VANCOUVER – It was a noteworthy meeting at the end of an unusual morning skate.
Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green, who actually ran the morning skate because he ordered all the players onto the ice and figured the head coach should be there, too, spent a couple of minutes talking to Markus Granlund.
In case you’ve forgotten, Granlund is the 24-year-old forward who appeared to have a National Hockey League breakthrough last season when the Finnish winger scored 19 goals in 69 games despite playing with an injured wrist that eventually required surgery.
At the time of his Friday morning chat with Green, Granlund had four goals in 31 games this season, including just one in the last 12.
“He just said he needs more from me,” Granlund explained Friday night. “That’s it. I know I can play better.”
Green should have just called the whole team together on the ice because that same message was suitable for every player not named Brock Boeser.
At the very least, Green should have had Sam Gagner, who had three goals in 32 games after scoring 18 last season in Columbus, in the meeting. But maybe Gagner overheard, or maybe Granlund relayed the message second hand.
Granlund and Gagner, two of the offensive underperformers whose lack of production had become critical during the Canucks’ injury crisis and four-game losing streak, responded in a big way Friday. So did the rest of the Canucks, who wobbled but beat the San Jose Sharks 4-3 in overtime one game after Vancouver was embarrassed 7-1 on home ice by the Nashville Predators.
Granlund scored twice from first-period power plays and Gagner shelved a backhand at 4:34 of overtime as the Canucks won despite blowing a two-goal lead.
The win was like a life raft for a team that appeared to be drifting out to sea, driven by a wave of injuries and mental challenges.
“I think it’s important to get some positivity in here and make sure we get the result,” Gagner said. “After the last couple of games, and last game especially, there was a lot of talk in here about what we need to be successful. I thought we did a good job of that (tonight), especially early on. But when it slips, it’s important to find a way to get the result and we did that.”
In a span of three weeks, the Canucks lost to injuries: first-line forwards Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi, key centre Brandon Sutter, defencemen Chris Tanev and Erik Gudbranson and inspirational veteran Derek Dorsett, who was forced suddenly to retire after what had looked like a successful return from career-threatening spinal surgery.
Physically and emotionally battered, the Canucks had lost their previous four games by a cumulative score of 20-5.
The injuries have created more ice time for Vancouver’s young players. But it’s the experienced supporting players like Granlund, Gagner, Thomas Vanek and Loui Eriksson who really need to elevate their games if the Canucks are to survive in the standings until Horvat and others return.
Granlund scored on a power-play redirect just 44 seconds into the game – the Canucks outshot the Sharks 10-0 in the first five minutes – and again at 14:27 on a six-foot pass across the goalmouth by Henrik Sedin.
Danny and Hank Sedin drew assists on the first three Vancouver goals, which included another clinical, top-corner snipe by Calder Trophy candidate Boeser at 11:56 of the middle period. That goal, a few seconds after Boeser sliced through the Sharks’ roster but hit the post, put Vancouver ahead 3-1.
“I wish I would have just scored right away,” Boeser said. “I wanted the puck back right away because I wanted another chance.”
One shift after Daniel Sedin misfired on a beautiful setup by Henrik to spoil some of the best Sedinery this season, Canuck Alexander Edler slid the puck ahead to Gagner and the 28-year-old beat goalie Martin Jones on a breakaway.
It was Gagner’s first goal in nine games.
“Whenever it goes to overtime – and me being a shootout guy most of my career – you start thinking about what you want to do in the shootout,” Gagner said. “I just got to the shootout a little early. With the ice (being rough late in the game), I just wanted to make one move and get it up. It was nice to be able to process that a little bit and when Eddie made a nice play, I was able to put it in.
“It was a nice feeling.”
The Canucks celebrated heartily. It was a win they desperately needed to break the cycle of negativity that was threatening to suffocate the team like it did towards the end of last season.
The Sharks had won six straight games against the Canucks, outscoring Vancouver 22-5.
The Canucks need to play with the emotion those Canadian rivalry games usually generate. Beating the Sharks could turn out to be a launching pad, or just a brief shelter from the storm.
“Hopefully, that’s the one that gets me going,” Gagner said of his goal.
The Canucks could say the same about the win.