Winning an improbable point seemed as meaningful as losing a difficult road game Thursday as the Vancouver Canucks scored twice in the last four minutes of regulation to force overtime in a 4-3 loss to the Nashville Predators.
The Canucks, who also scored twice in the final four minutes of Tuesday’s 3-2 win in Columbus, extended their points streak to four games (3-0-1) against one of the National Hockey League’s best teams.
The streak began with the Canucks’ 5-3 win against the Predators in Vancouver last Thursday. The Canucks look like an entirely different team than the one that went 1-10-2 until a win a week ago launched it into a successful three-game trip.
Colton Sissons redirected Nick Bonino’s goalmouth pass behind Vancouver goalie Anders Nilsson at 3:05 of overtime. Bo Horvat, beaten up ice by Sissons on the winner, had tied it short-handed on a rebound with 44 seconds left in the third period. Nilsson was on the bench, so the Canucks were skating five-against-five with an open net behind them when they tied it.
The comeback began with 4:05 to go when Brock Boeser wired a one-timer past Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne to end a 1-for-22 slumber by Vancouver’s power play.
Jay Beagle’s short-handed goal was the only Canucks score through 55 minutes as the Predators led 3-1 on goals by Ryan Hartman, Calle Jarnkrok and Bonino, then dominated much of the final period but were stymied by Nilsson.
Still five points out of a playoff spot after their November nosedive, the Canucks open a five-game homestand Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers.
ALWAYS A GOALIE CONTROVERSY
Canucks coach Travis Green chose to start Nilsson because the backup hadn’t played in nine days and Vancouver is going to need both of its goalies if it wants to cling to the playoff race long-term. But to get Nilsson playing time, Green sat down hot starter Jacob Markstrom, who had won the previous three games and is playing as well as he has this season.
We have no problem with the coach going to Nilsson, who was good in his last two starts even if he hasn’t won in six appearances since Oct. 16. We have a problem with Nilsson whiffing on the first real Nashville shot he faced (Hartman’s wrister from above the circle at 5:52) and losing his angle enough for Bonino to shoot far side and make it 2-0 at 8:40.
But by the third period it was impossible to blame Nilsson on the night because the netminder made a handful of five-alarm saves to keep the Canucks close. Shots in the final period were 14-6 Nashville before Vancouver started to push shortly before Boeser’s goal.
Nilsson probably played better than most of his teammates. The resilience of both was impressive.
UNOFFICIAL CAPTAIN MY CAPTAIN
Horvat, who doesn’t need the C to be the Canucks’ leader, made his second-most important play of the game after a whistle.
When Roman Josi dangerously cross-checked Horvat in the numbers late in the game with the score still 3-1, Jake Virtanen skated in to engage the Predators captain. But knowing his team was going to the power play, Horvat backed off Virtanen to ensure Josi was the only one going to the penalty box.
Thirty-nine seconds later, Boeser crushed one past Rinne and it was game on.
In the NHL since he was 19, Horvat seems to have been born old. Now 23, he possesses an awful lot of wisdom.
Horvat’s actions on the Josi play proved how smart he is, and how tough. Tough enough to get something from a game the Canucks should have lost in regulation.
As if his hat trick Sunday in St. Louis wasn’t enough evidence that Boeser’s scoring touch is back, the sophomore who missed 13 games with a groin injury put an exclamation mark on it with his power-play one-timer from his off-wing. It was vintage Boeser – if you can be vintage anything at age 21 – as he scored his first power-play goal since last February. Even with his slow start after last season’s serious back injury, then his groin problem, Boeser has 10 goals in 21 games.
His 23:06 of ice time Thursday, however, was about a minute too long. Boeser got caught on the ice for 1:45 during overtime. Long change, three-on-three, that can happen.
But Boeser, easily rounded by Josi on one scoring chance, needs to be a little more aware when defending in OT. He was puck-watching and got burned in overtime in the Canucks’ 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings two weeks ago.
Erik Gudranson was a game-time scratch due to back spasms. He was replaced by Alex Biega. If Green thinks he needs another lineup change on Saturday, he may wish to consider forward Tim Schaller, who logged only 4:12 on Thursday but was on the ice for Nashville goals on two of his eight shifts.
Yes, Canucks prospect Petrus Palmu returning mid-season to Finland’s top league to get playing time is the best thing for him. But the Canucks shouldn’t be rejoicing at doing “the right thing” for the 21-year-old because the best thing for the organization would have been for the fire hydrant of a winger to spend this season learning the North American game with the Utica Comets.
Instead, Palmu returns to TPS Turku after getting into only 12 of 28 American Hockey League games, leaving after no goals and one assist in what should have been a development season with the Canucks farm team.
We get it: the Canucks have a lot of young prospects, especially promising wingers, who need playing time in the AHL. But Palmu, a sixth-round draft pick from 2017 who was the Finnish League’s rookie of the year last season when he scored 17 times in 59 games, was better than most peers at the Canucks’ prospects tournament in September and looked comfortable against NHL players during the pre-season. Even at five-foot-six, he looked plenty strong and aggressive enough to handle the North American game.
Had things gone great for him in Utica this fall, Palmu would still be a longshot to become an NHL regular. And he’ll get excellent development time with Turku – albeit beyond the Canucks’ immediate control – and has years left to try to make the NHL. But it’s hard not to see his return to Finland, after a promising September in the Canucks organization, as a setback for Palmu and the club. Hopefully, that’s all it is.