The NHL returned to action on Saturday, but it wasn’t quite business as usual. That was clear right from the media availability following the morning skate.
Most game days, teams ask that the media stick to questions about that day’s game. Given Thursday’s events and the lack of media availability on Friday, that just wasn’t going to be possible. The questions were inevitably slanted heavily towards discussing the players’ stand against racism two days earlier.
“It’s been an emotional couple days,” said Canucks head coach Travis Green. “Normally in playoff hockey, the emotions are up and down and you’re trying to control your emotions and then, with what happened over the last few days, it’s a different type of emotion, but well worth it.”
For two days, the Canucks and Vegas Golden Knights set aside their on-ice enmity and stood together.
“When it comes to stuff like this, it’s bigger than hockey,” said Canucks captain Bo Horvat. “You’ve got to put your differences aside and do what’s right.”
Green also made it clear that it doesn’t end with Thursday’s extraordinary moment. It can’t end there.
“It’s a message that will initiate awareness, a lot of positive discussions, hopefully the start to educating people in discussing racism, and ultimately, moving forward, to take action,” said Green. “Hopefully it’s not just in sport either, but in society.”
The unusual air to the proceedings continued right up until puck drop, as the arena and broadcast showed a pre-game video narrated by former Canucks goaltender, and current NHL analyst, Kevin Weekes.
“In hockey, we often let our effort, determination, and passion to win do the talking,” said Weekes, “but when an issue is bigger than the game, we must speak out, starting with three words we need to get comfortable saying: Black Lives Matter.”
It was a watershed moment, as the NHL has eschewed that particular phrase as much as possible, but here it was, front and centre. The video was appended in the arena with messages from the Golden Knights’ Ryan Reaves and the Canucks’ Horvat.
For those offended that the hockey broadcast “got political,” the video was followed by the national anthems of the United States and Canada, which is, itself, inherently political, yet rarely called out as such.
In many ways, it seemed like the hockey game itself was secondary on Saturday, and rightfully so. Unfortunately, the Canucks also seemed to play like it was secondary when I watched this game.
- The gentle jibe at the end of the above intro to this I Watched This Game is not meant to undercut the seriousness of the real world issues that have been discussed. Welcome to Pass it to Bulis, where, much like in my real life, I deal with uncomfortable topics by injecting humour at inappropriate times.
- Green has been cagey about his lineups all playoffs and he figured out a new way to stymie any opponents or media looking to get insight into who was playing on Saturday night: he had the trainers put a pair of towels over the sticks that had forewarned everyone that Tyler Toffoli was getting into the lineup in Game 2.
- The Canucks out-chanced the Golden Knights 15-7 in all situations in the first period, with high-danger chances 7-3 for the Canucks, according to Natural Stat Trick. The difference was the Golden Knights buried their chances in the net and the Canucks buried them in Robin Lehner’s goaltending equipment.
- “I liked our start to the game. I thought we were unlucky to be down 2-0, but that happens in playoff hockey,” said Green. “Give their goalie credit, he made some really nice saves… Sometimes you have a good period and you don’t win it.”
- Elias Pettersson was particularly good in the first period, drawing two penalties, then drawing yet another penalty midway through the third period. Pettersson has become a master of drawing penalties, not by diving as some much suggest, but by putting himself in positions where opponents are likely to commit infractions against him.
- Alex Tuch opened the scoring on a brutal defensive breakdown by the Canucks that allowed the hulking speedster to get a breakaway from the blue line in. With Jordie Benn up at the offensive blue line, he needed help from Jay Beagle to stay with Tuch, but Beagle instead turned his head to follow a cross-ice pass. Tuch immediately started churning up ice, skating onto Nicolas Roy’s flip pass, then sniping the puck top corner over Jacob Markstrom’s glove.
- Of course, the larger problem is that no one — not Benn, not Beagle, and not Brandon Sutter — is going to be able to catch Tuch in full flight. The pairing of Benn and Oscar Fantenberg have to play a lot more conservatively in the neutral zone with someone as fast as Tuch on the ice.
