DETROIT – From the Detroit Red Wings’ new arena, it is only about a two-hour drive to London, Ont., and just a half-hour to Canton, Mich.
So there were lots of Horvats and Hugheses in the crowd Tuesday at Little Caesars Arena, where it looked like there was more than just one Bo Horvat and one Quinn Hughes on the ice for the Vancouver Canucks.
But the most likely optical illusion was on the scoreboard, which showed the Canucks beating the Red Wings 5-2 after trailing by two goals going into the third period. Playing their fourth game in six nights, on the road.
But our eyes were not deceiving us, except for the sensation of multiples Quinns and more than a solitary Bo.
Horvat became the first Canuck in 17 years to record a third-period hat trick, Hughes spun and sprinted around the ice like Brian Leetch, running a Vancouver power play that upended the game with two goals in 91 seconds, and the Canucks flew home with six wins in seven games following a 0-2 start to the National Hockey League season.
“It’s just cool being part of a group that is blocking shots and is just fired up about winning and are kind of fighting for each other,” Hughes, who turned 20 last week, said after friends and family who made the short drive from Canton saw him set up Horvat’s first two goals.
“The energy toward the end of the third there, when we kind of had it in the bag, it’s fun for me to be a part of it. I’m the young guy here and I’m just trying to find my way, but I’m having fun.”
Well, how about the older guys then?
“It’s hard to explain. It’s just a good feeling,” veteran checking centre Brandon Sutter said. “I think there’s just a belief every night that we have a chance. I think guys are pretty enthusiastic about where we’re at.”
The Canucks finished their hectic four-game road trip at 3-1, staging third-period comebacks in Detroit and St. Louis, where the hockey team they beat is much better than the one that was overwhelmed here.
The Canucks have difficult home games against the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers on Friday and Monday before going back on the road for three more games in four nights in California.
“Winning is fun. It really is,” Canucks winger J.T. Miller, who at the moment looks like a bargain for the first-round pick Vancouver paid to get him from the Tampa Bay Lightning, said after helping lead the third-period swarming.
“It makes people stop worrying about stats or whatever it may be. When you’re winning, that’s all that matters. Everybody buys in and it feels so good.
“For that to be our fifth game in eight days and come back by two on the road right before the road trip ends, we want this to be part of our identity. Teams are going to know that we’re not going to have any quit in us.”
Despite the travel and hectic schedule, the Canucks were outstanding at the start of Tuesday’s game and excellent through 30 minutes.
But they couldn’t get a puck past Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard and trailed 2-0 on power-play goals by Anthony Mantha and Dennis Cholowski – one goal at 5-on-3, the other 4-on-3.
The Canucks seemed out of gas by the time Tyler Bertuzzi took a tripping penalty at 19:59 of the second period to give Vancouver a power play to start the third.
Horvat gathered the loose puck from Hughes’ point shot and guided it around Howard to make it 2-1 at 1:42, and the Canucks suddenly hit the nitro switch and stomped on the accelerator.
Horvat deflected in Hughes’ shot to tie it at 3:12 on another power play, before depth wingers Jake Virtanen and Tim Schaller scored goals two minutes apart starting at 12:19. Virtanen’s centering pass banked in off the skate of Detroit defenceman Filip Hronek before Schaller rattled a shot from left wing between Howard’s pads.
Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom, brilliant for a second straight game after returning from a difficult leave of absence, finished with 31 saves.
“Once we got that first one, I think we kind of knew it was game on,” Miller said. “(Bo) was unreal. Getting his big butt to the front of the net and scoring some very Bo-like goals, it was fun to watch. For the power play to get those to jumpstart the period and start our comeback, it feels really good.”
Miller is in no position to butt-shame Horvat, the newly named captain who completed his first NHL hat trick with an empty-net goal at 18:48.
“I had a lot of friends and family in the crowd tonight, and to get it in front of them… It couldn’t come at a better time to get a win out of it,” Horvat said. “We came in here (in the second intermission) and we all said it’s going to feel a lot better going home 3-1 than .500, and we gathered it up here in the third period and scored big goals when we had to.”
“Last game of a road trip like that, fourth game in six nights, down by two going into the third, I don’t know that I’ve been on many teams that came back from that,” Sutter said. “It’s definitely a different feeling right now.”
“What a comeback,” Canucks coach Travis Green marvelled. “Wow.”