VANCOUVER – An emotional two-week homestand that included a serious injury, a major trade, a giant retirement ceremony and a lot of angst over the standings ended Saturday for the Vancouver Canucks with this chant rolling down from the pews: “We want 10! We want 10!”
The fans were talking about goals. Against the Boston Bruins.
The Canucks steadied themselves in the National Hockey League playoff race and made an unforgettable homestand also a successful one by battering the mighty Bruins 9-3 at Rogers Arena. Against the league’s best team, which had lost in regulation only 11 times all season, the Canucks scored two goals in the first period, three in the second and four in the third in their greatest offensive explosion on home ice in 24 years.
As they head to Montreal for Monday’s trade deadline and Tuesday’s game against the Canadiens to open a four-game trip, the Canucks are four points clear of the playoff cut line in the Western Conference after going 3-2-1 at Rogers Arena.
They endured a potentially season-ending rib injury to Brock Boeser, who was replaced by Tyler Toffoli after a major trade with the Los Angeles Kings, and saw what had been a nine-point playoff cushion early in February contract to as little a two points.
No wonder veteran winger J.T. Miller said during the homestand that the key to everything was controlling emotions and maintaining focus.
“There were a lot of good reasons to want to get up against them for this game,” Miller said late Saturday. “Obviously, we wanted to put a better foot forward against them than we did a couple of weeks ago (when the Canucks lost 4-0 in Boston). They’re the best team in the league. Saturday game, crowd was awesome, a big rivalry that I’m new to. Obviously, against a team like that, you’re not going to score nine. . . ever. But we played a really good game tonight. It feels really good in here.”
“It always is a challenge,” captain Bo Horvat said of managing emotions, “especially during trade deadline. You never know who’s coming or who’s going. But a lot of positives came out of tonight.
“We were all ready to go before this game. It was obviously a huge game for us against a great hockey team. We were all ready to go from the start.”
Canucks defenceman Troy Stecher, the hometown boy at the epicentre of trade conjecture this week, scored just 4:14 into the game and Vancouver led for all but four of the final 56 minutes.
Impressively, they got stronger as the game went on and were able to respond whenever the Bruins pressed.
A little lucky to trail only 2-1 after an opening period that saw the Canucks outshoot them 17-11, the Bruins linked together some strong shifts early in the second only to see Vancouver absorb that pressure and score three more goals.
After the lead peaked at 6-1 on Elias Pettersson’s goal early in the third, David Pastrnak and Chris Wagner scored just 1:43 apart to make it 6-3 and create some of that Bruin-driven anxiety in Vancouver that has existed to varying degrees since Boston won the 2011 Stanley Cup in Rogers Arena. Then the Canucks responded with three more goals.
Two games after his trade from L.A., Toffoli scored his first for the Canucks at 11:10 of the final frame, and added another two minutes later. On both, the winger picked his spot from the slot, and his 20 goals this season are eclipsed on the Canucks only by Pettersson’s 25 and Miller’s 24.
“I feel a lot better after doing that,” Toffoli said. “Just building off of it, I think is the key. Just keep getting better, build the chemistry. It’s a great group.”
Is it? The Canucks believe so, but a newcomer’s perspective is always interesting.
“Everybody, I feel, is just a genuine really good guy and wants each other to do well,” Toffoli, who won a Stanley Cup with the Kings, explained. “I mean, I scored the seventh goal and guys were happy for me. That’s the vibe it is. Everybody wants to win, everybody wants to do well. We just have to keep building and keep having fun.”
When Jake Virtanen whistled a shot from distance past goalie Jaroslav Halak, who replaced Bruins starter Tuukka Rask when the score was 6-1, the crowd began chanting for a 10th goal.
Saturday was the 20th time this season the Canucks have scored at least five times in a game. The Bruins had allowed more than five goals only once all year.
Tanner Pearson and Loui Eriksson also scored for Vancouver playing with Horvat on a line that outplayed the Bruins’ top trio of Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron head-to-head. Adam Gaudette had the other Canucks goal, and 14 of 18 Vancouver skaters collected at least a point.
Stecher finished with three, adding two assists to his game-opening goal on his best night of the season.
“I didn’t change anything; it’s called luck for a reason,” Stecher said, referring to own-goals that went against him the previous two games. “Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t. At the end of the day, it’s another hockey game.”
It was another two points, but not just another hockey game.