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IWTG: Elias Pettersson and the Canucks take the Blues to overtime, but fall short in Game 3

Jacob Markstrom nearly stole a win, while Pettersson put up two pretty points.
graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

Despite being a point-per-game player in the postseason heading into Game 3, somehow Elias Pettersson hasn’t been the story for the Canucks. The Swedish superstar has been one of the Canucks’ best players every game, but he’s been overshadowed by the brilliance of Quinn Hughes and the beastly play of Bo Horvat.  

In Game 3 against the Blues, however, Pettersson put his stamp on the series with his best performance of the postseason. He had points on both Canucks’ goals — a fantastic pass to J.T. Miller to open the scoring, then a snipe of his own to tie the game.

The Lotto Line of Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and J.T. Miller was also the only line that actually out-shot the Blues in this game, controlling play at 5-on-5 for the first time all series. A big reason why is that head coach Travis Green was able to get them away from the Ryan O’Reilly line a little more often with the last change on “home” ice.

When Pettersson was up against O’Reilly at 5-on-5, the Canucks were out-shot 8-to-3. In all other matchups, the Canucks out-shot the Blues 13-to-2 with Pettersson on the ice at 5-on-5. 

The Canucks paid a price for those more favourable matchups, however. Perhaps Green was too focused on getting Petterson away from O’Reilly, who led the Blues forwards in ice time, because he actually had less ice time in this game than Tyler Motte.

Motte was extremely noticeable in Game 3. He skated miles, threw a team-high seven hits, had four shots on goal, and blocked four shots off St. Louis sticks. Still, it was stunning to see him finish the game with 24:17 in ice time and 21:06 at even strength, both more than Pettersson. In overtime, Motte played over two minutes more than Pettersson — 6:40 to Pettersson’s 4:20.

That’s hard to justify, particularly when you look at what happened when Motte was on the ice.

On the penalty kill, Motte was a beast. He led the Canucks with 3:10 on the penalty kill and the Blues didn’t get a single shot on goal on their two power plays. Motte was relentless in his puck pursuit, without taking himself out of position. 

The trouble was at even-strength. Shot attempts were 40-to-7 for the Blues when Motte was on the ice at 5-on-5. Scoring chances were 23-to-3. As much as Motte was pure effort in this game, that effort didn’t produce results. The Canucks were hemmed in the defensive zone every time he and his linemates stepped on the ice.

This is nothing against Motte, who played as hard as he could and got deserved plaudits from the broadcast and Canucks fans on social media for his effortful, well, effort, but it can’t be denied that the Blues badly outplayed him and his line all game.

And when a fourth-liner like Motte plays more minutes than a superstar like Pettersson, particularly on a night when they produce wildly different results, it’s fair to ask why. And wherefore. And also pourquoi.

I was filled with more “why” questions than a toddler after I watched this game. 

