Canucks’ newcomers unfazed by slide as fans see shades of past failures

Arizona's Lawson Crouse celebrates his goal against Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko as Jordie Benn and Brandon Sutter look on. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

VANCOUVER – Among the handful of new Vancouver Canucks this season who are unencumbered and unscarred by the team’s recent failures, winger J.T. Miller said before Wednesday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes that he didn’t care about the growing panic in the market.

To be kind of accurate, he said the players “don’t give a [expletive] who has a low panic threshold outside the room.”

He explained: “I don’t pay attention to that. I’m just trying to worry about the present and take care of what we can take care of right now. If you’ve been here a long time, maybe you can kind of get the sense in your head, like, ‘Here we go again.’ But we worry about us. I don’t think there’s any panic right now.”

Then in their most important game of the season, the Canucks extended their playoff-imperilling losing streak to four games by falling 4-2 to the Arizona Coyotes, overcoming a third-period deficit only to blow their late lead against one of the teams trying to push them out of the Stanley Cup tournament. Which, to those who have been here a long time, felt so very Canucky.

So did the Columbus Blue Jackets, who scored four times in last eight minutes on Sunday to stun the Canucks 5-3 in Ohio on Sunday, managing their next game out to choke away a late two-goal lead and lose 3-2 Wednesday to the Calgary Flames, another team moving away from Vancouver in the National Hockey League standings.

After holding a nine-point playoff cushion a month ago, the Canucks’ longest losing streak of the season has dropped them into a three-way tie for the two wild-card spots in the Western Conference. Vancouver has games in-hand on both Arizona and the Winnipeg Jets, but since the Canucks are losing all their games these days, those extra at-bats don’t feel very beneficial.

The Minnesota Wild are only one point behind, the Nashville Predators two, and they’ve played the same number of games as the Canucks: 66.

The West Coast was a lot less panicky at 61 games, which is when starting goalie and team MVP Jacob Markstrom suddenly left the lineup with a mysterious knee injury.

Cue the panic.

“We still believe in our group,” winger Tanner Pearson, another of the newcomers unfamiliar with the angst epidemic, said before scoring what briefly seemed like a winning goal on Wednesday. “You don’t want to have lessons like these 65 games into the season. At the end of the day, it’s not the last game of the season where if you lose, you’re not in the playoffs. We still have time to learn from it. That’s a positive.

“Me and Ty Toffoli won a Cup (in 2014 with Los Angeles) and in our first-round series we were down 3-0 to San Jose. Anything is possible.”

Still part of the season-long playoff mosh pit, the Canucks suddenly seem to be way behind everyone.

In their four-game losing streak, they led in the third period twice and in another game were tied, and instead of emerging with five or six points, they’ve gathered none.

Toffoli tied Wednesday’s game 1-1 with a brilliant sharp-angle shot into a top-corner gap Arizona goalie Darcy Kuemper gave him at 3:19 during a Vancouver power play. Pearson then scored the go-ahead goal at 6:16 with his skate on the rebound from Jake Virtanen’s shot.

But with time and space to settle a rimmed pass behind his net, Canucks defenceman Troy Stecher watched in horror as the puck rocketed off his skate and straight out into the path of Coyote Carl Soderberg, who relayed it to Nick Schmaltz for the tying goal at 10:10.

Arizona, which had won only seven of its previous 23 games, won it at 12:39 when Lawson Crouse deflected Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s point shot past Vancouver goalie Thatcher Demko, who had plenty of saves but still no luck.

For 43 minutes, the game’s only goal was scored like this: Canuck penalty-killer Oscar Fantenberg, who partially-blocked a shot into his own net for the losing goal Sunday in Columbus, tried to chip the puck out from behind the Vancouver goal, but hit the shaft of Soderberg’s stick, sending the arcing puck at a violent angle back towards Demko. The puck just cleared the cross bar on its way to the crease, kissed off the back of the goalie’s shoulder and rolled into the net to make it 1-0 Arizona at 7:27 of the first period.

Stephen Hawking, arisen from the dead, couldn’t explain the physics behind that goal. But the way things have been going for the Canucks the last week — and the 50 years that preceded it — it was about what you’d expect in the biggest game of the season.

Ekman-Larsson ended the game with an empty-netter at 19:25, shortly after Antoine Roussel’s deflection hit Kuemper.

The most positive thing for the Canucks was the play of Demko, who had his best game since Markstrom was injured. It was something, at least.

The Colorado Avalanche, who are a lot better than the Coyotes, visit the Canucks on Friday.

“It doesn’t really matter the circumstances,” Demko said before the game. “We still believe we can win.”

Late in the game, the music played inside Rogers Arena. Queen. “Under pressure…”

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