VANCOUVER – Everyone is glad to have a chance to say goodbye while Daniel and Henrik Sedin are still playing. But for most of Tuesday’s game, we could see why the twins considered keeping retirement news to themselves.
Despite insistence by the Sedins after Monday’s news bomb that they would treat the final three nights of their Hall of Fame careers as “regular” National Hockey League games, for more than two periods Tuesday no one on the Vancouver Canucks seemed able to meet those conscientious intentions.
And when hearts and minds were finally fully engaged in the third period, spurred as much by a three-goal Canucks comeback as the Sedins’ penultimate game at Rogers Arena, there was still halting evidence that this game was anything but normal.
Notoriously bad in shootouts throughout their 18-year careers, the Sedins got the chance to win it for the Canucks in the skills’ contest. And after Shea Theodore’s shootout goal instead won the game 5-4 for the Vegas Golden Knights, the visiting team stayed on the ice to applaud the Sedins as Danny and Hank took a twirl to wave to fans. Then, led by veteran James Neal, the Golden Knights lined up to shake the hands of the Canucks icons.
“Two guys who have played a lot of hockey and done a lot of amazing things,” Neal explained. “What they’ve done for this city and this community is amazing. They’re two unbelievable guys, too, so that was just a show of respect from our team.”
After the Canucks surged back from a 4-1 deficit with three goals in seven minutes in the third period, Neal said he fully expected Daniel or Henrik to score in the shootout.
But each kept his futility streak alive. Daniel is 4-for-30 in his career and last scored a shootout goal seven years ago, while Henrik is 0-for-6 lifetime.
“When things like that happen, and they’re both going up in the shootout, you feel like one of them is going to score and get the winner,” Neal smiled. “Being able to play against two guys like that, with that many points and that many games and have done so much, yeah, it was pretty cool to be a part of.”
Hank Sedin bobbled the puck when he tried a forehand move on Knights’ backup goalie Malcolm Subban, while Danny hit the post from an acute angle after being forced wide to his backhand.
Canucks coach Travis Green asked the Sedins if they wanted a chance to shoot.
“But once Danny went, I think I had to go,” Henrik joked.
He said he thought his team handled the distractions well, although shots were 30-14 for Vegas until Vancouver centre Bo Horvat, Henrik’s likely successor as captain, scored on a power-play rebound to make it 4-2 at 4:06 of the final period and bring both the crowd and the team back into the game.
“Before the game, I think it was tougher to keep the focus,” Sedin said. “But once the game started, it wasn’t too bad.
“You’ve got to remember, we were playing one of the best teams in the league. And they showed tonight why they are where they are. But again, we came back and that was a positive. It was fun, like going back six or seven years. I think it was good for our young guys to get a game where the crowd was really into it like they were tonight.”
The sudden spike in ticket prices at Rogers Arena was dwarfed by the surge in emotional investment by West Coasters in the final week of a lost season for the Canucks. There were signs – both literal and figurative – in the stands of the devotion and gratitude fans feel towards the leading scorers in franchise history.
As much as the Sedins hate drawing attention to themselves, the 37-year-olds’ initial reluctance to make their retirement a public spectacle wasn’t as much about humility as professionalism. They probably knew no matter what they said, how they prepared, they would be the overwhelming focus, including the focus of teammates, in these final three games.
The Sedins ahead of the team — a hierarchy Danny and Hank abhor.
Despite resting starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and several regulars, the Golden Knights were winning on a cruise control before Horvat scored.
But Canuck Brandon Sutter, with a terrific backhand finish from an excellent pass by Brendan Gaunce, made it 4-3 at 8:21 of the third period and two minutes after that, during a television timeout, the first robust, spontaneous standing ovation occurred for the Sedins when they were shown sitting on the bench.
As the linesman held the puck to delay the faceoff and Vegas players tapped their sticks on the ice, the Sedins stood and waved to the crowd. Game on.
Minor-league call-up Brandon Pirri scored twice for Vegas, which had already clinched the Pacific Division title and a home-ice start next week to the Stanley Cup tournament.
But the night, regardless of how well or badly the game went for the Canucks, was always going to belong to the Sedins. Emotions will be even higher in their final home game Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes. The Sedins exit the NHL Saturday in Edmonton.
“It was nice to get out there and get the ovation from the fans,” Henrik said. “It was tough to keep your emotions in check when you hear that.”
But in that, as they have in almost everything, the Sedins succeeded.