VANCOUVER – Maybe the Vancouver Canucks need another trade.
The acquisition of winger Tyler Toffoli created a lot of excitement on the West Coast, but the Canucks remained stuck in the National Hockey League standings Wednesday when they lost 4-3 in a shootout to the Minnesota Wild.
Four games after his trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins, Alex Galchenyuk finally showed up for the Wild, scoring the tying goal late in the third period and the shootout winner as the Canucks failed to hold leads in both the game and tiebreaker.
It was the first win for interim Minnesota coach Dean Evason, who replaced Bruce Boudreau on Friday.
Now clinging to a playoff spot after sitting on a nine-point cushion just three weeks ago, the Canucks continue to scuffle through February. They are 2-2-1 on their longest homestand of the season, which ends Saturday against the Stanley Cup contenders Boston Bruins, and have added just five points in the standings since Feb. 2.
Still third in the Pacific Division, the Canucks are only two points up on the final playoff spot in the wide-open Western Conference.
“I don’t think we feel like we’re slipping,” veteran winger J.T. Miller said before the game. “We haven’t played a lot of hockey the last week at all. It seems like one week you’re on top of the world, the next week you’re in a panic a little bit. We have to find a way to stay even keel. We know we’re a good hockey team. We’ve beat some good teams. We expect a lot out of ourselves.
“We know we need to be better, but I don’t think we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves. We’re excited about the challenge from here on in. We’re going to get dialed in and at least give our best effort. And most nights, that will be enough.”
Their effort, and especially Miller’s, was pretty good against the Wild but that still wasn’t enough for the Canucks to get both points as they lost to the non-playoff team for the second time this month.
And despite outshooting the Wild 21-10 in the first half of the game, they’d have had zero points Wednesday were it not for Miller.
Acquired Monday from the Kings, Toffoli is the big, skilled winger the Canucks hope will make a difference. Acquired last June from the Tampa Bay Lightning, Miller is the big, skilled winger who has.
The cost of a conditional first-round pick to get Miller felt like a bargain as soon as he started playing games in October. He scored twice in just over three minutes early in the third period Wednesday to erase a 2-1 Minnesota lead.
His tying goal at 1:28 was his career-high 23rd of the season and leaked through goalie Devan Dubnyk after Miller redirected a hard pass in the high slot from Toffoli.
Miller made it 24 goals on his next shift, slinging a wrist shot from the left-wing circle past Dubnyk’s catcher at 4:43 after Elias Pettersson sprinted to cancel an icing and Wild defenceman Carson Soucy was separated from the puck in a collision with the linesman.
It was an unlucky goal for Minnesota. But occasionally the hockey gods are fair – this is hard for people in Vancouver to believe — and with 4:45 remaining the Wild tied it 3-3 when Galchenyuk’s centring pass from a bounce off the end boards ramped up off Canuck Loui Eriksson, pegged Troy Stecher in the face and tumbled behind goalie Jacob Markstrom.
It was the first Minnesota goal for Galchenyuk, who had seemed to leave his heart in Montreal three teams ago, after three games for the Wild in which he had registered no points and two shots.
He wasn’t done, either.
He deked Markstrom to win the shootout after Toffoli shot high of a semi-open net in the third round, which allowed Minnesota’s Mats Zuccarello to score and extend the skills competition.
Minnesota made it 1-0 its first time down the ice when Kevin Fiala whistled a shot bar-down after a slack Vancouver line change gave him time and space to pick his spot on Markstrom.
Wonder-rookie Quinn Hughes manufactured a tying goal for fourth-liner Jay Beagle at 1:31 of the second period when he held the puck long enough on a two-on-one to finesse a pass under the stick of defenceman Jonas Brodin, whose partner Matt Dumba had charged out of position to make a hit.
But the Wild regained the lead at 13:03 when another sloppy, partial line change left the Canucks scrambling and Luke Kunin found room between three Vancouver players to squeeze a centring pass from Brad Hunt through Markstrom.
Toffoli played his first Canucks game on a line with Miller and Pettersson and registered four shots in his 18:52 of ice time.
“We wanted to be in this spot,” Canucks coach Travis Green said of the playoff race. “At the beginning of the year, we talked about expectations. . . to be a better hockey team. I think we’ve done that. Long-term goal was to make the playoffs, and we’re going to try to do that.”
Hughes finished the game with two assists and a game-high five shots on net over 27:05 of ice time that included 25:19 of even strength.