VANCOUVER – This is the ugliest six-game winning streak in franchise history. Of course, in 50 years, the Vancouver Canucks have had precious few six-game winning streaks with which to compare it.
The Canucks matched their longest victory march in more than six years by somehow beating the Chicago Blackhawks 7-5 on Thursday, when Vancouver blew two one-goal leads, then overcame a two-goal deficit before winning it on Adam Gaudette’s goal out of thin air with 4:11 remaining.
Canucks captain Bo Horvat capped his excellent, plus-four night by blocking Erik Gustafsson’s slapshot in the final seconds, then scoring into an empty net from 130 feet.
Vancouver was awful at the start of the second period, risky with the puck most of the night and lucky to get a couple of deflections and a couple of bounces as the Canucks won a sixth straight National Hockey League game for the first time in three years.
The last time Vancouver won seven in a row, John Tortorella was their one-and-done coach in 2013-14.
Everyone at Rogers Arena loved the mistake-filled, goal-choked roller coaster. Well, everyone except coaches, goalies, the official scorer and hockey purists.
“Obviously, it’s better to be on the winning end of it,” Horvat said after the Canucks clung to their playoff position. “But I’d rather win a game 3-2 to be honest with you. Or 4-2 with an empty net, but not 7-5. Sometimes you’re going to have games like that and you’ve got to figure out a way to win them.
“Not getting down on ourselves down by two (in the second period), and for us to come back. . . against a good team right now, that was a big win for our group.”
The Blackhawks, who seized control of the game with three goals in four minutes early in the second period before a timeout by coach Travis Green helped the Canucks wrestle it back, had won five of their previous seven games.
“It was kind of an ugly game,” Vancouver winger J.T. Miller said after his one-goal, three-assist night tied his career-high for points in a game. “You don’t want to win 7-5 too many times. We got into a little bit of a track meet there. Sometimes that happens against those guys. It’s important that we didn’t quit in the second period there when it got a little ugly, and we found a way to get it together and get two points. At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.”
But wasn’t it fun?
“No, not really,” Miller said. “Normally, when you’re giving up five (goals), it means you’re doing something wrong. I think it’s important. . . after they got their fourth, we dialled it in and played a pretty good hockey game after that.
“We definitely don’t want to play a wide-open game. When we defend well, we spend time in the other team’s end and we grind them down, I think that’s when we know we’re playing at our best. I’m just glad to get two points, honestly.”
For the second time during this winning streak, Green halted opposition momentum with an early timeout. He called his players to the bench after Jonathan Toews banked a centring pass in off Canucks rookie Quinn Hughes to make it 4-2 for the Blackhawks at 8:17 of the second period.
Atrocious in those first eight-plus minutes, the Canucks were a different team after their timeout and quickly tied it on goals by Hughes and Elias Pettersson at 10:20 and 11:45.
Horvat, who until three games ago hadn’t scored on home ice this season, got a lucky go-ahead goal at 8:10 of the third period when his harmless backhand flip from a sharp angle was swept by Chicago goalie Robin Lehner off the back of defenceman Dennis Gilbert and into the Hawks’ net.
Naturally, the Canucks couldn’t hold the 5-4 lead, although they had reason to complain about a non-call when Patrick Kane squeezed a shot between Jacob Markstrom’s pads on a two-on-one at 13:44 a few seconds after Toews clearly interfered with Hughes at the Vancouver blue line.
No matter, the Canucks won it anyway two minutes later when Gaudette skated free from Ryan Carpenter, took Miller’s pass and beat Lehner from the slot for his first game-winning goal.
Amid all that scoring, Horvat made the block of the night on Gustafsson as the Blackhawks attacked six-against-five.
“The boys are so good, they all recognized that,” Horvat said of the block, which complemented his nine-shot night that included a 10-7 faceoff record. “They gave me some fist bumps and some props for it. It actually felt better than the goal.”
The Canucks have been outshot 210-167 during their streak, and Markstrom twice won them games when the shooting deficit was nearly two to one. They’ve blown leads in three of the games. Yet, here they are.
“We feel confident,” Pettersson said. “That’s easy to say after six games in a row with a win. But we feel confident out there. We stay humble. We can’t have shifts like we had in the second period. It went our way this game.”
“Our best hockey is still yet to come,” Horvat promised. “I think we’ve still got some learning to do, some things to work on. We’re going to continue to do that.”
Do we hear seven?
The New York Rangers visit the Canucks on Saturday.