BOSTON – For the second straight game, all you could hear for a while inside the Vancouver Canucks dressing room was a darn horn blowing every few seconds.
Tuesday in Ottawa, it was merely a fire alarm. Thursday in Boston, it was a genuine emergency: the collapse of Canucks penalty killing in a 6-3 loss to the Boston Bruins.
“That was tough to swallow,” defenceman Erik Gudbranson said, standing post-game in the dressing room, “especially being in here and hearing that goal horn go off a couple of times.”
Actually, the bell tolled three times for the Canucks in 97 seconds as the Bruins power play pumped three goals past a penalty-killing unit that had surrendered only two goals in Vancouver’s first five National Hockey League games.
Gudbranson heard the muffled version of the horn because he was ejected at 6:13 of the first period for a major boarding penalty against Bruin Frank Vatrano, who was drilled in the numbers by the Canuck and launched nose-first into the boards.
A 1-1 game suddenly turned into a 4-1 Bruins lead and an autopilot win for Boston, where the horn inside TD Garden blared like it was 2011 when the Canucks lost three Stanley Cup Final games here by an aggregate score of 17-3.
“Yeah, that was awesome,” Bruin Tim Schaller, who challenged and fought Gudbranson after the Vatrano hit, told reporters. “I kind of ran out of celebrations to do in the penalty box by myself. I was having a good time there by myself.”
It was an awful time for the Canucks, who not only squandered the chance after a 3-0 win in Ottawa to build some momentum as they build their team, but simply didn’t give themselves a chance to win.
They were so bad short-handed that their October power-play crisis was instantly forgotten.
It was a complete all-systems breakdown on the penalty kill. David Pastrnak’s end-to-end goal that broke the 1-1 tie at 9:03 and sparked the Bruins’ surge illustrated the problems.
Pastrnak generated momentum up ice as penalty-kill forward Markus Granlund did the hokey-pokey and turned himself around. At the Canuck blueline, the other PK forward, Alex Burmistrov, was too wide to provide any resistance.
Pastrnak then turn-stiled Canucks defencemen Michael Del Zotto and squeezed a shot through goalie Anders Nilsson. Maybe weak-side defenceman Ben Hutton and a couple of guys sitting on the Vancouver bench were not at fault, but it was an atrocious display of defending.
Now, there is a valid argument that the Boston power play should have been three minutes and not five because Schaller escaped a fairly obvious instigator penalty, which we wouldn’t even mention except Vancouver’s Derek Dorsett got slapped with a far more debatable one in Ottawa.
But the way the Canucks defended short-handed – the Bruins power play finished 4-for-8 – it’s hard to imagine those two minutes affected the two points Vancouver volunteered.
“Anytime you have to kill off five minutes it’s tough, but it’s just unacceptable,” Del Zotto said. “We have to do a better job, myself included. It was my fault directly on a couple of goals.
“We shot ourselves in the foot in the first, absolutely. The PK has to be better. We’ve done a good job all year. But obviously tonight it was very poor. You take that first period away and we played a pretty good hockey game in the second and third. Our PK killed us in the first.”
Down 4-1 after the Gudbranson major and 5-1 halfway through the game, the second and third periods didn’t much matter.
Canucks coach Travis Green doesn’t reveal his starting goalie until required by law to do so, but Thursday was a missed opportunity for Nilsson, who shut out the Senators to earn a bonus start against the Bruins, then was hooked after four goals in 17 shots.
Green may not have Gudbranson in the lineup. The NHL announced after the game that Gudbranson will have a player-safety hearing Friday for boarding Vatrano. As with the application of the instigator rule, you just never know with the NHL and supplemental discipline.
“It was tough; you never want to be responsible for something like that,” Gudbranson said of his major and game misconduct. “I was trying to make shoulder-on-shoulder contact on him. I definitely didn’t run him. My intention of hitting someone from behind is never there. It was unfortunate. I think he moved a little bit but, nonetheless, it is what it is.”
Bruins power forward David Backes identifies with the six-foot-five Gudbranson, who was partly a victim of his size advantage over five-foot-nine Vatrano.
“There’s a little sympathy being a bigger guy that you have to hit some little guys,” Backes said. “There’s part of you that wants to just kind of hold up, but sometimes it’s too late.
“(Vatrano) sacrifices his nose for the good of the group again and we make good on that with three goals on one power play. I don’t know if I’ve ever been a part of that, but it was a fun five minutes, I think, for our team and our fans.”
And a torturous and costly five minutes for the Canucks.