Canucks lament timely mistakes after starting strong vs. Predators

Ryan Johansen scored the winner with just 19.5 seconds left in the third and the Nashville Predators came back to beat the Vancouver Canucks 3-2.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A night of entertainment in Nashville, an evening for healing back on the West Coast.

The Nashville Predators have Stanley Cup aspirations but were pushed by the Vancouver Canucks and trailed for 55 minutes Thursday before scoring two late goals to win 3-2. The Canucks built their 2-0 lead on a pair of power-play setups by rookie Quinn Hughes.

So there was hardly anything to complain about among a divided Canuck Nation.

The purists would love the Canucks’ effort, the draftists the result. And the status of Hughes’ power-play deployment, which ignited a ferocious, if somewhat silly, debate just (wait for it) two games into his National Hockey League career, hardly mattered. The 19-year-old had two assists and turned the Canucks’ second-unit power play into the top unit.

Peace and happiness to all.

Strangely, there was neither in the Canucks’ dressing room.

Coach Travis Green was unhappy with the sum results of the NHL-war-room reviews that went against Vancouver on all three Nashville goals. Canuck goalie Jacob Markstrom was upset at losing and allowing a clunker for the first time in recent memory. Defenceman Troy Stecher was agitated that his sprawling attempt to break up a sudden two-on-one ended with Predator Ryan Johansen’s centring pass ricocheting off the Canuck’s stick and behind Markstrom with just 21 seconds remaining.

And even Hughes was unhappy — realizing that the joyride that is his late-season entry into the NHL has only Saturday’s road game against the St. Louis Blues remaining.

“I just wish we had 30 more games here,” Hughes said. “By Game 30, I think I’ll be a different player. It will be a little tough (not playing more) but it’s a good thing I’m going over to the world championships (for Team USA in May), so I can kind of taste it again. Obviously, I wish I’d played a little more games this year.”

Thursday’s was his fourth. And his first-period assist, a spinning give-and-go with Markus Granlund that his teammate buried in the top corner to open scoring rivalled anything Hughes has shown so far. The dynamic defenceman has three assists in four games to start his NHL career.

“As I keep playing, I’ll get better and better and I think that goal was just a reflection of me starting to play my game and playing with confidence,” he said. “I feel really good about my game right now.”

So does Markstrom. But the Canucks’ Most Valuable Player this season couldn’t hold Ryan Ellis’ point shot on the Predators’ tying goal, created when Austin Watson fell/dived into the crease to knock Markstrom out of the position and the puck to ex-Canuck Nick Bonino for a tap-in with 4:20.

Green noted that Watson not only started the play by flattening Canuck Jake Virtanen before the puck arrived along the boards, but also appeared to play it to Bonino with his glove as he slid on the ice.

Markstrom was more upset by Colton Sissons’ goal that trickled through him from a sharp angle to cut the Canucks’ two-goal lead in half just 37 seconds into the middle period. The whistle sounded before the puck crossed the goal-line, but the NHL reviewed and ruled the puck was in constant motion and qualified as a good goal.

“I’ve got to stop that,” Markstrom said. “The whistle goes and then it rolls in. I thought there was a whistle before and I was good … and then they called it a goal. I was a little surprised, but I guess that’s a new rule. If I make the glove save, it’s a 2-0 game and we probably close it.

“There’s some crazy goals today. It’s frustrating. I thought we should have won this game. We got a couple of bounces against us. Obviously, we’re not fighting for a playoff spot or anything but I want to still play a lot of games next year. You’ve got to show up. I love playing hockey and I love battling.”

The love of the game and the Canucks’ willingness to battle was evident throughout, even as the Predators took over the game after falling behind 2-0 when Hughes’ point shot was blocked but fell to teammate Tanner Pearson, whose shot hit the post and caromed into the net off the back of Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne with 11 seconds remaining in the first period.

In his 60th start of the season, Markstrom made a pile of big saves, including a breakaway stop on Viktor Arvidsson shortly before the scrummy goal that tied it.

“He’s been our MVP for a reason,” Stecher said. “He keeps us in games when we probably don’t deserve to, stole us some games when we probably didn’t deserve to win. We obviously feel bad to blow a lead like that for him. It’s unfortunate.”

With Canuck forwards Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson unable to remove the puck from Filip Forsberg inside the blue line, Stecher found himself alone in front of his net trying to defend against two Predators. He swung backwards towards the puck and knocked Johansen’s pass in for an own-goal.

“What do you want me to say? I’m obviously pissed off about it,” Stecher said. “It sucks. A couple of unfortunate bounces. I’ve never really been a part of three goals against the way they happened tonight in one game. It was a weird one.

“I tried to make a desperate play at a desperate time.”

Down to their final game before another season without playoffs, the Canucks are still playing with desperation.

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