Amid hot start, Canucks’ collapse vs. Capitals even more stunning

Nicklas Backstrom scored the winner in the shootout as the Washington Capitals complete the four-goal comeback against the Vancouver Canucks, winning 6-5.

VANCOUVER – It was more a market correction than a collapse, but it had the same embarrassing effect on the Vancouver Canucks.

The team had a four-goal lead with 20 minutes and one second remaining Friday, and lost 6-5 in a shootout against the Washington Capitals, whose comeback consisted of four goals on six shots over eight minutes.

The Canucks know a collapse when they see it. Vancouver played the entire third period in its own zone last Sunday against the New York Rangers, who riddled the Canucks with 17 shots in the final 20 minutes, but still lost 3-2.

On Tuesday, the Canucks ventilated the Detroit Red Wings with five third-period goals to win 5-2.

Friday’s shocking loss wasn’t like either of those games. The Canucks outshot the Capitals 7-6 in the third period while getting outscored 3-0.

“Right now it’s a terrible feeling, being up 5-1 and getting one point,” Canucks winger J.T. Miller said.

“We didn’t play a bad third period. It’s easy for people to just look at the scoresheet and think we played a bad period (because) we gave up a four-goal lead. We’re holding ourselves accountable. We have to be able to finish off those games. We played too well not to come out with two points. They definitely got momentum and got a little push in the third. But they got seven shots.”

Actually, just six, plus another seven in overtime for the Capitals, who eventually won it on Nicklas Backstrom’s shootout winner.

Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom, brilliant this month and especially since returning a week ago from a leave of absence due to a family emergency in Sweden, allowed Lars Eller’s semi-whiff to trickle through his pads for a shorthanded goal that turbo-charged the Capitals’ comeback at 1:57 of the third period.

Then Washington defenceman Michal Kempny, who had 12 goals in 178 NHL games, blew two slapshots cleanly through traffic and past Markstrom at 4:57 and 7:41 to tie it 5-5.

To be clear, the Canucks made defensive mistakes on all these goals. But until the third period Friday, none of those shots would have beaten Markstrom, who started the game with a .933 save percentage, then stopped 14 of the first 15 Washington shots.

On the 16th shot, Evgeny Kuznetsov launched the comeback by scoring with 0.3 seconds remaining in the second period when the Canucks became confused on a backcheck and defenceman Troy Stecher gave the Capitals centre too much room in the slot.

“For the most part, we played a pretty good hockey game,” said Canucks defenceman Tyler Myers, who lost the puck behind his net on the tying goal.

“You look at the third period, we gave up, I think, seven shots. It wasn’t as bad as it looked. I thought we did a lot of good things and we carry it into the next one. There’s no point on dwelling on anything, but certainly, when the situation comes up again, we want to handle it a little bit better.”

“Honestly, it’s not like we played that bad,” rookie blue liner Quinn Hughes said. “We definitely should have gotten two points, but it is what it is. They had a couple of seeing-eye shots. That’s just hockey. We’ve just got to move on and learn from this.”

We’ll see how the Canucks move on.

They’ve had an excellent month, going 6-3-1 in their first 10 games with a lot of positive statistics that support their strong start. Losing a four-goal lead is always stunning. Having it occur amid the team’s most encouraging spell in five years was difficult to process.

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Tim Schaller’s best night with the Canucks was ruined by the result.

The fourth-line checker and penalty killer who scored only three goals all of last season and none until March, scored twice against Washington goalie Ilya Samsonov. On the second, at 13:59 of the second period in the middle of Vancouver’s three-goal surge, it looked like Schaller borrowed Elias Pettersson’s hands, bunting the puck from his blocked shot past John Carlson and batting it into the net on the other side of the Washington defenceman.

For what it’s worth, Carlson, the National Hockey League’s surprise leading scorer before Friday, did not collect a point anywhere among the Capitals’ five goals. Neither did Alex Ovechkin nor Backstrom. Yes, the win was as strange for the Capitals as the loss was for the Canucks.

Vancouver’s players have two days to make sense of it before facing Joel Quenneville’s Florida Panthers on Monday, and they leave for California and another three road games in four days.

“That’s the frustrating part: we didn’t play that bad in the third period,” Canucks captain Bo Horvat said. “Just a couple of breakdowns and unfortunately everything was going in for them. The hockey gods work in mysterious ways. They seemed to even things out tonight.”

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