A game against the top team in the league is meant to be a measuring stick, allowing you to see how your team compares. On Saturday night, there was no comparison.
There was no one general theme to Saturday night’s game between the Canucks and Bruins, other than the Canucks making like Goldilocks and wrecking all the Bruins’ stuff. Zdeno Chara was too tall, Brad Marchand was too short, but the Canucks were just right.
14 Canucks registered a point; 7 different Canucks had at least two points. Every single line and every single pairing got in on the scoring in some way, which makes sense given the Canucks scored a whopping nine goals, the most they’ve scored all season.
In fact, it’s the most goals the Canucks have scored in 24 years. The last time the Canucks scored nine goals was January 6, 1996 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Alexander Mogilny had a hat trick. It was probably a fun time.
But let’s face it: a nine-goal game against the Lightning doesn’t move the needle all that much. The Lightning were in just their fourth season in the league, hadn’t made the playoffs, and had no history with the Canucks. A nine-goal game against the big, bad Bruins, the best team in the NHL? That matters a little more.
The Canucks faced the league-leading Bruins, the team that injured Elias Pettersson with a late hit in their last meeting, and the team that beat them in 2011 — which still resonates with both the fans and several players in the Canucks locker room. The emotions were up and the game seemed to matter more, and the Canucks stomped them.
“We still have guys on this team from the 11 team too, so I know that we wanted to get them back,” said Troy Stecher. “It wasn't our greatest game in Boston and we haven't played that great here at home either. So this was a huge game for the confidence of our group to head out on the road now.”
“I don't know what it is, I just get amped up for these games, especially in front of the home crowd,” said Canucks captain Bo Horvat, who had a Gordie Howe Hat Trick: a goal, an assist, and a fight.
“Especially when the crowd’s into it, it really felt like a playoff game,” added Horvat. “Right off the bat, the fans were into it. The entire room was ready to go tonight, I don't know what it was. I mean, obviously, you're playing a great team and you want to be ready for it, but I think we were extra motivated tonight, especially how tight the standings are. We wanted to get the win.”
Sure, the Bruins were tired, playing on the second night of back-to-backs and their third game in four nights, but that can’t explain how thoroughly the Canucks manhandled them.
This felt like a statement game, a declaration to the fans that they’re not the team that lost 6 of their last 8 games; they’re the team that on any given night can take on the best team in the NHL and thrash them. On this given night, I watched this game.
- Troy Stecher has been at the centre of trade rumours over the last week. In the last game before the NHL trade deadline on Monday, Stecher had one of his best games of the season. It felt like a statement game; whether that statement was, “Keep me on the Canucks, because i’m too valuable to lose,” or “Hey look, other teams around the NHL, this guy’s so good that you should add a couple more picks to your trade offer,” remains to be seen.
- Stecher opened the scoring on a great shift. He won a battle down low along the boards, then made a patient play on the break out. In the offensive zone, the fourth line went to work banging and crashing, and Tyler Motte came off the boards with the puck. He sent the puck into open space and Stecher jumped on it, throwing a knucklepuck towards Tuuka Rask that the Boston goaltender completely misjudged with Brandon Sutter battling in front of the net.
- “I was honestly just trying to shoot far pad, blocker side for a rebound,” said Stecher. “I threw a pretty big fist pump, that one felt pretty good. I want to play in Vancouver, you know. I take pride in playing at home, I take pride playing for our city, and I try to represent our city as best as I can. So any time I put that jersey on, I definitely want to win and it feels a little sweeter when you play the Bruins, obviously, being from Vancouver.”
- David Pastrnak responded, taking advantage of Brandon Sutter stumbling in the neutral zone while covering for Alex Edler. Pastrnak, in alone, undressed Jacob Markstrom with a nasty deke to the backhand, then swoop back to the forehand. “I think I went in the locker room,” said Markstrom with a rueful smile about how far Pastrnak deked him out of his crease.
- Markstrom went to the locker room for real not long after, as Danton Heinen’s stick got into the eyehole of Markstrom’s mask and caught him in the eye. Fortunately, he returned to the game after a couple minutes with Thatcher Demko taking his place in the net. Eye injuries freak me out and I tend to deal with things that freak me out by joking about them, which is why I hope Markstrom doesn’t end up as blind as the refs that missed Heinen’s high stick.
- “It was just right above my eye there,” said Markstrom. “It happened so quick, it was a little scary there. You never know what the result is, but…I went in the room and took some time and got the vision back 100% and then just go out there and play the game.”
- I’m not generally one to complain about the refs and missing the Heinen high stick was actually pretty understandable — they could have thought it was Tyler Myers’s stick as he battled Heinen in front — but I can’t leave the holding call on Bo Horvat without comment. It might be the worst penalty calls I have ever seen. There was less holding than in a loveless marriage.
