VANCOUVER – In the unamazing race, two of the turtles in the NHL wild-card playoff crawl came together here Thursday. By the third period, as the Vancouver Canucks tucked their legs inside their shell in hopes of protecting a one-goal lead, only the Arizona Coyotes looked capable of actually reaching a finish line.
Outplayed for two periods, the Coyotes embarrassed the Canucks in the third before waiting until overtime to win 3-2.
Tied in the Western Conference standings when the game began, the Coyotes edged a point ahead of the Canucks in the wild-card race although neither team is likely to win the turtle derby.
There are suddenly only three teams between the Canucks and last place in the Western Conference, as injuries again seem to have reached a critical mass.
Vancouver is 2-5-2 since its second health crisis this season began innocently enough when previously concussed winger Sven Baertschi did not feel well after a 5-1 win in Colorado on Feb. 2. Six more injuries since then, the Canucks look almost done.
They deserved better from a three-game road trip last week in California in which they won only once. But the Canucks got what they deserved Thursday when, up 1-0, and having outshot the Coyotes 26-17 in the first 40 minutes, they stopped playing and seemed to spend nearly all of the third period in their zone.
Shots were 18-2 for the Coyotes when Canucks rookie Adam Gaudette snatched a tying goal with 3:03 remaining — after a pair of Arizona scores.
But Alex Galchenyuk fooled Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom in overtime when he quickly reversed direction behind the net, then tucked the puck in at 1:54. Canucks winger Brock Boeser, not for the first time this season, was caught on a long shift in OT and beaten one-on-one on the winning goal.
“I felt like we owned them,” Canuck winger Antoine Roussel said after setting up both Vancouver goals. “We were so good in the second period. We had so many chances we didn’t bury, bounces that didn’t go our way. It felt like after that — we didn’t run out of gas — but we played on our heels.
“We’re right in there, we’re playing really good, and then we step our foot off the gas. It’s easy to say after, but if we keep our foot on the gas … just get a couple of shifts where we have good O-zone shifts, then we get the momentum back.”
The momentum was already gone when Jakob Chychrun tied it 1-1 at 10:34 of the final period on a power-play point shot that deflected in off Jay Beagle. Lawson Crouse was left alone in the slot and slung a shot top corner to put Arizona ahead at 15:45.
But only 72 seconds later, with no hint that the Canucks might actually score another goal, Gaudette’s quick shot past Coyotes goalie Darcy Kuemper tied it at 16:57.
And even then, the Canucks could not seize their opportunity.
It’s one thing to blow a game in San Jose, when fill-in defenceman Alex Biega’s late turnover gave the powerful Sharks a 3-2 win on Saturday.
But losing to the Coyotes at home is a lot different. The Canucks had four full days to rest and practise. If they’re going to finish this playoff race with anything more than moral victories, now is when the Canucks have to make a move in the standings. Instead, they moved a point farther back.
“They were tied with us in the standings,” Canuck Bo Horvat, who opened scoring at 9:47 of the first, said. “To get that extra point on us, it stings definitely. We’ve got a lot of big games coming up we’ve got to win.”
What the heck happened?
“I just think when you have the lead you want to protect it,” Horvat said. “You don’t want to be run-and-gunning for offence late in games. But I thought we sat back a little too much and they took it to us. It wasn’t good enough.”
What stung also was that the Coyotes’ 21st-ranked power play produced a critical goal after the Canucks’ man-advantage unit continued its abysmal run by going 0-for-4. It failed on three power plays over a 15-minute span when a goal would have doubled Vancouver’s lead and taken some spirit out of the Coyotes.
As usual, the puck movement on the Canuck power play wasn’t quick enough and the players were largely stationary. Opponents now overplay rookie sensation Elias Pettersson at the right-wing sideboards and the Canucks haven’t been able to adjust to take advantage of space elsewhere.
Sure, the best pointman in the organization is still playing college hockey at Michigan. Can’t wait to meet you, Quinn Hughes. But no power play with Pettersson, Boeser and Horvat should be this bad.
“It’s s—,” pointman Troy Stecher said of the loss. “Our power play didn’t get it done tonight. I’ve got to adapt better, understand they’re taking away Brock and Petey. The special teams made the difference tonight.”
The Canucks power play is now 4-for-54 since Jan. 2.
“We’ve got to figure it out,” Horvat said.
It may already be too late.