EDMONTON — If the Vancouver Canucks go on to win this mesmerizing series and eventually become as good as their young stars promise to be, at least we will know when the new team arrived.
It was Wednesday in the second period of Game 5 against the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, who appeared to have seized both the game and the playoff series only to have the precocious Canucks take it back from them.
Getting badly outplayed and outshot and trailing 3-1 — and not more only because Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom was sensational — the Canucks surged and scored three times in 6 ½ minutes, and then defended their lead over the final period to win 4-3.
They have a 3-2 series lead during their first playoff adventure since 2015 and on Friday can eliminate the best team in the National Hockey League last season.
But they may have to do so without paramount defenceman Alex Edler, who did not finish Wednesday’s game after suffering a frightening skate cut to the right side of his face late in the second period, one shift after speedy checker Tyler Motte scored the go-ahead goal on the night of his life.
Without Edler and top-four defenceman Tyler Myers, injured in Game 2, the Canucks held the Blues to nine third-period shots and Markstrom saved them all.
A game like this goes in the memory bank, instantly becomes a reference point for the Canucks, something to fall back on the next time they’re down by two goals and getting battered. Yes, they can — even against the Stanley Cup champs.
“Honestly, I think it was close to getting out of hand,” Canuck winger J.T. Miller, who helped drive the comeback, said of the mid-game deficit. “They were getting some bounces. We started to turn pucks over. It felt like they were tilting the ice. I feel like that save Marky made off the ref kind of was the turning point. The game could have been 4-1 right there.”
Markstrom desperately lunged to take a goal away from Jacob de la Rose early in the second period after a St. Louis shoot-in hit a linesmen, stranded Markstrom and left most of the Vancouver net open. The Canuck also made point-blank saves on David Perron and Robert Thomas.
“We just needed to tighten up the chin strap a little, play our game, a little more energy on the bench,” Miller continued. “When you see one go in, it gives you a little life. And then I felt like we just took over the second period and played really well.”
The Canucks haven’t played many playoff games since losing the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, and their qualifying-round win two weeks ago against the Minnesota Wild was Vancouver’s first series victory in nine years.
But if Wednesday’s second period wasn’t their most exciting in the playoffs since 2011, then at least it was the most astonishing.
Canucks winger Jake Virtanen, who wasn’t even in the lineup when the playoffs began, created space for one goal and scored another during the surge. He drew both St. Louis defenders to him before dishing behind the net to Miller, who took advantage of his uncluttered path by taking the puck hard to the net and hacking and whacking at it until it got under St. Louis goalie Jake Allen to cut the deficit to 3-2 at 11:54.
At the end of two shifts of sustained pressure — defenceman Quinn Hughes overlapped both on a two-minute shift — Virtanen then caught Allen cheating away from his post and banked the puck in to tie at 16:08 while using Miller as a decoy.
Motte, whose terrific shorthanded goal had opened scoring the first period, then gave the Canucks a lead that was unthinkable 10 minutes earlier. He knocked a bouncing puck away from Robert Thomas in the neutral zone, outskated St. Louis defenceman Vince Dunn and zipped a forehand far-post on Allen to make it 4-3 at 18:17.
Canuck ebullience dulled, however, when Edler was cut by the skate of Blues winger Jordan Kyrou.
The NHL’s medical team rushed down from the stands to treat Edler, who did not reappear, which left depth defencemen Jordie Benn and Oscar Fantenberg playing key minutes in the third period.
“It was a great win,” Markstrom said. “We’ve got to feel good about this for a couple of hours here, and then get ready for Game 6.”
The goalie finished with 36 saves and was saved by the bell, as time had just expired when the Blues scrummed the puck across the goal-line at the end of regulation.
“My mindset kind of stays the same: to keep the puck out of the net,” Markstrom said. “Obviously, when you’re down 3-1, it’s not ideal. And having let three goals in, that’s nothing I would like to do. For us to come back after that in the second period was huge, and our third period was probably one of the best periods we played with the lead for a long time that I can remember. That just showed a lot of character.”
And even more promise for a team still learning to win.