Bobby Ryan’s homecoming hat trick makes Canucks pay for slow start

Bobby Ryan scored a hat trick in his return from a hiatus and lifted the Senators to a 5-2 win over the Canucks Thursday.

OTTAWA – The Vancouver Canucks tried to come back in a hockey game. Bobby Ryan is trying to come back in life.

A 32-year-old father and husband, returning to National Hockey League work after confronting his alcoholism in an attempt to save himself, Ryan scored a hat trick that drew cheers and tears in the Ottawa Senators’ 5-2 win on Thursday. It was Ryan’s first home game since he entered the NHL’s assistance program in mid-November.

For the Canucks – or anyone with a heart and a family – Ryan was by far the most impressive part of the night. He provided perspective. But the understanding of priorities didn’t change the fact that the Canucks, in the middle of a playoff race, lost to a Senators team that had won only five of 26 games since Christmas and dressed a lineup that featured 12 skaters with either one or zero goals this season.

With the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators winning their games, the Canucks’ playoff cushion is back down to two points with 19 games remaining.

No one would begrudge the achievements – both evident and implied – by Ryan on Thursday. But it was also a missed opportunity for the Canucks, playing one of the NHL’s worst teams, to generate some real momentum after rallying from two goals down to start their four-game road trip with a 4-3 overtime win Tuesday against the Montreal Canadiens.

“I was actually thinking that on the bench, (that) you don’t ever like to lose or see other players score on you,” Canucks coach Travis Green said when asked about Ryan, who generated an extended ovation and chants of “Bobby! Bobby! Bobby!” after scoring twice in the final two minutes. “But it was obvious by the reaction of the crowd, there’s still that human element in the game you feel when guys go through tough things or battle through things. It was just good to see him back out there playing.”

It was Ryan’s first game in Ottawa since Nov. 15. He returned to the Senators lineup Tuesday in Nashville.

“It just got harder to keep the emotions down throughout the game,” Ryan said. “It was incredible how they supported me. And I guess to contribute. . . I mean, you can’t write that, the way that went. It was just an incredible evening. So thank you to all of them.”

Asked by Sportsnet what the game meant to him, Ryan said: “Everything. I said the other day I took the fact I was doing this for a living for granted for a while. I took everything for granted for a while. For my wife to stand by me and let me go get help, take on a lot, and for me to come back and contribute in that sense, it’s just a family victory.”

On the ice, though, it was clear who the losers were.

The Canucks fell behind the Canadiens 2-0 by the 7:23 mark of Tuesday’s game. Having pledged to be better at the start, they then went two down against the Senators in the first 7:44.

But while Vancouver was able to surge back in Montreal against goalie Carey Price, it was stymied by Ottawa backup Marcus Hogberg.

When J.T. Miller finally blew a shot past Hogberg on a Canucks power play to make it 2-1 at 19:44 of the second period, Vancouver surrendered a tap-in to someone named Rudolfs Balcer just 14 seconds into the third period after a slight breakdown in three-on-three defending was followed by a couple of unlucky bounces.

“We’ve got to find a way to keep that puck out of the net whether it was a bad bounce or not,” Miller said. “The whole game, when we did give up a chance, it seemed like it was a Grade A. Obviously, not the start we were looking for again. But I don’t think it was like the Montreal game where we weren’t ready.”

Lost opportunity?

“Yep,” Miller said. “It doesn’t matter what team we’re playing. Playing on the road, 20 games to go, we need two points. I thought we carried play, especially in the second half. At the end of the day. . . there’s too many Grade As to give up against an NHL team.”

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Tyler Toffoli deflected Miller’s shot to make it 3-2 at 8:16 of the third period. It was Toffoli’s fourth goal and sixth point since his trade from the Los Angeles Kings, and the winger nearly made it five goals a few minutes later but drilled his point-blank shot against Hogberg.

“Anywhere else, it goes in,” Toffoli lamented. “It definitely sucks. We knew what type of team they were and how hard they worked. We had chances, but obviously it’s tough when we’re giving up Grade-A opportunities. They’re NHL players; they can score goals.”

The Senators had scored at least five goals just once in 14 games. They are 18 points behind the Canucks in the standings. Vancouver’s road trip continues Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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