to make a Kirk McLean-esque two-pad stack save, keeping the Canucks’ comeback hopes alive.
  • The comeback hopes were for naught. Stamkos completed the hat trick into the empty net a minute later. But still, the effort was appreciated.