VANCOUVER – No team in the National Hockey League lost more one-goal games last season than the Vancouver Canucks.
It’s a simple and sometimes delusional thing to revise history, but if the Canucks, who were 17-14-11, won eight more one-goal games than they lost instead of the other way around, they’d have been a playoff team.
They’ve got a bunch of new players, and a new outlook this season. They’re bigger, more talented, more experienced. But are they going to be any better?
They kind of looked like last year’s Canucks in their season-opener when they blew a third-period lead in Edmonton and lost on Connor McDavid’s late goal for the Oilers. Which is why Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win against the Philadelphia Flyers felt significant.
Vancouver lost another third-period lead on Oskar Lindblom’s power-play goal for Philadelphia with 5:02 remaining in regulation time. But that was the only goal the Canucks surrendered while playing most of their final 20 minutes in their zone, getting out shot 14-6 by the Flyers, who must have angered the NHL schedule-maker to open their season in Prague – yes, the original one in the Czech Republic – and two games later be playing on the Pacific coast.
But the Canucks still managed to leave with a victory when Tanner Pearson, whose deft second-period deflection gave Vancouver a 2-1 lead that it held for 30 minutes, shimmied and shot through Flyer goalie Carter Hart’s pads.
Sure, shootouts are coin flips, more spectacle than meaningful barometer. But this was the kind of game the Canucks would have found a way to lose last season.
Instead, they evened their record at 2-2 after a 0-2 start and built some confidence among players still getting used to one another.
"You don’t want to do that too often, but it’s huge to get this win," veteran defenceman Chris Tanev said. "Hopefully, as the year goes on and we get more comfortable with each other, playing this new system which is a little more aggressive, hopefully we lock down those leads in the third period.
"There are going to be a lot of one-goal games. We’re not going to win 8-2 very often. Most games will be 2-1, 3-2, 4-3 and you’ve got to find a way somehow to win these games. Tonight, obviously, was not the way we wanted to play with the lead. We sat back a little bit. But you learn from it and move on."
The Canucks beat the Los Angeles Kings 8-2 on Wednesday, riding the emotions of Bo Horvat’s coronation as captain.
The game against Philadelphia was starkly different. There was plenty of speed and back-and-forth flow, but not many high-quality scoring chances. Sustained pressure was rare as each team played quickly to exit its zone.
"After potting eight in one game and (you) kind of go another way the next, so you’ve got to be dialed in from the get-go," Pearson said. "We wish we would have played a little bit better there in the third. We kind of sat back a little bit. At the same time, to show that perseverance and not giving them too many Grade-A scoring chances, keeping them to the outside, I thought we did a lot better job of that than in Edmonton. And, obviously, Marky stood on his head tonight.
"Getting this extra point tonight after losing our first two games is huge. It’s nice to get back to .500."
Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom finished with 30 saves, which didn’t include the game-clincher in the shootout when he stacked his pads like Cesare Maniago to deny Kevin Hayes on the final shot.
Hart was beaten in the shootout by Elias Pettersson and Pearson.
"I don’t have a go-to move; I ain’t Petey," Pearson said. "I just come in and try to find some net and shoot it there."
The Canucks scored 5:01 into the game and led for all but a minute of the next 50.
Brock Boeser, struggling after missing training camp and half of the pre-season, scored his first of the season to make it 1-0. It was a goal-scorer’s goal, Boeser chipping a tumbling rebound from Pettersson’s deflection. J.T. Miller made the goal possible, motoring to recover a loose puck as Flyer defenceman Ivan Provorov yielded to the 220-pound Canuck.
Philadelphia tied it briefly at 3:14 of the second period when Carsen Twarynski, on a partial breakaway down left wing after a poor Canucks line change that followed a penalty kill, beat Markstrom short-side.
But two shifts and 1:13 later, Pearson deflected Chris Tanev’s low point shot high into the net after Horvat won a faceoff.
With Canuck Jordie Benn in the box on a questionable interference penalty, the Flyers tied it 2-2 when Canucks penalty killer Brandon Sutter was bypassed at the blueline, creating an outnumbered rush that ended with Travis Konecny setting up Lindblom cross-ice.
"Situations like that are going to happen, where teams tie the game up in the third period," Canucks defenceman Tyler Myers said. "I thought we stuck with it. It was a pretty tight game the whole game, to be honest. It’s one of those games you’re kind of used to seeing at the end of the year with how tight it was."
The Canucks haven’t played a playoff game to end their year since 2015.