The Pittsburgh Penguins overwhelmed the Canucks with four goals in the final 24 minutes to win 5-0 in Vancouver. The victory gave the Penguins a three-game Western Canadian sweep in which they outscored the Canucks, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers 20-6.
Boeser and, especially, Pettersson were good. But Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby — as they are against nearly everyone’s best two players — were better. And the absence of top Canucks defencemen Alexander Edler and Chris Tanev became obvious when the Penguins exploited Vancouver’s poor defending in the second half of the game.
But the difficult night for the Canucks was kept in perspective by the horrible morning in Pittsburgh, where an anti-semite went on a shooting rampage in a Jewish synagogue, killing 11 people.
“It was an emotional day for all of us,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “It really hits home when a tragedy like that happens in your own backyard, so to speak, and I know our guys felt that tragedy and it was heartfelt.
“These guys care so much about the city of Pittsburgh and the respective communities and it was a tough morning for all of us, I can say that. But I give our players a lot of credit, I thought they were able to maintain the necessary focus and the inspiration to go out and play the way they did tonight. It speaks volumes to the type of people we have in the locker room.”
Saturday’s game at Rogers Arena began with a moment of silence for the victims in Pittsburgh and appreciation of what’s important.
By the end of it, there was also appreciation for the Penguins.
Malkin and Crosby had each scored twice and Casey DeSmith had a 29-save shutout as the Penguins showed they are very much still a Stanley Cup contender, 16 months removed from their back-to-back championships.
The Canucks outplayed the Penguins during the first period. But when Pittsburgh lifted its game in the second period, the Canucks were hanging on. By the third, Vancouver had lost its grip entirely. They lost the puck and their defensive-zone coverage as the Penguins flew around the Vancouver zone.
Malkin between Phil Kessel and, usually, Carl Hagelin was the best line on the ice and at 5:50 of the middle period it produced the opening goal — a rebound tap-in for Kessel after Olli Maatta’s point shot through traffic.
Crosby easily made it 2-0 at 16:34, as Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom overplayed Dominik Simon’s shot-pass on a poorly-defended three-on-two that was caused by a Vancouver turnover outside its blue line.
Malkin, who would force himself into the debate about the greatest player in hockey if he conjured his best more consistently, dominated the third period, scoring twice in a minute before Crosby tapped in the final goal from Jamie Oleksiak’s pass at 17:43.
“The third we were pushing a little bit but probably not pushing the smart way,” Canuck defenceman Michael Del Zotto said. “They have really high-end talent over there and they’ve been doing it for I don’t know how many years now, and we got a good taste of it tonight. There’s not many teams that can go toe-to-toe and trade chances with that hockey team.”
“They were really good,” Canucks centre Bo Horvat said. “Obviously their goals speak for themselves — the way they move the puck and find each other out there. Everyone is constantly moving in the O-zone. It’s tough to defend, and they made the most of that.”
It’s going to be much tougher for the Canucks without Edler and Tanev. Tanev is day-to-day with a bruised hip, but Edler’s sprained knee could see him miss several weeks.
At least Pettersson and Boeser are back. Pettersson played for the first time since missing six games with a concussion and, for the first time in his six-game NHL career, did not register a point. But he logged 19:01 of ice time and, with his creativity, was the Canucks’ most dangerous player.
Boeser was the only Vancouver forward who played more (19:14) and finished with three shots on net after missing two games with a sore groin.
DeSmith, beaten by Boeser in overtime when the Canucks won 3-2 in Pittsburgh two weeks ago, did his best work in the first period when the Penguins were outshot 11-8.
The goalie said the mass shooting in Pittsburgh was “definitely on my mind” as he played.
“I am sure it was with everybody else,” he said. “It is tragic what happened in Pittsburgh and, not that sports has anything to do with how tragic today was, but anything we can do for the city to help them get through this and stay strong for Pittsburgh, I think was important to all of us.”