VANCOUVER — Just when it looked like we might need to consider Brock Boeser for the Hart Trophy as well as the Calder, long lost Sam Gagner popped up in the third period to score his first goal for the Vancouver Canucks and earn his new National Hockey League team a point.
But for an overtime goal post, the Canucks would have had two.
The Canucks’ surprising four-game winning streak ended with a 2-1 OT loss Monday to the Dallas Stars, but Vancouver’s stretch of impressive play continued.
The Canucks outshot a dangerous Stars’ team 39-29 – shot attempts were 65-40 – and outplayed them in the first and third periods. But Dallas’ Ben Bishop won an outstanding goaltending duel against Jacob Markstrom, and Alexander Radulov won it for the Stars when he scored on his second 2-on-1 of overtime at 2:32 of the extra frame.
The Canucks’ Bo Horvat nearly won it on the first shift of OT but drilled a wrist shot flush off Bishop’s right post on a Vancouver 2-on-1.
Vancouver’s record dipped slightly to 6-3-2, but the team expected by many to finish near the bottom of the NHL has collected points from eight of 11 games and continues to get better.
The Canucks played Monday without their sparkling rookie Boeser, who leads the team in scoring with nine points in eight games but was unable to play after blocking a shot with his foot in Friday’s 6-2 destruction of the Washington Capitals. His absence is considered day-to-day and Vancouver coach Travis Green hopes Boeser will be available Wednesday against the New Jersey Devils.
Boeser had three assists against Washington. For 46 minutes against the Stars, the 20-year-old’s absence was noticeable as the Canucks were unable to finish the many scoring chances they created before Gagner prodded a rebound past Bishop to erase a third-period deficit.
Eleven games into his three-year, $9.45-million free-agent contract, Gagner finally scored his first goal for the Canucks on a rebound from Thomas Vanek’s shot, which followed an all-or-nothing race to the puck in the Vancouver zone in which the six-foot-six Markstrom raced 50 feet like a raging gorilla to beat Antoine Roussel to a puck.
Who says goalie duels are boring?
“It wasn’t a gamble,” Markstrom insisted. “I wouldn’t have went out if I didn’t know I was going to be first [to the puck]. You’ve got to make a decision quick. I made that decision and once you make it, you can’t have second thoughts. You’ve got to go all out because you don’t want to get stuck in between.”
The Canucks pretty much went all out against the Stars, who found their skating legs in the middle of the game and generated nearly as many quality scoring chances as did Vancouver.
But Horvat’s shot hit iron and Radulov’s found net. And that was the difference.
“We didn’t win tonight,” Gagner said. “But I think you have to look at the process and say we did a lot of really good things. We’re going to have games where we don’t play so well and find a way to win. You’ve got to find a way to get points a lot of different ways. We found a way to get one tonight. Coming back, I felt we could have got two, but that’s the way it is. You have to keep pushing to play better.”
Gagner has lived by that mantra in his first month as a Canuck.
After he cashed in on a 50-point season last year in Columbus and signed with the Canucks on July 1, the 28-year-old managed only three assists in his first 10 games despite regular power-play duty.
Playing in Boeser’s spot alongside Horvat and Sven Baertschi, Gagner had easily his best game of the season against the Stars. He led everyone with six shots on net and, with about four minutes remaining in regulation time, could have won it with an open shot from the hashmarks after Baertschi stole the puck from Marc Methot. Bishop surged forward from his crease to smother Gagner’s shot.
“I’m not sure about more pressure,” Gagner said of playing with Horvat and Baertschi. “I think it’s an opportunity you have to relish. They’re two important players. They play important minutes. It’s an important role, and you want to be in an important role. I think every player would say the same thing. You’ve got to run with it and do your best to help the team win a hockey game.
“[Scoring] just helps you gain a little confidence around the net. I like the way I’ve been playing recently. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of chances, created a lot of chances. Sometimes it just allows you to relax a little in scoring areas. Hopefully I can help us win some games.”
At least, he helped them tie one Monday.