This will be the fourth straight joyless spring for the Vancouver Canucks, but the National Hockey League team is tossing some of its misery on others trying to make the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Too far out of the race themselves for any realistic chance of getting into the post-season, the Canucks on Monday completed an impressive 26 hours when their 3-2 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks capped a two-game road sweep for Vancouver.
The Canucks beat the Dallas Stars 3-2 in a shootout the previous night. The Stars are trying to hang on to a wildcard playoff spot in the Western Conference, and the Blackhawks, who had won five straight games before Monday, are one of the teams chasing them.
But both dropped valuable points to the Canucks, who could win their final nine games and probably still miss the tournament.
Canucks defenceman Alexander Edler, who fumbled the puck into his own net while trying to block a shot on Erik Gustafsson’s tying goal for the Blackhawks late in the third period, worked a give-and-go with Bo Horvat that his teammate finished just 16 seconds into OT.
Suddenly 3-0-1 in their last four games, the Canucks return home to play the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday. They can’t play spoilers against Ottawa because the Senators are the worst team in the NHL. But the Canucks can make them feel badly — and themselves feel even better.
Canucks backup Thatcher Demko was excellent in just his fourth start since his mid-season promotion from the American Hockey League, which preceded a knee injury that kept the 23-year-old goalie out most of February.
Demko didn’t look good on Chicago’s power-play goal that opened scoring in the first period – after recovering his stick, Demko was slow to react to Jonathan Toews’ redirect from the high slot – but the goaltender was outstanding in the third when the Blackhawks’ surged.
He made four saves during a late Chicago power play, and made enough good saves on the night that it won’t look like charity when Vancouver coach Travis Green gives him his next start.
Jacob Markstrom, who has been brilliant lately and superb the last three months, rested Monday after a 44-save performance in Dallas. Green told reporters before Monday’s game that Demko, long-considered the Canucks’ future starter until Markstrom elevated his game this season under goalie guru Ian Clark, is going to get playing time down the stretch but it’s not going to be "all about Thatcher Demko."
It shouldn’t be. But it should be a little bit about Demko and he helped himself with Monday’s 27-save performance.
CANUCKS IN NO GOLDIE RUSH
For the second straight game, the Canucks won while talented but enigmatic winger Nikolay Goldobin was a healthy scratch. This is the sixth time this season that Green has sent the Russian, one of his most skilled players, to the press box.
It would be more fun bashing Green, which is kind of a thing in Vancouver, if the team was losing and the guys the coach played ahead of Goldobin fell on their faces.
But Tim Schaller, who had been scratched in 20 of the previous 22 games, scored his first two goals of the season in Dallas. And Markus Granlund scored in Chicago. All ‘Team Demeaned’ needed was for Loui Eriksson to score, too. But Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford made one of his best saves against Eriksson, who was scratched by Green last week against the New York Rangers, not quite halfway through his six-year, $36-million-US contract with the Canucks.
But Goldobin’s many advocates outside the hockey team have a point: Schaller, Granlund and Eriksson may not even be on the Canucks next year and don’t appear to have futures in Vancouver while Goldobin is a gifted 23-year-old who plays a position where the Canucks need to get much better.
This is what Green told reporters in Dallas: "Goldie has got to bring something to the table. I think he has two goals and two assists in 23 games. Those aren’t numbers that are really going to keep a guy in the league. We know that he’s not going to be a guy that’s heavy and hard and physical, and I know that I’m alright with that. But at the end of the day, you take the month of November away and he hasn’t done a whole lot. So somebody else gets an opportunity and that’s the way this league is."
And here is what Goldobin said after scoring the winning goal against Anaheim the night the Feb. 25 trade deadline passed: "I’m just glad I’m staying here. Really happy. I like this organization and I know coaches believe in me a lot."
He is testing their faith.
Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson’s second-period assist on Granlund’s rebound goal gave him 61 points in 62 games and the record as the highest-scoring rookie in franchise history. Pavel Bure had 60 points in 65 games in 1991-92, a decade after Czech legend Ivan Hlinka joined the Canucks at age 31 and produced 60 points in 72 games as an NHL "rookie."
Pettersson’s deft dish to Brock Boeser on Granlund’s goal was nice, but what was even better was the way the centre allowed the Canucks to break out of their zone by dragging the puck through his skates to fool Blackhawks forechecker Chris Kunitz.
Night in and night out, whether he scores or not, Pettersson is worth watching.
BROCK IS BACK
Two weeks after inquiries were being organized into the disappearance of Boeser’s offence, the second-year forward is on a seven-game points streak (2-6-8 pts). He is skating better and appears to be re-energized.
It’s worth remembering that although not a rookie, this is Boeser’s first trip through the NHL’s March madness after an injury last March 5 ended his freshman season at 60 games. The two seasons before that, mostly in college hockey, Boeser played 42 games and 41 games. Monday was his 60th game this season. He’s still learning.