Canucks’ win over Predators lone bright spot on home stand

Elias Pettersson scored on a penalty shot to help the Canucks beat the Predators 5-3, snapping a four-game losing skid.

VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks‘ last win at home in regulation time was against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Joel Quenneville was still in charge of the Hawks back then, the Republican Party was still in charge of the U.S. House of Representatives and kids were just coming home with bags stuffed full of Halloween candy.

Once every 36 days, whether the Canucks need it or not…

“I’m not going to lie; it was definitely a long time,” centre Bo Horvat said after the Canucks surprised the Nashville Predators 5-3 Thursday at Rogers Arena. “Fans deserved it, we deserved it and it was great to get a win here before we head out on the road.

“It’s great that we were playing this kind of team. It was a great game to get rid of that streak. All the guys were sick of losing in here and we went out and played hard for the full 60 minutes.”

It was the first 40 that did it, as the Canucks launched themselves with an early power-play goal and penalty kill and built a 4-1 lead against one of the National Hockey League’s best teams. Sure, the Predators were missing four key players.

But the Canucks were missing as many as six in November, when Vancouver won only three of 14 games. They crawled into Thursday’s contest carrying a 1-10-2 slump that ranked among the worst points-wise in franchise history, which was remarkable since the Canucks devoted their first two decades in the NHL to losing and returned to that habit in a big way the last three years.

Eight of those 12 losses were by a goal, which is why it was vital for them to play with a lead and win definitively against a Nashville team that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season and is now tied for the lead in the Western Conference standings.

So many things that had gone wrong for the Canucks went right.

Alex Edler’s slap shot that opened the scoring at 7:48 of the first period was Vancouver’s first power-play goal in the five-game home stand that ended on Thursday.

A penalty kill that has been torched by opposing power plays, and surrendered all the goals in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars, then survived Edler’s slashing penalty at 9:22.

Canucks forward Jake Virtanen set up Horvat’s goal at the end of the first period then scored his first in 11 games in the second from a superb feed from Antoine Roussel on a two-on-one. And after Vancouver chased Nashville’s outstanding starting goalie, Pekka Rinne, Loui Eriksson scored his first in 13 games early in the third.

Rookie Elias Pettersson, who struggled to score in November after an outstanding October, had a goal and assist. After about 15 moves, he tucked the puck around Rinne for a penalty-shot goal that made it 4-1 at 18:49 of the second period.

And Nikolay Goldobin, whose healthy scratch by coach Travis Green on Tuesday put a strain on West Coast protesters already spread thin by pipelines, returned to the lineup and had an assist.

“We’re obviously not out of this yet,” Roussel said. “We cannot just put the wagon before the horse, whatever that expression. We’ve got to go out there and repeat those first two periods. Repeat and repeat and repeat and it’s going to come natural to us to play games like this.

“I felt we started so well. We had that kill early and it brought us so much energy. Usually, lately, PK, we get scored on. But I thought that PK gave us so much momentum, and we just kept rolling. The energy was good, and urgency of everybody for the first two periods was so good we put ourselves in a good position.”

Virtanen’s goal was especially important, coming just 96 seconds after the Predators’ Ryan Hartman’s high deflection withstood an NHL war-room review to make it 2-1 at 7:21 of the middle period, causing jittery Canucks fans to check under their seats to make sure their personal flotation devices were handy.

But the Canucks didn’t crash and sink. Roussel fed a backhand pass through defenceman Ryan Ellis’ skates to set up Virtanen.

“Me and Rousse always kind of connect,” Virtanen said after one of his best games as a pro. “I just had a gut feeling he was going to come through, so I had to be ready for it. He made the play and it was a great pass.

“We’ve gone through a bit of a stretch here, but we’re happy to get in the win column and we’re moving on.”

Asked if he meant to pass it through Ellis’ skates as the defenceman pivoted, Roussel said: “Well, it was right on the tape. Yes. It’s huge when a team scores and you come back right away. It kills their spirit. It’s a mental game sometimes. I’m telling you, I come back to that PK we had and I thought we were juicy after that.”

The Canucks open a three-game road trip Sunday in St. Louis. They’re in Nashville two nights later.

“That was a huge game for our confidence,” Horvat said. “Finishing off the homestand here and going on the road here for three games, it’s huge for our group. We finally deserved to win that hockey game.”

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