NEW YORK – Four games into a six-game road trip in which they could be 4-0, the Vancouver Canucks have instead won just once. They’ve also got a couple of loser points for games in which they blew two-goal leads.
There was no shame in the way they played Monday against the New York Rangers, who had most of the calls and nearly all of the luck go their way. But the Rangers, a young team surging on enthusiasm and a string of positive results, earned their 2-1 victory by scoring the only goal of the third period at Madison Square Garden, albeit on a broken play off a faceoff.
New York also killed a penalty over the final 75 seconds when Vancouver, with goalie Jacob Markstrom on the bench, skated six-against-four.
Canuck coach Travis Green said: “You’re going to play well and lose sometimes.”
Yes, that happens in the National Hockey League. So does playing poorly sometimes and winning, and there have been a couple of games already this season when the Canucks won when they could have, maybe should have, lost.
But viewing in totality this road trip, it’s hard to just brush aside the points the Canucks have let get away. Instead of seven or eight, they have four. And although it’s true no one expected them to be in first place in the Pacific Division and earning their place near the front of the playoff race in the Western Conference, those lost points sting.
The ones they gave away in Detroit and Buffalo where the Canucks surrendered two-goal leads – Saturday against the Sabres, they did it in the final three minutes of regulation time – hurt more now because they got nothing Monday in Manhattan.
“One hundred percent,” Canuck defenceman Michael Del Zotto said. “Detroit, we deserved a win for sure. Last game (in Buffalo). . . you can’t let those points slip. You’re up 3-1 with 2 ½ to go. . . regardless of whether you’re a young team or not, those are the details we preach about every day. That can’t happen. Hopefully we do learn from that. And tonight, I thought we played a great first period, second as well. They score in the third there, but we had our chances.”
The Canucks’ chances came mostly in the first and second periods, which they dominated for stretches.
But Vancouver couldn’t convert its territorially advantage into more than a 1-0 lead, which came at 3:16 of the second period when Nikolay Goldobin emerged from the penalty box after serving a lazy hooking penalty, skated on to a puck on a two-on-one and lasered a shot top corner on New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
Goldobin nearly scored again a few minutes later, denting the underside of the crossbar with another rocket. But that miss by millimetres was nothing compared to Del Zotto’s non-goal, when the defenceman’s redirect from Loui Eriksson’s pass on a two-on-one hit the inside of left post, kissed the underside of the crossbar, then caromed against the inside of the right post. And still stayed out.
Asked if he’d ever seen that, Del Zotto, the former Ranger, said: “No, no, no.”
He said it three times.
“ I knew. . . at that point, it’s not meant to be,” Del Zotto continued. “It’s not meant to go in for you tonight. I got to bench after and told Guddy (Eric Gudbranson): ‘That would have been one of my career highlights. Big hit, go down the ice and score at MSG? That would have been a very special moment. Game of inches.”
With little going for them, the Rangers went on the power play when Eriksson was assessed a questionable tripping penalty in the offensive zone, and promptly tied it 1-1 at 12:42 of the second when a big rebound off Markstrom was whacked home by Filip Chytil.
The winning goal arrived at 11:19 of the third when, after a Canuck icing, Jimmy Vesey’s shot from a faceoff was blocked by Goldobin. But the puck fell for Brett Howden, who quickly slung it past Markstrom.
“The first shot was going far-side, and the second shot went short-side,” Markstrom said. “It’s tough when we make a great block and it goes right back to their guy’s stick. He shoots it quick. Playing-wise, I think it was a really good game for us. That’s why it kind of sucks to not come out with any points tonight.”
The Canucks, whose two-game losing streak matches their longest of the season, visit the New York Islanders Tuesday in Brooklyn with just one win on their road trip. They could have had four.
“Yeah, we could have,” Gudbranson said. “But we’ve still got to find a way to win. We’ve played well every game, but there are just a few mistakes here or there and we found ourselves losing a couple. We’re doing good things. The best thing is to iron out the wrinkles and don’t let that negativity come into the room. Focus on the good things.”
Of course, that’s harder to do that when losses mount.
• Canuck rookie Elias Pettersson, who led his team with four shots and nearly created a tying goal in the final seconds, had an ice pack on his wrist post-game, apparently after blocking a shot. He is pointless in consecutive games for the first time this season.