Baertschi, probably one of the young players coach Travis Green was referring to when he said a lot of Canucks still have something to prove, zipped a wrist shot past Avalanche goalie Jonathan Bernier at 1:07 of overtime to give Vancouver a 4-3 National Hockey League win.
“Seriously,” Baertschi smiled when asked if he were channelling Boeser. “I didn’t know I had that in my bag, to be honest with you. I saw the opportunity. There was quite the gap between me and the defender there, and first thought in my head was: ‘Skate as far as you can and then let it rip.’ Luckily it went in.”
It cost the Avalanche a point, but Colorado lost something far more significant when leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon was injured on a second-period hit either to or from Canucks defenceman Alexander Edler.
The Avalanche said MacKinnon, a Hart Trophy candidate who has 61 points in 49 games, suffered an upper-body injury. There was no immediate timeline for his return.
“It’s a team game,” Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “Obviously, we know Nate’s had a great season, but it’s a team game and we’ve all got to pull our weight. Simple as that.
“Yeah, it was an intense game. In the first period it was a little choppy and you could tell we were coming off all-star break. At the same time, guys were well rested. It was a high-paced game and a lot of fun.”
But it’s only fun until your best player gets hurt.
MacKinnon appeared to be trying to hit Edler when the Canuck braced himself for contact and was on the winning side of the collision late in the second period.
Knocked helmetless, MacKinnon appeared to be favouring his shoulder area as he skated slowly to the bench, then walked down the tunnel to the dressing room. But he may have suffered a head injury.
Whatever he has, it’s not good news for the Avalanche.
He and Edler, matched against one another from the start, had been trading bodychecks.
Edler is a barometer for Canucks intensity. When he’s physically involved and using his mobility and 215-pound frame to hit people, it means his team is engaged and ready to play.
This was in stark contrast to Vancouver’s meek 4-0 pre-all-star loss to the Buffalo Sabres, which itself was shockingly different than Vancouver’s 6-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings that preceded it.
But these are the Canucks – good one night, poor another. If they could manufacture the intensity and resilience they displayed Tuesday, blowing a 2-0 lead before rallying to tie it 3-3 in the third period, they wouldn’t be 27th in the NHL, 13 points adrift of a playoff spot.
“I think it’s a learning process,” Green said. “You’d like to have it every night, [but] there’s not a lot of nights this year when I said I didn’t like our effort. For me, that’s a good thing. There are nights when you’re really not happy with your group, and Buffalo was one of those games. I liked how our group came out tonight and played.”
Green met with his players upon their return from the break and challenged them to be better, more proactive physically.
The Canucks will miss the Stanley Cup tournament for a third straight year, but they should be better than the team that finished in the bottom three the last two seasons.
“We need to figure out what some of these young players are,” Green said after the morning skate Tuesday. “We talked to our group yesterday. Just because you’ve played one year, two years in the NHL … you need to make sure you’re a player in the NHL for a long time. We want players that are winning players. A lot of our guys have a lot to prove.
“I have looked at [this season] as a proving ground from Day 1. That hasn’t changed. My outlook, looking ahead to the future, hasn’t changed. Even when we were winning at the beginning of the year, in a playoff spot, the focus has remained the same.”
The Canucks were still outhit 27-14 by the fast Avalanche, an emerging team that won 10 straight games before losing its last three. Vancouver is not a physical team, but it played like it was.
“We’ve had some meetings, talked about our game as of late,” Baertschi said. “One of the biggest things is we haven’t been getting a lot of hits in. It shows at times throughout games, letting certain guys off the hook. We wanted to make it tough on their skill guys tonight and we did.”
Did he think of himself in Green’s challenge to younger players proving themselves?
“I think that way all the time because I didn’t have an easy way getting to where I am today,” Baertschi, 25, said. “I had to grind it out. It was up and down all the time. I appreciate it even more now that I’ve sort of established myself. But I’ve got to continue that.”
So do a lot of his teammates.