VANCOUVER – In hockey – or anything – you don’t always get what you deserve. But if you’re lucky, over time, you’ll get what you’re owed.
The Vancouver Canucks, just back from a four-game road trip in which their one win was probably at least two fewer than they deserved, were awful in the second period Saturday, and outplayed in the game. Still, they beat the Calgary Flames 4-3 in a shootout on the strength of Jacob Markstrom’s brilliant goaltending and rookie Elias Pettersson’s ability to get his team out of jail.
Pettersson set up Brock Boeser’s tying goal, at a point in the middle period when Vancouver was being outshot 18-1, then beat Flames’ goalie David Rittich in the shootout as the Canucks scrambled to cling to a share of the final playoff spot in the National Hockey League’s Western Conference.
“It’s funny how it evens out,” Canucks leader Bo Horvat said. “When you’re not at your best, you pull out a win. And when you’re playing some of your best hockey of the year, you lose. Huge credit to Marky tonight. He was phenomenal.”
The second period might have been Markstrom’s best this season, which was good timing because it might have been his teammates’ worst.
Turnover after turnover – which Canuck skater didn’t give away the puck in the middle period? – extended shifts in the Vancouver zone and led to numerous Calgary scoring chances.
Canucks coach Travis Green said: “We talked to our group and said: ‘Let’s just hem them in our own zone for the second period and tire them out.’ And that’s exactly what we did.”
Markstrom made 19 saves in the middle period and, equally astonishing, the Canucks left it tied 3-3 when Boeser’s far-post laser at 15:11, after Pettersson weaved through the Flames’ lineup before passing cross ice, offset Flame Andrew Mangiapane’s goal at 13:19 that followed Alex Biega’s giveaway.
“There was a lot of good things,” Calgary coach Bill Peters said. “I really liked our second period but we needed to come out of that with a lead. We didn’t. That’s the period, for me, where we needed to come out with a lead. Definitely had some good looks. We’ll take some of the positives out of it and move on to Florida.”
At least the Flames, 11-3-2 since Christmas, aren’t worried about making the playoffs but merely determining where and how they’ll start the Stanley Cup tournament. The Canucks are part of the Western Conference wildcard peloton getting ready for a mass sprint to the finish.
All around them, the Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues, Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche were picking up points on Saturday.
“I don’t think you have to worry about it,” Boeser said of scoreboard watching. “If we’re not getting points, we’re not there with the other teams.”
The Canucks were barely with the Flames on Saturday but got two points.
With one goal in 62 shots in his previous 17 games, Horvat finished beautifully from Chris Tanev’s diagonal cross-ice pass to open scoring for Vancouver 44 seconds into the game.
Unchecked by three Canucks, the nearest one Loui Eriksson, the Flames’ Elias Lindholm shot under Markstrom from the low slot to tie it at 6:39. But Vancouver retook the lead at 12:58 when Rittich allowed Josh Leivo’s shot from distance to clatter through his pads.
But another Biega turnover led to the tying goal only 37 seconds later, as Markstrom had to contend by himself with a bouncing puck and Flames’ forward Sam Bennett, whose chip shot appeared to be tumbling in when the Canucks’ Derrick Pouliot got the final touch before it crossed the line.
It was all Markstrom all the time after that.
He finished with 44 saves, plus three more in the shootout against Matthew Tkachuk, Sean Monahan and James Neal. Flame sniper Johnny Gaudreau, a Hart Trophy candidate, did not get a shootout chance from Peters. Perhaps Gaudreau was tired after firing seven times in regulation on Markstrom, including on a first-period breakaway and twice in the final minutes when he had the game on his stick.
The Canucks poured off their bench after the shootout to mob Markstrom.
“You’re beating a divisional rival, you’re fighting for a playoff spot,” Horvat said. “Those are a huge two points for us. And to beat a team like that that’s been hot all year and getting the two points against them makes it even better.”
The Canucks played poorly enough in the second period to lose badly to the Flames, but won. Last week, they played well enough to win in Philadelphia, Washington and Chicago but collected only one point.
“That’s hockey, though,” Canuck defenceman Troy Stecher said. “It’s a weird game.”