VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks not only won their week, they swept it. Next week, the world!
Well, the world is pretty big and so, too, is the deep, dark hole the Canucks played themselves into while getting general manager Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green fired. But at least the players are finally moving back towards daylight and the vapour trails of the National Hockey League playoff race.
Sensational work by goalie Thatcher Demko and a one-handed shootout winner by Elias Pettersson gave Vancouver a 4-3 victory Friday night against the Winnipeg Jets and the Canucks’ longest winning streak of a season divided between the before and after of the Benning regime, which ended Sunday.
The team is 3-0 this week under new head coach Bruce Boudreau, who looked at the abyss separating the Canucks from the playoffs and decided they should tackle the gap one week at a time. So just win the week, Boudreau said.
The Canucks did better than that.
“With what happened, with the changes, you know, people lose their job,” Canucks winger Conor Garland said Friday night. “It’s not directly their fault. You feel some responsibility as players and it doesn’t feel good when people lose their jobs because of how you’ve been playing. We had to respond and kind of snap out of it a little bit and just start playing better. Obviously, when someone loses their job, it’s never fun. But you move on just try to win hockey games.”
People were still losing their jobs Friday, as assistant GM Chris Gear and director of hockey operations and analytics Jonathan Wall, both local guys whose employment with the Canucks preceded Benning’s arrival in 2014, were terminated the day after owner Francesco Aquilini hired Jim Rutherford to be his new team president.
That brought to six the number of senior people from hockey-ops who lost their jobs this week. But the players, re-energized by Boudreau’s enthusiasm and positivity, haven’t lost since the purge began.
Friday’s game was their poorest of the three, as they bled shots and scoring chances to the Jets. But Demko was brilliant, his 34 saves including an overtime stunner on Kyle Connor and breakaway stops on Blake Wheeler and Nicolaj Ehlers, and his Vancouver teammates were resilient and opportunistic.
Vancouver survived an apparent go-ahead goal by Winnipeg’s Andrew Copp in the second period, disallowed on a coach’s challenge due to Pierre-Luc Dubois’s bump on Demko.
“We probably traded too many chances, more than probably we’d like to,” Garland said. “But that’s why we’ve got Demmer back there and he’s one of the best goalies in the league. So maybe too many shots tonight but back to work tomorrow.
“We’ve won three in a row for the first time all year. (But) the feeling’s kind of the same; we’ve got a long way to go. Just try to keep playing well and string along some wins.”
Game 5 of Vancouver’s six-game homestand — and Game 4 of the Boudreau era — is Sunday against the Carolina Hurricanes.
After surrendering just one goal in the first two wins under Boudreau, the Canucks allowed the Jets three in the first 31 minutes on Friday and were fortunate to have the fourth one called back at 13:04 of the second period.
Only divine intervention would have helped the Canucks two minutes earlier when Mark Scheifele, unchecked at the back of the slot, scored from a cross-ice pass at 11:08 after Connor was just too quick and agile for Vancouver defenceman Tyler Myers.
The Connor-Scheifele-Wheeler trio crushed the Canucks most of the game. Without top-pairing defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and defensively-sound blue-liner Travis Hamonic, both injured, Vancouver looked overmatched in its own zone against the Jets’ formidable top line, which amassed 17 shots on Demko.
But the Jets lost Wheeler with an apparent knee or ankle injury halfway through the third period after Canuck Vasily Podkolzin accidentally slid into him during a mass wreck of players in front of the Jets’ net.
Nils Hoglander’s two first-period goals for Vancouver, which included a gimme from Winnipeg goalie Eric Comrie, were offset by goals from Wheeler and Connor, who tied the game 2-2 at 6:09 of the middle period when Canuck fourth-liner Alex Chiasson followed his needless turnover by allowing Connor to get to the net ahead of him.
But when the Jets turned over the puck in the Vancouver zone during a Winnipeg line change, J.T. Miller found Garland open behind the Jets’ defence and the Canuck dynamo screwed Comrie into the ice with a breakaway deke at 7:06.
That lead lasted for just three minutes. The Canucks’ sudden winning streak survived.
• Frequently bullied by the Jets in recent years, the Canucks outhit the visitors 28-22, but also logged 16 giveaways and surrendered one power-play goal in three disadvantages … Injured by an illegal hit by Boston Bruin Brad Marchand on Wednesday, Hamonic has been placed on injured reserve. Boudreau said he hopes Ekman-Larsson will be able to play next week.