EDMONTON — Whether you’re in the vortex that is the perpetual rebuild in Edmonton, or inside the one that’s beginning to gain some traction in Vancouver, so much of what you can accomplish hinges on belief.
So, as the Vancouver Canucks climbed over the Oilers in the Western Conference standings with a 4-2 road win — their second win over Edmonton in the past five games — the belief is beginning to build inside this Canucks dressing room. If not quite yet on the outside of those doors.
“If not us, who else is going to believe in us?” asked goaltender Jacob Markstrom. “You (media) guys aren’t, so sure as hell we are.”
That defines the Canucks, a group that was supposed to be in the ‘Lose for Hughes’ constellation, which instead finds itself right in the wild-card mix as the halfway part of the season approaches. Vancouver got a bit of luck on Thursday when Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen mailed in his first stinker of the season, but buried four goals on six first-period shots before hanging on for the win.
The Canucks win because they were opportunistic, and their goaltending was better than the opponent. So what if they only had 20 shots on goal and were dominated for long stretches by Edmonton?
Last we checked, there is no room in the standings for an explanation, and this win puts the Canucks at 18-18-4.
“This is how it should feel,” Markstrom said. “Winning shouldn’t be something you celebrate. It should be normal … and in this organization we had that for a long time. That’s what we’re working to get back.”
There are holes here, of course. That’s why there wasn’t a voice in the hockey wilderness that picked the Canucks to challenge for a playoff spot this season. But they’ve got an incredibly skilled superstar in Elias Pettersson, and skilled and sturdy second-line centre in Bo Horvat, a legit sniper in Brock Boeser and a few more pieces coming.
Not to mention a coach that looks like the long-term solution, something the Oilers still haven’t found umpteen years into their project.
“From Day 1 we’ve talked about how we want to play,” Travis Green said. “We want to be faster and harder to play against, and we wanted to play meaningful games down the stretch. For us it’s about developing our young guys and, obviously, winning. We want to win, and we’re preaching it.
“We’re not getting ahead of ourselves — we’re at .500 right now and we have a long way to go.”
You could hear the belief in their voices in the Vancouver room, while down the hallway in the Oilers bathhouse, there they were — still, In 2018 — trying to convince themselves that this four-game losing steak is just a blip. That they can break right out of this and make that playoff run starting Saturday against San Jose.
“We have dug ourselves a little bit of a hole the last four games and we can’t afford to keep digging it,” said Milan Lucic, the $6-million winger who has two games left in 2018 to add to the two goals he has scored in this calendar year. “We have to find a way out, and it isn’t going to take just one or two guys, it is going to take every one.
“We know it is there,” he pleaded. “We believe in this group. It is just about coming out of this spot and tough part of the season that teams go through. If we find a way to come out of it sooner than later, hopefully it will make you better.”
Edmonton, in fact, did dominate much of the game, after giving up a 4-1 first-period lead (the first four-goal Canucks first period in exactly nine years to the day). They outshot Vancouver 32-20, and Cam Talbot relieved Koskinen after 20 minutes and did not allow a goal.
Alas, it was another moral victory for a team that could build an office tower out of them, since this rebuild began some 11 or 12 years ago.
“I believe right now this is the building block back again,” said Ken Hitchcock, who has a knack for telling the media exactly what he thinks his players need to hear. “I know we’re in a really tough situation injury-wise, we have a lot of people out, but I saw some things today that are some building blocks that we can move this thing forward and hopefully to another level.”
Oh, yes. Sixteen-goal man Alex Chiasson left the game and did not return after being struck by a puck in the knee. That’s the bad news.
The good news? Edmonton won’t see Vancouver again until Jan. 16.