VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks’ game began Wednesday with people talking about $36-million man Loui Eriksson getting scratched from the lineup, and when it was over the discussion was about Antoine Roussel and Quinn Hughes being injured.
And Hughes hasn’t even played a National Hockey League game!
Yes, once again, these are the Canucks.
A 4-1 win over the New York Rangers – just Vancouver’s second regulation victory in 18 games – was quickly dimmed by post-game news from Canucks coach Travis Green that Roussel suffered a season-ending knee injury during the incident-filled second period, and that uber-prospect Hughes arrived from the University of Michigan with a foot injured more seriously than thought.
“He’s got a pretty good bone bruise, so he’s in a walking boot for a week and then we’ll re-evaluate him next week,” Green told reporters of Hughes, the 19-year-old dynamo on defence who signed with the Canucks after the end of his college season on the weekend.
Hughes blocked a shot in Friday’s playoff loss against the University of Minnesota, then played the next night in Michigan’s elimination game.
Asked if Wednesday’s MRI revealed conclusively that Hughes has only a bone bruise and not a fracture, which could end his NHL season literally before it begins, Green said: “That’s my understanding, yeah. It didn’t just happen a day or two ago but I’m not a doctor. It’s disappointing for sure. I’d like to have seen him in sooner and he still might play. We’ll see how he is next week.”
As we know, things can always be worse. The Canucks, whose season has been undermined by two avalanches of injuries that led to long losing skids, looked like they’d also lost Calder Trophy favourite Elias Pettersson Wednesday.
The Canucks rookie was injured in the second period when elbowed in the face by Ranger Chris Kreider, who was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct at 4:23. Pettersson, who missed six games with a concussion in October after being slammed to the ice by Florida defenceman Mike Matheson, went directly to the medical room under the NHL’s concussion protocol.
But the 20-year-old returned to the bench late in the second period. By then, Roussel had also left the game and, it turned out, the season.
A controversial free-agent acquisition when the Canucks signed him to a four-year, $12-million contract on July 1, Roussel delivered on expectations and became one of Green’s most dependable players.
The 29-year-old had a career-best 31 points in 65 games when he was hammered by Ranger Brendan Lemieux – yes, Claude’s son – at 9:45 of the second period. The major and game misconduct Lemieux was assessed for a check to the head on Roussel was a lot more debatable than Kreider’s penalty.
But it was Roussel’s knee that buckled under him on the hit in front of the Rangers’ net.
“He loves to win and competes hard,” Green said. “His engine runs hot all the time. Coaches like players whose compete level is high every day. Even in practice, he works and works. I think young guys should really look at that because, man, when you watch the good hockey teams, they play that way. Even if they’re skilled, they’re working and they’re competing and they’re playing to win all the time. Rouse does that.”
So does Pettersson, who missed the 10 minutes of power-play time the Canucks used to help build a 3-0 lead after a scoreless first period between two non-playoff teams that felt like a pre-season game.
“I saw (Kreider) was coming, so I jumped away and he lifted, I don’t know, his arm or elbow,” Pettersson said. “Intentional? I don’t know, but I don’t think he’s a dirty player. I started bleeding from my nose. . . but my head was feeling fine all the time. But of course, there’s protocol that you have to do if they suspect it’s a concussion.”
Having missed Pettersson with his body on the forecheck, Kreider spun and threw his right elbow backwards, striking the Canuck on the nose.
Pettersson may not think Kreider’s a dirty player, but his flying elbow was no more “accidental” than the his notorious crease cannonball that injured Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price in the playoffs four years ago.
“Two hits to the head on two of our key guys,” Vancouver defenceman Chris Tanev said after his first game since missing 11 with a sprained ankle. “We got one goal on the power play. It would have been nice to get two or three more, but overall it was a good win.
“When Petey came by the bench, he seemed fine. Just hit him in the nose and riled him up a little bit. The Rouse one looked a little more scary.”
With Pettersson out and Roussel still playing, the long-dormant Canucks power play actually made it 1-0 at 6:07 of the middle period when some rare, quick puck movement left Brock Boeser with an open shot that he buried over Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s catching glove.
Fourth-liner Tyler Motte then scored twice in 11 seconds for Vancouver, converting Alex Edler’s breakaway stretch pass at 9:34 before blasting a slapshot past Lundqvist on the next shift after Lemieux had dropped the hammer on Roussel.
Ranger Pavel Buchnevich and Canuck Jake Virtanen, in an empty net, traded third-period goals.
With Roussel’s injury, at least there is a path back to the lineup for Eriksson, who has been paid about $22 million of his front-loaded contract but given the Canucks just 31 goals in 184 games over nearly three seasons. Until Wednesday, however, he had not been a healthy scratch in Vancouver.
“We’ve got a lot of guys playing for contracts and for jobs next year,” Motte said. “Everyone wants to play in this league as long as they can, and to continue to work hard as a group is the best way to find that success individually.”