The Canucks overcame a three-goal deficit, tied the game with their second goalie pulled, but still lost 6-5 to the Rangers when someone named John Gilmour scored from an acute angle at 1:22 of overtime.
It was the most fun two teams headed nowhere, each with newly-acquired players in their lineup, can have in the bleak days of a lost season when the idea of National Hockey League playoffs for them may as well be an outdoor game on Mars.
The Canucks dominated territorially and fired 55 shots on veteran New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who may be the loneliest man in Manhattan after Rangers management announced three weeks ago the organization was quitting on this season, then began to dismantle the team.
The Rangers had lost seven straight games before beating the Canucks, who went 4-8-2 in February to speed towards a third straight bottom-five finish.
But while the game meant nothing to the team, it meant a lot to handful of individual Canucks trying to win or save NHL employment.
The best Canuck may have been Brendan Leipsic, the former junior dynamo who went from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, played on the fourth line in Nevada and Wednesday, at age 23, found himself on Vancouver’s first line after joining his fourth NHL organization two days earlier.
Acquired at the trade deadline for minor-league defenceman Philip Holm, Leipsic logged a season-high 17:49 of ice time, led the Canucks with seven shots on net, set up Brock Boeser’s beautiful tying goal with 46 seconds remaining in regulation time and nearly won it in overtime with a dash down the right wing.
“This has got to be it,” Leipsic said of another chance to prove he belongs in the NHL. “These opportunities don’t come around every day, especially playing with two guys like this in an organization like this. I got to play in Canada once and the opportunity has come around again. I’m just trying to make the most of it.
“Bo [Horvat] is a big guy and holds the puck down low, and Brock’s the guy who finds holes, so I’ll try to get him the puck. We haven’t even had a practice yet, so we can build off this.”
Boeser scored twice, pushing his rookie goals total to 29, and Horvat had a goal and two assists in 22:38 of ice time. The new first line combined for 18 shots on goal. The Rangers team had 27.
“He was awesome tonight,” Horvat said of Leipsic. “He makes plays out there, he skates, moves the puck well. I remember playing against him at the Memorial Cup. Such great speed, such high skill. He adds a great element to our lineup.
“I thought we played a great game. Just a couple of unfortunate bounces, a couple of breakdowns and they capitalized on their chances. But overall, I thought we played a great game.”
The Nikolay Goldobin conundrum was fully displayed in a third-period span of two and half minutes.
The 22-year-old winger, whom the Canucks need to make a decision on for next season, scored from Leipsic’s pass to make it 4-4 at 12:17 of the third period. And on his next shift, Goldobin recklessly played the puck into trouble in the neutral zone, then was a step slow on the backcheck as Mika Zibanejad gave the Rangers’ their third lead of the night at 14:47.
Goldobin did not get another shift.
But he and the rest of the young Canucks will get many more chances over the final 18 games.
Before the game was three minutes old, before New York had three shots, the Rangers led 2-0. Kevin Hayes banked a wrap-around in off starting goalie Jacob Markstrom at 1:22, after Canucks defenceman Ben Hutton was checked off the puck behind the net. It was the 20th time in 64 games that Vancouver had fallen behind 1-0 in the first five minutes.
For sake of variety, they made it 2-0 against the Rangers when Jimmy Vesey deflected in Neal Pionk’s point shot at 2:05. When Markstrom was finally able to touch the puck a minute later, gathering a dribbler from Gilmour, Canucks fans jeered him.
But the goalie’s suffering did not last long. When the Rangers made it 3-0 at 12:39 on another deflection by Hayes, Vancouver coach Travis Green sent in Anders Nilsson.
The strange thing about the deficit is one team had all the goals and the other all the sustained pressure. The Canucks outshot the Rangers 17-7 in the opening period and shot attempts were 27-12. Eventually, that territorial dominance – and New York’s defensive ineptitude – became reflected in the score.
Boeser roofed a cross-ice pass from Horvat to make it 3-1 at 14:12 and Horvat pulled the Canucks within one on a power-play rebound at 19:12 after Nilsson had poke-checked the puck from Hayes on a shorthanded breakaway.
Daniel Sedin’s 70-m.p.h. slapshot fooled Lundqvist to tie the game 3-3 at 11:01 of the second period. But Hank Sedin’s carelessness backfired at 14:58 when his pass was intercepted by new Ranger Vladislav Namestnikov, who shot between Nilsson’s pads on a breakaway.
But the best of Leipsic was still to come.
“I hadn’t played for about 10 days or so in Vegas,” he said. “So I was rested. With the opportunity, I had a little more jump.”
So did the rest of the Canucks.