VANCOUVER – A night with some glorious rookie moments ended with Vancouver Canucks Calder Trophy candidate Brock Boeser taken to hospital by ambulance after a frightening collision late in the third period.
Playing at home for the first time against rookie of the year favourite Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders, Boeser appeared to strike his hip or tailbone against the open frame of the bench door when propelled backwards by Cal Clutterbuck as the Canucks star tried to land a check.
Boeser immediately clutched his back and lay on the ice for a couple of minutes before being helped off with 27.1 seconds remaining in regulation time. Security later closed the hallway outside the Canucks’ dressing room at Rogers Arena so the 21-year-old could be taken away by ambulance.
Canucks coach Travis Green said Boeser went to hospital for "precautionary" reasons and that the team’s medical staff hope the winger suffered only a bruise.
Boeser’s chase of the Calder Trophy — he leads all rookies with 29 goals and is the Canucks’ best freshman since Pavel Bure was named rookie of the year in 1992 – is one of the last surviving positive storylines for a National Hockey League team that is hopelessly out of the playoff race for the third straight season.
Monday’s game was anticipated as a showcase for Boeser and Barzal, the 20-year-old forward from nearby Coquitlam, B.C., who leads Boeser by 12 points in rookie scoring. Make that 14 because Barzal had two assists in the Canucks’ 4-3 overtime win.
By the end, the heroic rookie was new Canucks acquisition Brendan Leipsic, who had a dreadful first half of the game but scored the first and last Vancouver goals, winning it at 2:47 of overtime when Islander Anthony Beauvillier fell with the puck and Leipsic beat goalie Jaroslav Halak to it.
But what joy there was in the Canucks dressing room after a win that followed two straight overtime losses was muted by concern about Boeser.
"Obviously, it’s not a good thing to see when you see Brock go down," Vancouver winger Jake Virtanen said. "But he’s a tough character, a tough warrior. I think he’ll be fine. I know I was changing and I was just closing the gate because I just got off and someone came and hit him, and I think he might have hit his back on the gate. I’m not really sure."
Forward Darren Archibald said: "Everybody in the room is thinking about him here. Hopefully he’s alright. We just hope for the best."
It is indicative of the transition underway in Vancouver that the Canuck scorers were Leipsic, Archibald and Virtanen.
Leipsic was acquired last week from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for minor-league defenceman Philip Holm and now has five points in three games for the Canucks. Archibald, who signed an NHL contract with the Canucks to facilitate a promotion from the American Hockey League a month ago, scored on a second-period penalty shot and has filled the void in the lineup left by the November retirement of gritty winger Derek Dorsett. Virtanen, a healthy scratch several times earlier in the season, is playing the best hockey in his three years as a pro and gave the Canucks a 3-2 lead on an accidental shot on a 2-on-1 at 10:31 of the third period.
After taking a nice pass from Leipsic, who beat New York defenceman Brandon Davidson to create the outnumbered rush, Virtanen heeled his shot between Halak’s skates.
"I was going high glove but apparently it worked," Virtanen smiled. "Usually I try to shoot as hard as I can where I want it, but I was just trying to pick my spot and make it accurate. But it ended up going five-hole. When I got to the bench, I was laughing about it to myself."
After Jordan Eberle tied it for the Islanders with 1:04 remaining, Leipsic capped his mercurial night by lifting the puck from Beauvillier, rounding Halak and scoring into an open net.
Leipsic took three minor penalties in the game, including the one that preceded Eberle’s tying goal, and also gave away the puck on Josh Bailey’s goal that made it 1-0 in a first period dominated by the Islanders, who outshot the Canucks 15-6 in the frame.
"I was just praying that I didn’t shank it wide or something because I wouldn’t be sleeping for a couple of nights," Leipsic said of his winner. "It’s one of those where the goalie has to make a split-second decision and it’s lucky it went my way.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself to be a good teammate and do the right things, but for whatever reason I wasn’t sharp from the get-go. As the game went on we kind of changed up the lines and got our skating legs going. It was kind of a tale of two games, but it was nice to contribute when it mattered."
The Canucks are scheduled to hold an off-ice workout on Tuesday, when they are expected to provide an update on Boeser.