VANCOUVER – It has been a jaw-dropping news week in British Columbia.
Harry (the Royal formerly known as Prince) could move to the West Coast with his wife, rare snowfall ended rain’s winning streak, the Vancouver Canucks moved atop the Pacific Division, and the Supreme Court ruled the provincial government can’t restrict what flows here by pipeline from Alberta.
Shocking but true: the Canucks lead the Pacific Division heading into their National Hockey League bye week. The Canucks! And it’s not fake news.
The Canucks, who have lost more games over the last four years than anyone other than the Buffalo Sabres, beat the San Jose Sharks 4-1 Saturday to move alone atop the tightest division in hockey.
Actually, they didn’t just beat the Sharks but dominated them.
Shots were 27-7 after 40 minutes. When referee Kendrick Nicholson reported to the quiet room in the third period after getting beaned on the side of the helmet with the puck, he probably found most of the San Jose players in there.
Nicholson was OK, but we’re not so sure about the Sharks.
The Canucks, though, look better than anyone in the Pacific Division these days.
Vancouver has won 11 of their last 14 games and they have been the better team in five straight.
Without a Stanley Cup playoff appearance since 2015 or a playoff round win since 2011, the Canucks hit their mid-season break at 27-18-4, their 58 points one better than the Calgary Flames, Vegas Golden Knights, Edmonton Oilers and Arizona Coyotes.
Vancouver is four points clear in the Western Conference playoff race.
“I think we’ve gotten to a level that not a lot of people expected us to get to so fast,” defenceman Tyler Myers said. “We just want to ride that momentum, but make sure we keep doing the same things. That’s the most important thing. (The playoff race) is going to come right down to the end; it always does. As long as we keep our heads down and keep pushing forward, I think we have a really good team in this room.
“I think everyone has bought in to what kind of team we’re trying to become. We had a bit of a drop there at the end of our last homestand. But we had a little bit of a team meeting, and since Buffalo (five games ago), we’ve been the most consistent we’ve been all year.”
After that last homestand, the Canucks lost 9-2 in Tampa and were even worse two nights later when the Florida Panthers beat them 5-2. It looked like a potential turning point to a winter surge that began in December with seven straight wins.
But the Canucks quickly corrected some flaws and are 4-1 since then, their only loss coming against Winnipeg in a game where they outshot the Jets 41-25.
Saturday was Vancouver’s eighth-straight win at Rogers Arena, the last seven of them in regulation time.
It is a satisfying run for the few Canucks players who were here for the 201 total losses over the last four seasons.
“You go through ups and downs, but the ups have been a little bit higher than past years and the downs haven’t been as low,” veteran forward Brandon Sutter said. “We’ve managed to regroup when we go through tough spells and we’ve become rock solid at home.”
Winger Jake Virtanen, who smartly set up goals Saturday by Tanner Pearson and J.T. Miller, said: “You enjoy this way more when you win. I feel like this team… we really hate losing. Our team is super-competitive.
“In the summer, I thought we’d have a really good team. I didn’t know where we’d end up. But with the guys we added to our team, I thought we’d be better at both ends. I feel we are. We’ve kind of come together and learned how to win games.”
Despite utterly dominating the Sharks for two periods, the Canucks led only 1-0 after Loui Eriksson’s scramble goal survived a coach’s challenge for offside at 14:05 of the second period.
When Pearson redirected Virtanen’s pass in on a power play at 5:01 of the third period, the game looked over. But San Jose’s Barclay Goodrow got enough whacks at a loose puck to get one past Vancouver goalie Thatcher Demko at 7:09.
This is where it got interesting. Given the chance to get nervous or tentative and possibly lose a game they could have been leading by four goals, the Canucks instead struck back just 37 seconds later when Antoine Roussel screened Sharks goalie Aaron Dell, who couldn’t pick up Quinn Hughes’ point shot until it was nearly through him. Miller scored from Virtanen on a two-on-one at 15:27.
Final shots were 39-18.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been in one like this my whole career,” Demko said of his inactivity through two periods. “It was a good challenge for me. I think maybe I’ve struggled with games in the past when I don’t get a lot of action. Half the battle was just staying in it (mentally). That’s something I kind of realized was happening and I put a little emphasis on the mental part of it. They got that one to make it 2-1, but guys stuck to it and took care of the rest.
“It was a great game, a dominant win. I think they only had six or seven shots after two periods. Obviously, if that’s the case, you’re doing something right.”