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IWTG: Canucks can only muster two good periods against the Leafs

The Canucks played a good 40 minutes but hockey games remain 60 minutes long.
The Vancouver Canucks fell 5-1 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

The Vancouver Canucks’ unlikely dream of catching the Montreal Canadiens and making the playoffs is practically, if not mathematically, dead.

Sure, technically if the Canadiens lose all six of their remaining games, the Canucks could go 7-4-0 to end the season and catch them. The Canadiens could even win a couple games and the Canucks would have to be just that more dominant in their 11 remaining games.

The players are going to hold onto math harder than they’ve ever held onto math before.

“We’re not out of it until we’re mathematically out of it,” said Bo Horvat after Saturday’s 5-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. “As long as you still have a chance, we’ve got to come to the rink every single day and play hard.”

The Canucks did play hard on Saturday and their first two periods were very strong. Regrettably, hockey games are three periods long.

“Our guys worked hard tonight. Those first two periods were some pretty good hockey for our group,” said head coach Travis Green. “Couldn’t pull the trigger, couldn’t get a puck in the net besides the one.”

Finish was definitely an issue. The Canucks actually out-shot the Leafs through the first two periods, 23 to 16, and created some dangerous chances, but still entered the third period down by one. By the third period, all the energy that they played with in the first two periods seemed gone. The Leafs started beating the Canucks to pucks and the mental mistakes started to pile up.

It’s hard to dismiss the spectre of the team’s COVID-19 outbreak when you see a team simply run out of energy in the final twenty minutes.

“I’m not gonna sit here and say it’s been a cakewalk,” said Horvat. “We’re not trying to make excuses here, but obviously it takes a lot out of you. You’re coming out with the time change and everything and playing against a good hockey team. Again, we’ve got to find ways to try to win games, no matter what.”

At a time like this, the Canucks need to take whatever positives they can and keep their heads up for the rest of the season. On Saturday night, those positives were two periods.

“It’s two of our better periods that we’ve probably played coming out of COVID and they’ll be disappointed that they lost, that’s for sure,” said Green. “That’s the nature of the beast, you should be.”

The real solution, and one that would make it easier not only for the players but for all the Canucks fans who continue to watch these games, is to make the rest of the Canucks' games this season two periods long. I think this is a solution we can all get behind. 

I wouldn't have minded skipping the third period entirely when I watched this game.

  • The Canucks looked good to start the game and got some good minutes early from two guys fighting for a new contract, Jimmy Vesey and Travis Boyd. There’s one major argument in their favour: they’ll be cheap.
  • While the Canucks only got one goal, it at least opened the scoring, which is always nice. Off a faceoff win by Horvat, Tanner Pearson found some open space along the boards with Horvat tying up John Tavares and Travis Dermott. Pearson treated the puck like Messala’s horses and whipped it through the chaos. The puck made a perfect “ping” sound as it went off the post and in.
  • The Leafs tied it up just two minutes later as Auston Matthews did what he does best: found a soft spot in the offensive zone and scored a goal. J.T. Miller charged out to cover him but Matthews’ shot deflected off Miller’s stick and past Thatcher Demko.
  • Miller nearly put the Canucks back ahead before the end of the first with a nifty drag move past John Tavares. He went to put the puck upstairs but like a thatcher hired to work on a two-story house with a one-story ladder, he couldn’t get high enough to roof it.
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  • This was another game where the goaltender was the least of the Canucks’ worries. Demko may have only made 25 saves on 29 shots but he had little chance on the pucks that went in and came up with some big saves to keep the Canucks in the game through the first two periods. None were bigger than his elbow save on Joe Thornton off a 2-on-1 late in the first. He made like Down AKA Kilo and went elbows up, side to side. 
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  • The Leafs took their first and only lead early in the second period. Alex Edler opened up to see the ice as he took a pass from Jalen Chatfield, not realizing that Mitch Marner was hard on his heels. Marner stripped him of the puck and found Matthews, whose shot seemed to ricochet first off Brandon Sutter’s stick, then Edler’s arm before reaching the back of the net. 
  • Where it really fell apart, in little pieces on the floor, was in the third period. It took over ten minutes for the Canucks to get their first shot of the period, while the Leafs already had ten. One of those ten beat Demko, a Justin Holl point shot that was headed for Demko’s glove until Adam Brooks threw some shrimp on the barbie and tipped it down under.
  • “The third goal, for me, was probably a tough one for our group,” said Green. “Now we’ve got to start to chase the game a little bit. We don’t score easy and it’s never a good thing when we start forcing the game and forcing plays.”
  • One of those forced plays Green mentioned was a Quinn Hughes turnover as he tried to move the puck too quickly on the breakout and missed Sutter with his backhand pass. Tavares got it instead and set up William Nylander for a great chance. Demko made the save but Tyler Myers didn’t take Alex Galchenyuk going to the goal and he potted the rebound. 
  • Joe Thornton finally got his goal once Demko’s elbows were safely on the bench, scoring into the empty net to make the final score 5-1. He was cherry-picking at the Canucks’ blue line but, to be fair, fresh cherries are delicious.
  • News broke during the game that Jonah Gadjovich has been called up from the Utica Comets after 15 goals in 19 AHL games this season. The Canucks also have defenceman Jack Rathbone waiting in the wings to make his NHL debut. With Kole Lind already in the lineup, it’s time for the Canucks to get a couple more young prospects out on the ice to see what they can do.
  • Lind got bumped up the lineup in his first NHL game on Thursday; on Saturday, he started the game in the top-six on a line with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson. I particularly liked his backcheck on Tavares in the third period. 
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  • I frequently say, infuriating my English teacher father who bemoans the death of the adverb, it’s not enough to backcheck hard, you have to backcheck smart, and Lind did exactly that. He could have buried his head and chased to turn a 3-on-2 into a 3-on-3, but instead he kept his head up, read the play, and prevented a great scoring chance by the trailer.
  • “I think he’s been great. It’s not easy to step in and play the minutes he did against a team like that and he held his own,” said Horvat. “Lind, he’s going to be a good player for a lot of years and I’m looking forward to seeing how he develops.”