VANCOUVER — After a week of disruptions and distractions, the Vancouver Canucks were finally able to concentrate on playing hockey and managed to reward new head coach Rick Tocchet with a win in his first game behind the bench.
Dakota Joshua and Sheldon Dries scored goals 34 seconds apart in the third period as the Canucks battled back from two, one-goal deficits for a 5-2 NHL win over the Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday night.
“It felt a little different having a new coach back there,” said Joshua, who collected his seventh goal of the season plus fought Chicago’s Connor Murphy in the first period. “It was everybody pulling together, wanting to take a step in the right direction.
“We seemed to all be on the same page for most of the night. We’ll be looking to follow up that performance tomorrow (in Seattle).”
Tocchet was named the Canucks 21st head coach Sunday after Bruce Boudreau was fired along with assistant coach Trent Cull. The Canucks hired Adam Foote as an assistant coach and Sergei Gonchar as a defensive development coach.
There was a mixture of boos and cheers when Tocchet was introduced to the crowd during the first period. The game was just 3:30 old when a fan threw a Canucks jersey on the ice.
The Canucks outshot the Blackhawk 48-14 during the game and failed to score on five power-play chances.
“The players bought in,” said Tocchet, whose last coaching job was with the Arizona Coyotes from 2017 to 2021. “There’s been some tough circumstances the last few days.
“There was a lot of emotions and head spinning. I threw some stuff at them today, we had longer meetings than I like, too. For them to take it in and play good, I commend the players.”
Andrei Kuzmenko scored twice for the Canucks (19-25-3) who snapped a three-game losing streak. Centre Elias Pettersson and defenceman Luke Schenn both added a pair of assists.
Bo Horvat also scored shorthanded into an empty net at 18:34 of the third, matching a career high of 31 goals in a season.
Patrick Kane and Sam Lafferty scored for the Blackhawks (14-28-4) who lost their second consecutive game.
“We knew they were going to come out really hard, new coach and everything,” said Lafferty. “I thought we weathered it for a bit and had some pushback, just not quite enough in the third.”
Kuzmenko scored his 20th and 21st goals in the second period to tie the game 2-2 after 40 minutes.
The Canucks go-ahead goal came just seconds after Chicago’s Andreas Athanasiou whiffed on a good scoring chance in the Canuck end.
Defenceman Quinn Hughes sent the puck up the ice. Brock Boeser tried to bank a shot in from a sharp angle. Chicago goaltender Petr Mrazek stopped the puck but Joshua chipped it over the sprawled goalie for a 3-2 lead at 11:34.
On the following faceoff, Mrazek stopped a Conor Garland shot. Dries directed the rebound into the net with a shot from between his legs.
Dries said it’s been an emotional few days as the popular Boudreau waited his fate.
“We have to make changes in here too,” he said. “It starts with each guy, challenging each guy every night and in practice.”
Even with the coaching changes the Canucks playoff chances remain dim. Vancouver sits 14 points out of the final wild-card playoff spot in the NHL’s Western Conference.
Tocchet saw lots of things he liked in the win but knows plenty of work remains.
“You like the result, but to me the hard part is to do it again,” he said. “It’s hard to win and you have to embrace the hardness. It’s hard to keep doing this stuff. It’s like a habit. You’ve got to keep doing it.”
Tocchet had one practice and one game-day skate to prepare for the Blackhawks. …The Canucks wore special warm-up jerseys to celebrate the Lunar New Year. … Vancouver failed to score on a four-minute power play early in the first period when Chicago’s Seth Jones was called for high-sticking. … Kim Sim, Vancouver’s first Asian mayor, dropped the puck in the ceremonial opening faceoff. .. Chicago centre Max Domi was assessed an instigation minor, fighting major and 10-minute misconduct for a scrap with Vancouver’s Dakota Joshua at 8:13 of the second period. The Blackhawks saw a three-game win streak snapped in a loss to L.A. on Sunday. ... Chicago forward Tyler Johnson, who had 14 points in 22 games, has been placed on injured reserved after aggravating a left ankle injury.
It’s a quick turnaround for the Canucks who play Wednesday night in Seattle. Vancouver returns home to face Columbus on Friday, then begins a four-game road trip on Feb. 2 in New Jersey.
The Blackhawks continue their road trip with games in Calgary on Thursday and Edmonton Saturday before returning home to face Anaheim on Feb. 7.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2023.
Jim Morris, The Canadian Press