- Another mistake by the Canucks made it 2-0 barely a minute later. Tyler Toffoli sent a bad pass in the defensive zone behind Quinn Hughes, who struggled to corral it off the boards. Hughes recovered to poke the puck off the stick of Max Pacioretty, but it went right to defenceman Zach Whitecloud, who put the puck just inside the far post with Chris Tanev inadvertently screening in front.
- The real turning point came later in the first period, when Hughes drew a high stick on the power play, giving the Canucks over a minute at 5-on-3. While the Canucks were able to get set up and create chances, they couldn’t beat Lehner and lessen the lead.
- While the Canucks played well in the first, they got smoked in the second. Shots on goal were 15-to-7 for the Golden Knights, but it was worse than even that would suggest. The Canucks’ closest shot on goal came from 27 ft away from the net. Scoring chances were a lopsided 20-to-8 for Vegas in all situations and high-danger chances were 11-to-0. It was ugly.
- Despite the tilted ice, Markstrom kept the Canucks in the game, stopping every shot he faced in the second period. It was his ninth consecutive game facing at least 30 shots and he did what he could to keep an ugly game from getting even uglier.
- “With our team, sometimes when we get down, we tend to over-pass the puck a little bit,” said Green. “I felt we had a few too many east-west plays in the offensive zone, especially in the second period. I thought we had a couple chances to get some pucks to the net and get there.”
- The Canucks did create one great scoring chance in the final minute of the second period off a clever set play that took advantage of Hughes coming out of the penalty box. Pettersson was on the ice — unusual for a penalty kill — and he blew the zone as Miller won the faceoff. The puck was flung around to where Hughes was waiting just outside the penalty box, and he tipped it through to Pettersson on the fly. Miller joined the rush and Pettersson found him, but Miller was slashed as he shot, sending the puck wide. Like a fresh chainsaw carving, it was creative, but there was no finish.
- While it didn’t result in a goal, it did put the Canucks on the power play to start the third period, a golden opportunity to start the comeback. Instead, the power play in the neutral zone was like a guy at a party that only knows the one line to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” just waiting and waiting for the perfect opportunity to sing the line — or, in this case, enter the offensive zone — and it never seemed to come.
- “Going into the third period, that was not the power play we wanted to come out with,” said Miller. “Could’ve either gotten one or gotten some good momentum and we never really got set up. That one kind of stung.”
- To make matters worse, confusion on a line change led to Brock Boeser jumping over the boards without anyone else coming off the ice. The resultant too many men penalty ended the Canucks’ power play and the Golden Knights then made it 3-0 on their own power play, with Mark Stone into the top corner, an absolutely perfect, unstoppable shot. It was so good, even he couldn’t help but be impressed.
- It’s fair to say that referees don’t care for Antoine Roussel all that much. The agitator already got a 10-minute misconduct in Game 1 for essentially hugging Ryan Reaves. This game, he got another misconduct, this time for a crosscheck prior to a faceoff that wouldn’t look out of place prior to any faceoff. Considering the headlocks, punches, and facewashes he regularly receives after the whistle, it seems pretty hypocritical for the referees to take just him off the ice.
- Then again, late in the third period Roussel blatantly ignored the linesman shouting, “Offside! Offside! Offside!” to throw a hit on Shea Theodore after the whistle, so maybe the refs actually have the right idea.
- Couple rapid shot thoughts: Adam Gaudette was pretty good, showing some speed and effort, albeit without much in the way of results; Chris Tanev was strong in a matchup role against the Paul Stastny line; Alex Edler had a good hit in the third, which was neat; Boeser got some flak on social media, but did have four shots on goal and was the only Canuck that saw the team out-shoot Vegas when he was on the ice at 5-on-5.
- Lehner has now won four games against the Canucks; all four have been shutouts. On the one hand, that might mean Lehner has the Canucks’ number and they’re in serious trouble. On the other hand, all they’ve got to do is score one goal on Lehner and they’re guaranteed a victory.