- To add injury to insult, in the third period Horvat got a high stick to the face from Charlie McAvoy that had him spitting up blood. The refs missed that one and the Bruins went the other way to score, to add insult to injury to insult.
- Before the holding call, Horvat gave the Canucks a 2-1 lead on the power play. On a contested zone entry, Pettersson and Tyler Toffoli combined to get the puck down the boards, where J.T. Miller took advantage of the overcommitted Bruins penalty kill to set up a wide open Horvat in the slot. Horvat made like Lupita Nyong’o and snapped it hard past Rask.
- “I was like, J.T., if you didn't pass me that puck, I probably would have been pretty upset at you,” said Horvat about being that open.
- “I tell you what, I had my back to the play and if he didn't yell for it, I probably would have took my time since it was a power play, I probably would have just tried to get it set up,” said Miller.
- Intellectually, I know that 20-year-old Quinn Hughes should develop and get even better in the coming years, but it’s still hard to imagine him actually playing any better than he is now. He made a superb play to set up the 3-1 goal: he picked off a clearing attempt, then squeezed past Pastrnak down the boards after a quick shift to the inside sent Pastrnak off balance. After that it was a casual pass to Adam Gaudette, who made like a contractor with a rainstorm coming and roofed it in a hurry.
- The goals kept coming: Horvat found Tyler Myers jumping up into the slot and his backhand deflected off Loui Eriksson’s leg and off the post. With Rask lost looking for the puck, Eriksson whiffed on it with his stick, but Tanner Pearson quickly shoveled it home like Jeff Hamblin.
- Less than a minute later, Loui Eriksson finally got a goal of his own. He hit the post earlier in the game on a rebound to go with the misses on open nets, so the joy and relief was evident on his face when a Tyler Myers point shot hit Horvat and landed on the stick of Eriksson with an open cage in front of him.
- A 5-1 lead may seem safe, but the Bruins pushed back hard to end the second period. Torey Krug had Markstrom at his mercy, but his shot went through the crease and hit Stecher. After a couple unfortunate own goals the last two games, Stecher had a bounce go his way, as he managed to sweep it away from the goal line, then kick it out with his skate.
- “[It means] I don't have to be mean to him when we're on the road trip, he can relax for a little bit,” joked Markstrom about the puck not banking in off Stecher for once. “No, everybody's battling out there and you know it's gonna happen that it's going to go off skates, I'm going to make mistakes, and you know even when the puck goes off me and a foot and then a chin and in the back of the net, it's nobody's fault.”
- “I would have broke my stick into six pieces,” said Stecher. “My heart dropped...that scared the crap out of me. If that goes in, I don't know how I sleep tonight.”
- Stecher kept his strong game going in the third period, sending a sweet stretch pass (a Stech pass?) to Miller to take advantage of a Bruins line change. Then Miller dropped the puck to Pettersson, who ripped it like he’d just come home from a first date.
- “Stechy made a hell of a pass there. That went through like two or three people,” said Miller. “He plays his ass off. He's a little dude, but he's a beast in there and he's making a lot of plays right now. A lot of things that most nights aren't gonna end up on the scoresheet for him.”
- The Bruins battled back a bit, getting two goals — one on the power play and one off a rebound where Edler didn’t pick up Chris Wagner — but the oddest part was that they pulled Rask after they scored a goal, replacing him with Jaroslav Halak. It was just weird timing. It would have made sense for Halak to start the period, but putting him in 6:28 into the third is strange and a difficult position in which to put a goaltender.
- The Canucks’ top line then stepped up to stop any hope of a comeback. They didn’t just kick the extra point to go with the six goals they’d already scored, but Tyler Toffoli went for the two-point conversion. Miller swooped in on the forecheck to steal a puck from Zdeno Chara, then set up Tyler Toffoli for the one-timer from in tight to make it 7-3.
- Then Toffoli scored his second of the game when the Bruins suddenly became allergic to the puck in their own zone. Pastrnak, Charlie Coyle, and Brandon Carlo ran into each other like the Three Stooges trying to get to a rebound and, in the ensuing chaos, Hughes got the puck to Toffoli for a slap shot from between the hashmarks.
- After the two-point conversion, Jake Virtanen added a rouge. He blazed down the left wing and whipped a wrist shot just inside the far post. It was a blistering shot that Halak could only wave at as it went past, like it was a clown in a parade.
- “Winning’s fun,” said head coach Travis Green. “Usually you get in a game like this against a good team, you're still biting your nails a little bit down to the end, but a hell of a game by our team tonight.”