VANCOUVER – On the night the Vancouver Canucks celebrated Chinese New Year – the year of the dog – they beat the Boston Bruins 6-1.
Probably just a coincidence. Still, gung hay fat choy.
Rogers Arena was all dragons and drums Saturday night. And that was just the Canucks, who scored four times in the first period to easily beat the Bruins and create the happiest night of the National Hockey League season in Vancouver. And the best part? Chinese New Year lasts another week – almost until next Monday’s trade deadline.
Actually, the best part was that Canucks defenceman Erik Gudbranson launched into the boards Bruins’ Brad Marchand, the low-bridger of Sami Salo, speed-bagger of Daniel Sedin, lifter of the Stanley Cup on this ice nearly seven years ago. Year of the dog, not night of the rat.
General manager Jim Benning confirmed on Hockey Night in Canada that he is still in contract discussions with Gudbranson, who is eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer and, thus, will be re-signed or traded by the Canucks before the Feb. 26 deadline.
We’re not sure Gudbranson is worth the $4-5-million salary he will command on his next contract, but we do know Benning has a far better chance to sell that deal in Vancouver after Gudbranson’s hit. He can play 18 minutes a night in a defensive role, as long as he smokes Brad Marchand once a year in Vancouver.
“I didn’t really even hit him,” Gudbranson said. “He was a little off-balance and I just kind of clipped him. If I’d really tried to hit him, I’d have been suspended for five games because he had his head down, facing the boards.”
Do unto Marchand as the rat would do unto you?
Well, perhaps not. Regardless of for whom Gudbranson is playing next week, the Canucks need him in the lineup this week. The Colorado Avalanche visit on Tuesday.
“I’m not going to say I hated him, but I wasn’t a fan of him,” Canucks defenceman Troy Stecher said of Marchand, whom he remembers from the 2011 final when Stecher was cheering for the Canucks like everyone else who grew up in Metro Vancouver. “You come out for warmup and you can already feel the buzz and the atmosphere. I think it’s always going to be that way when the Bruins come here. It was a great first period and we just kind of rode the wave after that.”
The Bruins, who were 20-2-4 since Dec. 14, were lit up after travelling across the continent on Friday, then practising. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy also ordered up a full morning skate on Saturday. The Boston player who looked most tired was goalie Tuukka Rask, who allowed the four first-period goals on just eight shots as Vancouver built its 4-0 lead despite being outshot 18-8.
The game was only two minutes old when former Bruin Loui Eriksson made it 1-0, converting Daniel Sedin’s goalmouth pass by sliding the puck under Rask’s arm. Thomas Vanek’s terrific pass left Sedin with a semi-open net that he deftly hit from a sharp angle to double the lead at 10:54. And just 56 seconds later, Canucks centre Bo Horvat embarrassed rookie defenceman Charlie McAvoy and roofed a shot on Rask to make it 3-0.
The fourth goal said everything you needed to know about the first period. Rask made a good pad save on Sven Baertschi on a 3-on-2. Horvat overskated the sharp rebound, but the puck was cleared by a Bruin off Canucks winger Brock Boeser and bounced into the net at 18:39.
Yes, it would be nice if the Canucks could ration their fortunate bounces for a game when they’re needed. But after a pile of bleak winter nights at Rogers Arena, no one in the festive sellout crowd of 18,865 was complaining.
Nic Dowd’s rebound goal after a terrific, power move to the net by Jake Virtanen made it 5-0 at 2:44 of the second and Eriksson, who was pointless in his previous seven games, scored his second of the night shorthanded in the third period.
Tim Schaller, at 2:57 of the third, was the only Bruin to get a puck past Canucks goalie Anders Nilsson, who got the chance to start due to Jacob Markstrom’s flu or cold and delivered his first victory in nine starts since Nov. 30.
Nilsson finished with 44 saves and enjoyed more goal support in one night than the Canucks had given him in his last five starts.
“It feels great to be able to contribute to two points,” Nilsson said. “We have to be honest: we had some bounces on our side. I think they had three shots (off the post) in the first period, so the puck was definitely bouncing our way tonight. It’s nice to have that on our side.
“It’s always nice to stand back there and see the guys play a really good game in front of you. It’s also nice to stand back there and see them score some goals.”
Added Canucks captain Henrik Sedin: “Before the game you look up and see how many people were here. I told someone on the bench, ‘It’s been a while since we had this buzz in the building.’ I think all the guys enjoyed it tonight. It was an atmosphere that was the best in a long time. It was fun.”
Hopefully the start of a new year for the Canucks.