WASHINGTON – You didn’t need to pay attention to the full 27 hours to understand how the Vancouver Canucks’ back-to-back games in Philadelphia and Washington transpired. The 2.7 seconds halfway through the third period on Tuesday told everything.
Leaden at the start but superior over the final 40 minutes, the Canucks were chasing a tying goal against the Stanley Cup champions when Washington Capitals forward Jakub Vrana was stick-checked by Ben Hutton behind the Vancouver net.
The puck bounced up off Hutton’s stick and landed on top of the Canuck netting, where it inexplicably picked up steam and began tumbling and spinning forward towards the crease. As Capitals star Evgeny Kuznetsov attacked the puck as if he were going after a mosquito with a swatter, the disc continued untouched until it leapt over the crossbar precipice and cascaded like good fortune down the back of Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom and into the net at 12:13 of the final period.
When Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson scored with 7.6 seconds remaining and Markstrom on the bench for an extra attacker, Vrana’s physics trick turned into the game-winner in a 3-2 Vancouver loss.
At least no one was seriously injured, as Canucks defenceman Alex Edler was the previous night in Vancouver’s 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, who got 41 saves from goalie Carter Hart and a questionable whistle that nullified a potential tying goal for the visitors.
Vrana’s goal was the damnedest thing since San Jose Shark Joe Thornton taught a puck to moonwalk and coaxed it to bounce off the baseboard, retreat up the back of the net and roll in behind former Canuck goalie Roberto Luongo during a game five years ago.
“I remember that goal in San Jose,” Canucks defenceman Chris Tanev said Tuesday. “Obviously the bounces didn’t go our way the last day, but that’s part of the game.”
Markstrom was more graphic: “It’s just a s***** bounce at a s***** time of the game and a s***** time of the year. It’s tough. Most of the game today I thought we played good. And same in Philly, too, especially on the road. (But) come February, come March and April, we need points and we need them bad.”
The Canucks got none of those, losing momentum in the NHL playoff race the way they are losing players.
Edler is out indefinitely with a concussion after smashing his face on the ice in Philadelphia, and the Canucks are thankful his injuries are not more severe.
Backup goalie Thatcher Demko injured his knee in the warmup on Monday and was sent home to Vancouver for an MRI as junior goalie Mike DiPietro was summoned on an emergency callup. Demko is expected to be out a week or two.
And winger Sven Baertschi, who missed two months with a concussion before returning to the lineup on Dec. 27, has been forced out again and is undergoing more testing. No one on the Canucks is using the C-word – not even Markstrom – but the fear is Baertschi’s latest issue may be concussion related.
“I thought we played some pretty good hockey over these last 24 hours and for them to get a game-winning goal like that, it’s kind of a backhand across the face,” Canucks centre Bo Horvat said. “We work that hard in back-to-back games, especially against good teams. . . I thought we deserved better.”
But this is sports; sometimes you don’t get what you deserve. But luck swings both ways, and the Canucks had the chance against the Capitals to take some of the luck out of it.
After coming to life in the second period – shots were 18-5 Washington in the first, 27-13 Vancouver the rest of the way – the Canucks outshot the Capitals 9-1 but couldn’t get a puck past goalie Braden Holtby.
Holtby made his best two saves of the game a few seconds apart on point-blank scoring chances for Tyler Motte and Jay Beagle, then stuffed Horvat on a penalty shot at 12:53 of the middle frame. Three minutes after that, Canucks defenceman Troy Stecher hit the post, and Vancouver still trailed 1-0.
And the two goals they generated in the third period from Pettersson and Markus Granlund, who converted Antoine Roussel’s beautiful pass after getting healthy-scratched in Philadelphia, merely matched what they gave up.
After starting their four-game trip with an impressive 5-1 win Saturday against the Colorado Avalanche, the Canucks are suddenly 1-2 despite continuing to play well, and now face a referendum on their playoff drive with Thursday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
They could use a little more luck.
“I guess the hockey gods were not on our side on that play,” Hutton said of Vrana’s winner. “It popped up, it was coming down right on top of the net and then it slid right off it. I was like, no way. It was a tough bounce. It hurts, especially because we know where we stand in the standings. It stings especially because we’re in a playoff hunt.”
They’re trying to stay in one.