The Vancouver Canucks (28-31-9) entered Edmonton on Thursday night to surprisingly do battle with playoff implications on the line. The fact that both teams are still in the hunt is a true testament to how abysmal the race has been for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. Nonetheless, in terms of playoff hopes, this game was crucial for both clubs as they were tied in points (65) with time running out on their seasons. Vancouver, fresh off an impressive come-from-behind win against Toronto the previous night, got off to another slow start, and could not mount another heroic comeback. Falling to the Edmonton Oilers 3-2, any hope for the playoffs ended.
Routine Lethargic Start for the Canucks
Vancouver gutted out a hard fought victory the previous night when they hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs. Pulling off a late game upset victory against a cup contender, the Canucks appeared like they gave everything they had left in the tank. From the opening face-off, the Oilers were immediately on the offensive. Sam Gagner (Ex-Canuck) got the game’s first quality scoring chance just 8 seconds into the affair. Derrick Pouliot, who has been struggling heavily with badly timed miscues, got the game’s first penalty just 26 seconds into the game. And at the 5:21 mark of the 1st, Sam Gagner stole the puck off Derrick Pouliot and fed Alex Chiasson in the slot for the first goal of the game.
Pouliot’s blunders have not gone unnoticed by fans, but more importantly by the coaching staff as well. Canucks head coach Travis Green had this to say in a post game interview when asked about Pouliot’s mistakes. “You have to ask him. Yeah he’s made a few mistakes— you’ll have to ask him.” Vancouver has been no strangers to getting off to slow starts; in 42 of the 68 games they have played thus far, they have allowed the game’s opening goal. And at the 14:07 mark in the opening frame, the Oilers struck once more. Coming out of the penalty box, Oilers superstar center Connor McDavid received a pass from Leon Draisaitl in stride and made a beautiful pass to a streaking Zack Kassian (Ex-Canuck) who would make no mistake and bury it home to give the Oilers a 2-0 lead. Applying some pressure later on in the period, the Canucks were able to outshoot the Oilers in the first; 18-17, but the scoreboard showed another goose egg in favor of Vancouver.
The Importance of Josh Leivo
It would not take Edmonton long to get back to where they left off in the first period. Connor McDavid would lead a one-man rush entering the Canucks’ zone, showcasing his deadly combination of speed and skill. The puck seems to follow players of his caliber, and later on that same play he would find linemate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on another beautiful set up to make it 3-0 Oilers.
Despite the scoreboard heavily favoring one team, the efforts of a Vancouver Canuck forward should be acknowledged. Josh Leivo, who scored the game-tying goal against his former team yesterday, was the source of all energy the Canucks had in the opening 40 minutes of play. Deemed a misfit by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Leivo trained harder and scratched and crawled his way to a permanent position. That opportunity never came knocking in Toronto, but since joining the Vancouver Canucks he has been one of their steadier players. Boasting an impressive +/- of 5, good for second on the team, he put up 5 shots in the opening frame and 6 overall. From going to hardly playing at all to logging 19:41 of ice-time tonight, his development has been a bright mark in a dismal season for the Canucks. Though he did not score or record any points this game, his hustle and determination should not go unnoticed. He embodies Travis Green’s message, “Our guys still… they’re not giving up yet, I can tell you that. They’re not looking just to play out the last 15. I know a lot of media members think we’re done, we can’t come back. They know the odds are against them, but they’re not done yet.” That message paid dividends in the dying moments of the 2nd period. Rewarded after picking up their pace, the Canucks split the margin by a goal off an awkward goal after Oiler netminder Mikko Koskinen misplayed the puck leading to an open tap in goal by Jay Beagle.
Comeback Falls Short and Moving Forward
Alexander Edler, who scored the game winner in Overtime against Toronto, would narrow the deficit to a single goal off a PP goal. Josh Leivo and Bo Horvat would provide excellent screens as the wrist shot from the blue line found its way into the net. The Canucks played their back-up goalie Thatcher Demko on Thursday, providing starting netminder Jacob Markstrom some much deserved rest. In his 4th career start, he would play his best game in his young career. Stopping 31 of 34 shots, including breakaway chances from elite goalscorers like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, his high level of play kept the game in striking distance for the Canucks. Unfortunately, the comeback would fall short as Mikko Koskinen stopped 35 shots to ensure a victory for the Oilers. Overall, the Canucks played a respectable game except for a sluggish start that ultimately lost them the contest. They move forward to Saturday where they attempt to avenge their embarrassing 3-0 defeat when they host the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
Nolan Jensen is a Contributor for the Unwrapped Sports Network website. Follow him @NolanJensen_ on Twitter.