  • Of course, those “why” questions feel a little more weighty after a loss than they would after a win. If the Canucks had scored in overtime and taken a 3-0 lead, questioning the coach’s decision to play Motte so much would seem frivolous, even though the facts — 23-to-3 scoring chance differential! — would be exactly the same.
  • I’m not meaning to pile on Motte. He’s just the player that got out-shot the worst, but the Blues as a whole outplayed the Canucks. Scoring chances were 49-to-21 for the Blues at 5-on-5 according to hockey statistics website Natural Stat Trick, and all but the Lotto Line and the defence pairing of Quinn Hughes and Chris Tanev got buried like a squirrel’s nuts.
  • Alex Edler and Troy Stecher were matched up against the O’Reilly line and it did not go well. Stecher has been solid all postseason, but struggled in Game 3, on the ice for all three Blues’ goals. The O’Reilly line seemed to simply overwhelm him and Edler, as well as whichever group of forwards was on the ice with them. O’Reilly was like a hydraulic press YouTube channel: crushing anything and everything.  
  • After going up 2-0 in the series, the Canucks had to know the Blues were going to come out flying to start the game. They were all over the Canucks early, in some cases quite literally: Brayden Schenn pasted the usually elusive Quinn Hughes with a big hit on the first shift. It was a rare sight, but even rarer was seeing Hughes on the bench shortly after laughing with a huge smile on his face. Considering his usual on-ice expression is existential dread, it was jarring. 
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  • While the Blues were the better team at 5-on-5, the Canucks power play is miles better. They struck again for the opening goal: Pettersson sprung a streaking Miller, who caught the Blues’ penalty kill flat-footed — they were likely waiting for the seemingly-inevitable drop pass — and Miller ripped the shot over the glove of Jake Allen, who started the game in place of Jordan Binnington.
  • That makes the Canucks’ power play 6-for-11 in the series. They haven’t been red hot — they’ve been blue hot. A big reason is the abundance of weapons in the offensive zone, but they can also be dangerous off the rush when they attack with speed, which is one of the many reasons their struggles gaining the offensive zone on the power play have been so frustrating.
  • The Blues tied the game off a turnover by Stecher after his forwards blew the zone or, in Zack MacEwen’s case, went for a line change. With no one to pass to, Stecher ran out of options and was bowled over by Rob Thomas as he attempted to play the puck up the boards. In the ensuing chaos, defenceman Justin Faulk jumped to the back door, with MacEwen unable to catch up to him in time to disrupt his one-timer.
  • Late in the second period, the Blues took the lead on a sick shot by David Perron, who has cast himself as the villain this series. O’Reilly carried the puck into the zone and Perron cut across his lane. As Stecher moved to take O’Reilly, Edler was step too late covering Perron, giving the winger enough space to snap a perfect shot just under the bar. While from a tight angle, you can’t fault Markstrom: you can’t shoot the puck any better than that.
  • Okay, Pettersson can.
  • 37 seconds after Perron gave the Blues their first lead of the series, Pettersson responded with a ridiculous snipe of his own. Colton Parayko and Marco Scandella got their signals crossed, both skating for a loose puck and running into each other. Antoine Roussel jumped up to knock the puck away, leaving Pettersson with all kinds of time to patiently pull the puck around a prone Parayko and rifle the puck off the post and in over Allen’s blocker.
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  • That’s a gorgeous goal, but on closer inspection, it might not have been quite as perfect as it looked. It actually hits the shaft of Allen’s goal stick before going off the post and in. Before it hits Allen’s stick, it actually looks like the shot was headed for the outside of the post. Of course, knowing Pettersson, he planned that all along: it was a bank shot.
  • Jordie Benn played his first game of the postseason after attending the birth of his baby girl, replacing the injured Tyler Myers. He and Oscar Fantenberg got a lot of praise on the broadcast for their simple and steady defensive game, but their steadiness might have been overstated. The Canucks were out-chanced 15-to-0 when Fantenberg and Benn were on the ice and one play in particular represents the issues I had with their game. 
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  • It’s a simple play: Zach Sanford goes behind the net and tries to centre in front, but Fantenberg cuts off the pass. It’s a solid defensive play, but then, with time and space, Fantenberg just throws the puck into the corner, leading to a puck battle where Fantenberg gives the puck away up the boards and the Blues regain possession of the puck. It was emblematic of so much of their game: solid defensive plays, blocked shots, and hits, but then giving the puck right back to the Blues or icing it. It’s not enough to make the defensive play; you have to then transition the puck up ice, and that’s where the Fantenberg-Benn pairing struggled.
  • The player that deserves the most credit for getting this game to overtime is Jacob Markstrom, who made a total of 46 saves on 49 shots, including all 12 shots he faced in the third period. Markstrom, like Brendan Fraser in the late 2000’s, deserved better.
  • Green shortened his bench in the third period, with MacEwen, Roussel, and Jay Beagle parked for most of the third period and all of overtime, with Beagle only playing on the penalty kill. It’s understandable that MacEwen got benched — he had some ugly turnovers that caused some problems — and Beagle was struggling at even-strength, but it didn’t make much sense for Roussel, especially when Jake Virtanen was having a hot mess of a game and Motte was getting brutally out-chanced. Roussel was having a quietly solid game and picked up the assist on Pettersson’s goal. Benching him didn’t make much sense. 
  • While the Canucks didn't get many chances in the third period or overtime, Quinn Hughes gave them two of their best in short succession. Nine minutes into overtime, Hughes jumped up the middle to lead the rush, then dropped to Pettersson for a chance that went off Parayko's pants and just wide. Hughes stuck with the puck and quickly set up Miller for another chance that Allen snagged with his glove. It was the kind of play that shows why the Canucks want Hughes taking initiative and being aggressive, which definitely wouldn't come back to bite them.
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  • The game-winning goal was the result of an aggressive forecheck by Hughes and blown coverage by Horvat and Stecher. It was a line change and, with Hughes in deep, Horvat should have been covering for him. At the same time, Stecher had to realize that he was the lone defenceman back and cheat into the neutral zone. Neither Stecher nor Horvat spotted Brayden Schenn coming off the bench for the Blues. O’Reilly swept the puck away from Hughes and it went right to Schenn for the breakaway.
  • Markstrom’s post-game “analysis” of the goal was hilariously succinct: “The guy got it. Skated in. Shot it. High glove. Goal. Well, I didn’t see the high-glove shot, but after he shot it, then I saw it went in.”
  • It’s a tough loss for the Canucks, but they can look at the bright side. That was their worst performance of the postseason and they still took the defending Stanley Cup champions to overtime, and they’re still up 2-1 in the series. The biggest plus? They can quickly put this game behind them because they play again Monday night.