VANCOUVER – First he got mad, then he got even. Yes, Nathan MacKinnon is so good he can have both.
The Colorado Avalanche superstar, the best player in Saturday’s game even before he became enraged, went end-to-end in overtime and snapped a puck past goalie Thatcher Demko to beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-4 at Rogers Arena.
MacKinnon nearly lost his mind late in the third period after teammate Matt Calvert nearly lost his head, which was struck by Elias Pettersson’s shot as the Canucks attacked six-on-five while trailing 4-2.
As Calvert lay bleeding and immobile on the ice, with Pettersson initially hovering near him to see if he was alright, referees Justin St. Pierre and Garrett Rank allowed play to continue and the Canucks scored six-against-four at 17:23 when rookie Quinn Hughes’ outstanding diagonal pass was directed in by Alex Edler to make it 4-3.
Also on the ice, MacKinnon screamed at each official, then slapped Calvert’s abandoned stick across the ice. MacKinnon’s mood didn’t improve when the Canucks scored another goal with Demko on the bench to tie it with one minute remaining and force overtime. Brock Boeser chested down the goal-side rebound from Pettersson’s shot and flipped the puck past Avalanche netminder Antoine Bibeau to make it 4-4.
MacKinnon channelled his anger and exerted his will in overtime. Aided by a slight pick on defenceman Chris Tanev, MacKinnon blew past Canuck forward J.T. Miller before sniping a wrist shot past Demko’s stick side for the Avalanche star’s second goal and third point of the night.
“It just felt kind of cheesy,” MacKinnon said of the Canucks comeback. “It didn’t really feel like they earned the tie. It just didn’t feel like it should have been an overtime game. I’m sure everyone felt the same as I did; I just wanted to end it as quick as possible. I wanted to end it first shift and I’m glad I did.”
MacKinnon had calmed himself by the time he spoke to reporters, but his conviction that play should have been stopped for Calvert’s head injury was undiminished. Earlier this month, Colorado defenceman Nikita Zadorov suffered a broken jaw when hit by the puck and also had to make his way to bench, bleeding, while play continued.
“I don’t think it’s right,” MacKinnon said. “Even Pettersson was looking at Calvy and you could tell he was wondering if he was OK, which was very classy by him. It’s not the Canucks’ fault. It’s not the refs’ fault. It’s just a league rule. The refs, they wanted to blow it. It’s just silly they can’t.
“The guy is lying there, bleeding out the side of his head. And it’s Matt Calvert; he’s such a tough guy, he’s not looking for a whistle and faking it. If it’s a puck off the foot, let him lay there. A broken foot, it’s serious, but he’ll be fine. But a guy’s bleeding out of his ear? It’s pretty dangerous.
“When you see someone’s head get involved, I think you just have to make a judgement call. It’s common sense. I just can’t see any other sport letting that happen – a guy laying there bleeding.”
The Canucks sympathized with MacKinnon.
Two weeks ago in San Jose, Vancouver defenceman Ashton Saunter smashed his forehead on the ice after getting run late into the boards by Sharks defencemen Brenden Dillon. Then, too, play was allowed to continue and Sautner had to struggle to his feet and wobble 120 feet to the bench before leaving the game with a head injury.
“You have to play to the whistle, but you never want to see a guy laying on the ice hurt, whether it’s your team or their team,” Edler said after the Canucks escaped with a loser point. “I think the ref’s got to make a call. You can say: ‘Will a guy go down to try to get a whistle, without being hurt?’ But obviously, (Calvert) was hurt there.”
Canucks captain Bo Horvat said: “It’s tough to even comment on. You never want to see a guy hurt. You never want to see a guy lying there on the ice. So it’s a tough call for the refs. You still want to score; it’s a crucial time in the game. If it gets blown down, we don’t score that goal.”
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar offered no medical report on Calvert.
“We’re talking about head injuries and. . . that’s the second time now in two weeks for us that a guy takes puck in the face and is bleeding all over the ice and we’re letting it go,” Bednar said. “He’s not moving there either so I just think we should blow it dead but sometimes it’s a tough call to make because you’re trying to let the play go and seeing if he’s going to get up, but I think eventually you should just blow it dead.”
The Canucks looked dead after MacKinnon shrugged off a check from Tanner Pearson and feathered a beautiful goalmouth pass that Andre Burakovsky converted to make it 4-2 at 6:09 of the third period.
But Vancouver, which got two goals from Adam Gaudette to stay in the game, desperately needed a point and some positivity, and was thankful to salvage both.
Missing a handful of players from the bottom half of their lineup, the Canucks are 1-4-2 in their last seven games and open a difficult six-game road trip Tuesday in Dallas. All six of their opponents held a playoff spot on Saturday.
“You have to take the positives from it,” Horvat said. “I think it was great for us to come back and get that point and build confidence going into the road trip. I think it was a step in the right direction.
“This is going to be tough for us. . . but we’ve got to find ways to win.”
Saturday, they found a controversial way to tie.