BOSTON – If the Canucks were as energized to play the Boston Bruins as coach Travis Green was fired up over an unpenalized late hit on his young star, Elias Pettersson, Vancouver wouldn’t have lost 4-0 Tuesday in their first poor performance in four weeks.
Nine years since their Stanley Cup victory in Vancouver, the Bruins still seem to be able to bring out the worst in the Canucks, who saw their six-game points streak extinguished by a powerful Boston team.
On a 14-3-1 run that represented the Canucks’ most encouraging seven weeks since 2011, Vancouver surrendered late goals in the first and second periods and had no pushback in the third as the Bruins made it look easy.
Four games into a five-game trip, the Canucks looked leaden and had no response to the deficit late in the game or for Bruins defenceman Matt Grzelcyk’s takeout of Pettersson three minutes after it started.
“I’m so frustrated with it,” Green told reporters of the unpenalized late hit. “This guy (Pettersson) is one of the best young players in the league. And he gets hit (when) he’s totally defenceless. It’s two seconds after he lets go of the puck. I’ve watched it a couple of times. He is defenceless. He feels like there’s no way he’s going to get hit in that spot. He’s in a vulnerable position.”
Pettersson, the National Hockey League’s rookie of the year last season, did not appear braced for contact when the five-foot-nine Grzelcyk jolted him into the end boards long after the Canuck gave up the puck and began curling behind the Bruins’ net.
Pettersson crashed heavily, but was able to get up and limp to the Canucks’ bench during a whistle. He didn’t miss any shifts but finished with his second-lowest ice time (16:25) in nine games. Neither referee Ian Walsh nor partner Trevor Hanson called a penalty on Grzelcyk, who appeared to apologize to Pettersson after the play.
It came two games after New York Islanders forward Brock Nelson hit Pettersson in the face with his stick as the Islanders pushed for a tying goal Saturday in Brooklyn, where the Canucks won 4-3 in overtime. There was no call on that fairly obvious infraction, either.
“Those are hits that the league is trying to get out of the game, especially against top young guys, top players in the league,” Green continued Tuesday. “I think Petey has shown he is one of those guys, and it is frustrating for me as a coach to see some of the abuse he takes where he doesn’t get (calls). He works through it (but) he gets frustrated. I know that he’s not the biggest guy, but that doesn’t mean you can take advantage of a player that’s not ready to be hit. That should be a penalty all day long.”
Green is correct. The problem, beyond the obvious one about Pettersson’s safety, is there was no indication Tuesday that the Canucks’ power play would have been able to make the Bruins pay.
Vancouver went 0-for-3 with the man advantage, sinking to 4-for-44 over the last 13 games, and when it had two opportunities in the second half of the middle period and the game was still winnable, the best scoring chances were a couple of short-handed breakaways for Boston on turnovers by J.T. Miller and Quinn Hughes.
The power-play problems hadn’t hurt the Canucks because the team was still scoring goals and winning games, but they did neither on Tuesday.
“Execution, getting outworked,” Miller said when asked to explain what’s wrong 5-on-4. “That’s pretty much it. We’re not even getting momentum right now, and that’s all we ask for. We’ve got good enough players … that should at least be getting momentum for our team. If anything, it’s creating some negativity right now. It’s frustrating. A game like that, the power play can save you. We’re not exactly controlling the play 5-on-5. Just not good enough.”
By contrast, the Canucks’ penalty killing was excellent. But strangely, that also failed to energize the team, which was outshot 42-25.
After Vancouver killed a minute-long, two-man disadvantage near the middle of the game – and with the score still just 1-0 from Charlie Coyle’s rebound goal at 14:24 of the first period – the Canucks were outshot 11-2 the rest of the period. And that included their two failed power plays.
The puck bounced favourably for Brad Marchand, who made it 2-0 at 15:35 of the second period, before David Krejci and Karson Kuhlman scored in the third for Boston. Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask barely worked up a sweat in his 25-save shutout. Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom was his team’s best player.
“Sometimes you push back against a good team and they push the other way,” Green said. “I don’t think we had a no-show tonight. I think we played a very good hockey team that could feel we were trying to push back and they didn’t budge. It’s a good learning experience for our group.
“We just weren’t good enough. That’s a team that lost in the finals last year. They know how to win, they know how to play. They’re heavy on the puck. We didn’t get inside enough of them. In the small areas of the game, they were harder than us.”
Miller said: “I don’t think they’re anything special. They’re a good hockey team but I’m not sitting here saying ‘Oh, man, we’re playing this team tonight.’ We’re a good hockey team. We should have some (swagger) about that. We’ve proven we can beat any team in the league, so I don’t think anybody was worried about what team we were playing tonight. They won more battles than us and worked harder. That goes hand in hand.”
Miller’s comment was the biggest blast the Canucks had on Tuesday.