TAMPA, FLA. – Asked after Tuesday’s loss in North Carolina about the slow start by Brock Boeser in his linemate’s sophomore season, Vancouver Canuck Bo Horvat talked about his own epic scoring famine during his second year in the National Hockey League.
He also recalled how his slump ended soon after a pre-game chat with veteran Canuck Henrik Sedin, who convinced Horvat to stop pressing and try to relax and enjoy the game. Horvat thought maybe he should tell Boeser about that conversation.
When reminded that his talk with Sedin didn’t occur until December, Horvat smiled and said: “I’ll talk to Brock soon.”
And he did. That night.
On Thursday, Boeser had four shots on net – one more than he had amassed in his first three games this season – and scored his first NHL goal since his superb rookie year ended with a fracture in his lower back last March 5.
His rocket blast from Alex Killorn’s giveaway overpowered Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to break a third-period tie and sent the Canucks on to a surprising 4-1 win against the Stanley Cup contenders.
Boeser’s slapshot came 70 seconds after wiry rookie Elias Pettersson got what passes for his stomach in front of Derrick Pouliot’s point shot for a lucky deflection goal that tied it 1-1 at 11:07.
“I thought it was going to hit my stomach and I was going to shoot a rebound after it hit me,” Pettersson explained. “Next thing I know, it’s a goal. Very lucky, but I’ll take it. It doesn’t matter how ugly or nice it is, it’s still worth one goal.”
Many have wondered what might happen if foundational forwards Boeser, 21, and Pettersson, 19, start scoring simultaneously. Thursday, we saw the result.
“That proves it tonight,” Horvat, a veteran at age 23, said of the dual threat. “We get both those guys and Sven (Baertschi) and myself chipping in, we’ll win hockey games. It’s pretty simple that way. It definitely gives us a lot of hope.”
Horvat didn’t really give Boeser hope, partly because the Calder Trophy runnerup wasn’t lacking any. But Boeser said he appreciated Horvat’s advice, borrowed from Sedin, to try to think less and enjoy more while on the ice.
“He told me how he struggled in his second year,” Boeser said. “I still look up to Bo and the leadership he has. It’s nice that the guys are so positive and have your back. We’ve got a mature group of kids here. You look at Elias, too. He’s mature for a 19-year-old.”
Horvat is not old; he just seems that way.
“People tell me I’m 23 going on 30,” Horvat said. “I’m just trying to be the best leader I can, the best teammate I can. This is only Brock’s second year and it’s my fifth year. I think if I can take that experience and talk to him about it… I hope it helps him, for sure.”
Well, the goal sure helped. So did Canuck penalty-killing, which blanked the formidable Lightning on five power-play chances, four of them in the first 27 minutes. The best penalty-killer was goalie Anders Nilsson, the Canucks’ beleaguered backup who won an NHL game for just the second time in 17 starts since last November.
Despite Nilsson’s miserable pre-season (.821 save percentage over 118 minutes), Canuck coach Travis Green gave the Swede a chance to show something against the Lightning. He demonstrated that whatever technical changes he has been absorbing in practice from new goalie coach Ian Clark seem to be working now.
The Lightning outshot the Canucks 9-2 in the first nine minutes and 17-5 in the opening period. Nilsson allowed only a rebound goal to Brayden Point 16:36 into the game.
“I was ready,” Nilsson said. “I wanted to play and was excited to play. I’ve also been trying to (treat) every practice the last two weeks as a game, to prepare myself as best as possible for when my start eventually comes.
“Coming into this building and playing Tampa, it’s a tough game. Maybe we started off a little slow in the first period. But as the game went on, we came into the game more and more. It was nice to see us score some goals here in the third.”
Jake Virtanen and Markus Granlund added empty-net goals for the Canucks, who visit the Florida Panthers on Saturday before finishing their odyssey against two more Stanley Cup contenders next week in Pittsburgh and Winnipeg.
“The thing about winning tonight, our team played well in Carolina (and lost 5-3),” Green said. “You like to see your team get rewarded. You try to sell them a little bit on how we need to play. To see them get rewarded with a win tonight, hopefully it gives us some confidence and some belief.”
Now 2-2, the biggest surprise of the Canucks’ start is that they’ve generated 16 goals. They were 26th in scoring last season, averaging just 2.66 goals per game. And that was before Daniel and Henrik Sedin retired, taking another 105 points out of the lineup.
But Pettersson has points in each game and leads the Canucks with four goals and three assists. And now he has Boeser chasing him. That’s an excellent race for Vancouver no matter who wins.