VANCOUVER – Criticized earlier this season for not sticking up for one another physically, the Vancouver Canucks were all-in Tuesday responding to an injured teammate and did everything they could to push back against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
They just weren’t good enough to win the game, which Canucks leader Bo Horvat said would have been the best payback.
But almost nobody beats the Lightning on the scoreboard these days, as the National Hockey League’s best team is 9-0-1 in its last 10 games and had too much speed and too many scoring chances for the Canucks to handle in a 5-2 loss at Rogers Arena.
But the Canucks, whose own 5-0-1 streak ended, pushed within a goal in the third period after punching at the Lightning in the second before a late goal by Steven Stamkos made it 4-2 and was followed by Ondrej Palat’s empty-netter.
“That’s hockey; we all wear the same jersey,” Canucks defenceman Erik Gudbranson said of the hostility. “We’re together every single day and it’s good when those situations came that guys got right in there.”
Referees Dan O’Rourke and Reid Anderson assessed only a minor penalty for interference and when Martel, playing the sixth NHL game of his four-year professional career, emerged from the penalty box, he was charged after the whistle by Jake Virtanen. And most of the other Canucks on the ice.
Lightning forward Cedric Paquette, who had by then set up one goal and scored another as Tampa built a 3-1 lead, tried to run over Canucks super rookie Elias Pettersson about five minutes later. Paquette was ready to fight the first responder, who happened to be Canucks sniper Brock Boeser. So Vancouver defenceman Ben Hutton peeled away Paquette and dropped him with a straight right.
The Canucks’ combativeness came two months after Florida Panthers defenceman Mike Matheson threw Pettersson to the ice behind the play, injuring the then-19-year-old Swede.
Canucks players were unsure after that third-period incident how Pettersson had been injured and, encouraged by coach Travis Green to maintain their focus and win the hockey game, did just that on a late goal by Horvat.
The fundamental difference Tuesday was everyone saw Martel blindside Stecher with a shoulder, and Paquette take a run at Pettersson. So the response was visceral and immediate.
“I knew we’d react like that,” Horvat said. “A lot of guys saw the hit and weren’t happy with it. It’s a bad hit. I thought we did a good job getting in there and letting them know we weren’t happy about it. In the third, it’s different. You want to try to win the hockey game; that’s the best way to kind of give it back to them. We stayed composed and battled but unfortunately came up short.
“Enough was done to let them know we weren’t happy about what happened. I think it was a good response there right afterwards. We talked about it between the second and the third that we wanted to come out and win the hockey game. The best way to stick it to them is to go and win the game. Unfortunately, we came up short but I thought it was a great job by us staying composed, and trying to win and doing whatever it took.”
The Canucks might have pulled it off had their power play been better than 0-for-6.
They failed to make Martel pay on the scoreboard, and couldn’t turn pressure into a goal when Paquette was assessed an extra minor on the Pettersson bombing run.
The power play was unplugged after going 3-for-5 in Sunday’s impressive 4-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers, who had also arrived in Vancouver on a hot streak.
“We had a hard time on the power play today,” Canucks defenceman Alex Edler said. “I think it’s just a matter of simplifying things. We’ve got to work hard to get possession, whether it’s off a faceoff or an entry, and from that just get pucks to the net and bodies (to the net).”
The Canucks’ 8:21 of power-play time included a 58-second five-on-three that began at 6:03 of the first period. Soon after killing the two penalties, Nikita Kucherov opened the scoring for Tampa at 8:40 on a quick shot from a faceoff after Gudbranson iced the puck.
Vancouver agitator Antoine Roussel tried to engage the talented Kucherov on the ensuring faceoff at centre, and later pounced on five-foot-nine Lightning forward Yanni Gourde, who circled into the Canuck after taking a heavy hit along the side glass.
Roussel upset the Lightning as much as Martel did the Canucks.
Tampa led 3-1 when Roussel jumped Gourde 2 ½ minutes before Martel’s head shot on Stecher, who left the game.
Chris Tanev’s screened shot leaked through Tampa goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to bring the Canucks within one goal at 5:46 of the third period.
“It was pretty much directly in my line of vision,” Gudbranson said of Martel’s hit. “It was a tough hit. The response was huge. That was a team sticking together and you need that.”
“Roussel does what he does in a game and was trying to stir things up a little bit and then it probably went downhill or uphill — however you want to look at it — from there,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “You are not advocating things either way about the rough stuff. But you want your guys sticking up for each other and it looked like two teams sticking up for each other.”