VANCOUVER – Nothing the Vancouver Canucks encounter on Halloween will be as scary as this: so far in October, they have lost to injuries Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, Sven Baertschi, Jay Beagle, Anders Nilsson and Brandon Sutter.
Then again, Patrick Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks are here Wednesday.
Sutter became the latest man down on Monday when he crashed heavily into the boards on his right shoulder while clearing the puck shorthanded against the Minnesota Wild.
Fortunately, Pettersson is already back in the lineup after missing two weeks with a concussion. He played his best National Hockey League game so far, scoring twice, including a superb breakaway finish from Boeser’s pass in the third period as the Canucks beat the Wild 5-2.
Canuck coach Travis Green said after the game that Sutter’s injury would be a matter of weeks, not days.
His departure left the Canucks with Bo Horvat, Adam Gaudette and Pettersson as their centres. It was Pettersson’s seventh game in the NHL, Gaudette’s 12th. Pettersson now has seven goals and 10 points to start his career.
"Some young kids played like real men tonight and that’s impressive," defenceman Erik Gudbranson said. "There’s not much to say about it; the injuries are tough."
"I don’t know what’s going on around this team," goalie Jacob Markstrom said of the conga line to the medical room. "But once again the guys battled… and did a great job to come up with two points. Tonight was huge for us.
"It’s super nice to have Pete in the lineup with what he brings. It’s unbelievable. And he gets the building going, too, like no other. Like Hank and Danny (Sedin) used to do. I can’t talk enough about our defence, too. We’re short on defence and guys are stepping in and playing big minutes. Erik Gudbranson blocking two or three one-timers from Dumba; I don’t think that’s much fun."
"I blocked it in the worst possible place a male can block a shot," Gudbranson said.
Well, as the Rogers Arena crowd once chanted to Sami Salo during the playoffs: "Balls of steel! Balls of steel!"
Nerves of steel, too, because the Canucks did not flinch against a Wild team that had won five straight games while allowing only nine goals.
The final 25 minutes were especially impressive as the Canucks absorbed a lot of pressure but limited the Wild’s Grade-A scoring chances at even strength after Ryan Suter’s power-play goal had cut Vancouver’s lead to 3-2 at 14:37 of the middle period.
Markstrom stopped all 17 shots he faced in the third period. Twenty-one of Minnesota’s 39 shots were from defencemen, an indication that Vancouver defended its goal area much more stoutly than it did in Saturday’s 5-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"Another gutsy win," defenceman Ben Hutton, who in the absence of Edler and Tanev logged a team-high 27:55 of ice time, said after scoring into an empty net. "I think the team bought in and we’re playing good top-to-bottom hockey. We had two or three goals that came off blocked shots and then down to the other hand. That takes guts to do. We got rewarded for it."
None more directly than Pettersson, the 19-year old rookie sensation who lethally finished a breakaway on goalie Devan Dubnyk to put the Canucks up 4-2 at 6:29 of the third period, a few seconds after he blocked Dumba’s point shot then collected the puck back from Boeser.
Pettersson’s earlier goal, at 6:51 of the second period, was a blistering one-timer teed up by Michael Del Zotto, the spare defenceman who is playing due to injuries and created the scoring chance by forcing a turnover inside the Minnesota blue-line.
"It’s good to get rewarded when you block a shot and get a breakaway," Pettersson said. "We wanted to bounce back from that last game. I think we did that."
After a spirited Sunday practice got players’ attention, the Canucks played a strong first period and for just the third time this season actually opened scoring when Markus Granlund scored from the slot at 7:17 after Dumba gave the puck to Horvat behind the Wild net.
Obviously unaccustomed to leading 1-0, the Canucks immediately gave the goal back when the Wild’s Jordan Greenway, with both body and stick position on Pettersson, got two whacks at a rebound that tied it at 7:52.
Undeterred, the Canucks outshot the Wild 8-1 in the final 11 minutes of the period and, importantly, killed a high-sticking double-minor to Granlund early in the second before Jake Virtanen and Pettersson scored goals 96 seconds apart to put Vancouver ahead 3-1.
Virtanen surprised Dubnyk with a heavy wrist shot in stride from the high slot to break the 1-1 tie at 5:15. That was less than a minute after Sutter hobbled off the ice, his arm hanging slack.
"It’s unreal," Horvat said of the injuries. "I don’t know, it seems to happen to us every year. But other guys have stepped up. Different guys filling different roles."