SUNRISE, FLA. – There was a brilliant shot on one goal, an even better pass on another, and the most impressive win so far by an evolving Vancouver Canucks team that climbed above .500 with Saturday’s 3-2 win against the Florida Panthers.
And almost none of that seemed to matter as much as it should have because Elias Pettersson, the top-scoring rookie in the National Hockey League and the most exciting new Canuck since Pavel Bure, suffered a head injury when body-slammed to the ice by Panthers defenceman Mike Matheson in the third period.
Canuck coach Travis Green offered no post-game injury report, but Pettersson is under concussion protocol and will be re-evaluated Sunday. The team flies to Pittsburgh to continue Tuesday against the Penguins what has been a surprisingly impressive road trip. The Canucks swept the Sunshine State, winning 4-1 Thursday in Tampa.
By the sound of it — does the internet make a sound? — Canuck Nation is crowd-sourcing a hit squad, maybe a combination of Hanson Brothers and Sopranos, to give Matheson a dirt nap.
Besides Pettersson, the Canucks also lost fourth-line centre Jay Beagle to a broken hand or wrist when the penalty-killing centrepiece blocked Mike Hoffman’s shot late in the third period as Vancouver defended its lead. Beagle could miss up to six weeks.
Beagle is important, but the Canucks may be able to replace him. The organization has waited about 20 years for someone like Pettersson, however — there is no replacement for the 19-year-old. With an unstoppable second-period shot, Pettersson scored his fifth goal in five games to open his NHL career.
“That’s a dirty play,” Green said of Matheson’s takeout on the end-boards. “The league is trying to protect the good young players and that’s a dirty play.”
“You’ve got to show composure when you’re in a game,” Green continued. “It’s a 3-2 hockey game. There’s 12 minutes left. You’re talking about a guy (Matheson) that has one fight in his career. I don’t think he’s known as a dirty player. You don’t just go start chasing guys around the rink. That’s just not the way it is. I’m just not going to talk about retribution.”
Well, that makes one person who follows the Canucks not talking about retribution.
The Canucks contacted league officials after the game and were assured the NHL’s department of player safety would look into Matheson’s hit on Pettersson, who was crunched into the boards, then thrown heavily to the ice about five minutes into the third period when the game was tied 2-2.
The injury appears to have occurred on Matheson’s follow-through, which was not penalized by referees Jean Hebert and Francois St. Laurent.
“It looked more like WWE to me,” Canuck winger Sven Baertschi said. “It’s one thing to pin a guy against the boards. But once he’s against the boards, he’s off balance and gets wrestled down like that? That hurts. And with his head going backwards, that’s not a comfortable situation for him. Things happen quick out there. I’m not sure he meant to do it, but he did.
“It’s a weird hit. I didn’t see it at the start, but I watched it again and it was a body-slam. It didn’t look too good, I’m sure it didn’t feel too good. Hopefully it’s not too serious. (Pettersson) amazes us every single game. The poise in his game, the moves he makes out there, he’s way beyond his age. He’s just so happy to be out there and has done a great job so far.”
Baertschi beautifully set up two goals, including Bo Horvat’s game-winner at 6:11 of the third period when the winger slung a cross-ice backhand pass on to his linemate’s stick on a two-on-one about a minute after Pettersson left the game.
“It was a phenomenal pass, an unbelievable backhand pass,” Horvat said. “All I had to do was tap it in.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had momentum. To win back-to-back, especially against teams like this, these were good character wins. This was our best game this year. To have that confidence going next game against Pittsburgh, it’s going to be great for our team.”
Yes, but losing Pettersson for an extended period could be devastating to the team.
“You’re just hoping he’s going to be OK and back in the lineup as soon as possible,” Horvat said. “He’s been playing unbelievable. His first five games, he’s got eight points, so he’s been phenomenal for us. To lose a guy like that, guys have to step up. My mindset was just to go out and play my game and hopefully step up for the team.”
He did. So did Antoine Roussel, who missed the start of the season due to a concussion but scored on a penalty shot here in his Canucks’ debut. A lot of Canucks stepped up.
It’s just none of them risked a major penalty, possible suspension and his team’s two points to go after Matheson during the five shifts the Panther played after the Pettersson hit. On one of those shifts, Matheson was torched by Baertschi on the winning goal.
“Great team win,” Green said. “I’m proud of our group.”