ST. LOUIS – Not since abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock began squirting paint on to canvas with a turkey baster has anything so ugly proved as successful as the Vancouver Canucks’ power play did on Thursday night.
A two-minute five-on-three, as grotesque as it was surprising, ended with Bo Horvat hacking in a tying goal in the third period before Josh Leivo scored the only goal of a six-round shootout to give the Canucks a 4-3 victory over the Stanley Cup-champion St. Louis Blues.
Officially, the Canucks didn’t register a shot on net during their two-man advantage before Horvat scored in a pileup at 12:05 after teammate Elias Pettersson was stopped on the goal-line by defenceman Colton Parayko as the Blues’ penalties ended.
It was a dubious power-play “success,” but did not diminish the Canucks’ overall achievement: a comeback road victory from a 3-1 deficit and four-game National Hockey League winning streak – something Vancouver has built in six games that it could not construct over a full season a year ago.
“I don’t think our guys were clean (on the power play),” Canuck coach Travis Green said. “It wasn’t a clean game for our group tonight with our passing. But, man, you’re not going to ever complain about a gutsy win like that by our team.
“It should give them some belief that they’re finding ways to win hockey games, especially with a group that hasn’t played together for a while. I think any coach will tell you, if you can have success early, you get a lot more buy-in within your group and even from coaches to players.”
The Canucks are 4-2 after starting the season with a pair of road losses, and there have been different paths to victory in all four wins. They visit the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers for winnable games Saturday and Sunday before ending their four-game trip Tuesday in Detroit.
Something is happening here.
“That’s what we want to do here; we want to win,” Horvat, the captain who was around for all the losing in Vancouver the last four seasons, said after his first goal of the season. “Guys are feeling good right now, guys are confident. At the same time, it should push us to want to win more. I think we have that group in here that hates losing. We’re playing some good hockey right now.”
Just not for the first two periods on Thursday.
The game pivoted on two key special-teams stretches: an 80-second St. Louis two-man-advantage that Vancouver’s league-leading shorthanded unit killed off in the second period when the Blues already led 3-1; and the controversial five-on-three the Canucks began at 10:05 of the third period.
Referee Trevor Hanson made a questionable goalie interference call against Blues winger Robert Thomas, who was bumped by Vancouver defenceman Tyler Myers, then doubled down by nailing St. Louis with a bench minor for arguing.
Even the Canucks were surprised to get a two-man-advantage for two minutes. Surprised, as in, when they went out for the power-play faceoff they thought it was a five-on-four.
“We were confused at first,” Myers admitted. “When the faceoff was going, a lot of us on the bench didn’t even realize we had a five-on-three. We didn’t know they had a bench minor. But we handled it. It was a great, greasy goal – like a lot of goals in the league.”
Was it a fair call against Thomas?
“You don’t like when a guy bumps your goalie like that,” Myers said. “I know I bumped (Thomas), but I couldn’t see if he was able to avoid contact or not.”
Horvat swooped in to bump the puck into the net with Parayko and Pettersson swimming in the crease behind goalie Jordan Binnington.
“It wasn’t pretty, that’s for sure,” Horvat said of the critical power play. “At first we didn’t even know it was a five-on-three. We just thought there was (one) penalty. It was kind of out of sorts from there, but we found a way to get it done.”
Canuck penalty killing, backed by goalie Thatcher Demko, was far more impressive than the power play. It finished the night four-for-four and has now allowed just one goal on 20 disadvantages this season. It was ranked No. 1 in the NHL even before Thursday.
“If we had a chance to come back, we had to kill that one off,” Demko said of the Blues’ five-on-three in which he made a point-blank save on Brayden Schenn and strong stops against Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Pietrangelo. “It was a pretty long one, but we have some of the best penalty-killers in the league, I think, in this room. There’s a lot of confidence in that unit and it ended up getting the job done.”
“I think the guys are just buying in,” Green said of the PK. “I think we’ve got players that are slotted to kill penalties and take a lot of pride in it. That’s a big part of penalty killing. It doesn’t get a lot of credit a lot of nights, and it’s not an easy job to do. I think they’re smart players and they compete hard.
“Everyone talks about how your power play needs to score to win. It’s no different with your penalty kill. It’s the exact same thing except those guys don’t get the credit for it, the power-play guys do. The guys in the room, they know.”
And they know a lot more now than they did two weeks ago.