Without Brock Boeser hope, excitement drains out of Canucks lineup

Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos both scored as the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-2.

As anyone on the West Coast can attest, when it rains, it pours. And sometimes the weather’s not good, either.

Trying to build hope as much as wins as they stumble towards another bottom-five finish in the National Hockey League, the Vancouver Canucks are now without the player who has inspired more hope than anyone in years.

Winger Brock Boeser is out of the lineup with a hand injury suffered late in Thursday’s 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning – a game in which the Calder Trophy candidate scored his 26th goal of the season, tops among NHL rookies.

“Yeah, it’s a big loss,” coach Travis Green said in Raleigh, N.C., where the Canucks try to halt a three-game losing streak Friday night against the Hurricanes. “When we lost Bo, it was a big loss and losing Brock is going to be a big loss.

“But I know the guys in our room and it’s next man up. That’s the way the NHL is. You are never going to hear a team use excuses and you’re never going to hear me say this is why we lost. When you look back, sure, you can say (injuries) took some air out of us. But expectations don’t change and we’ll try to find a way.”

There was no immediate indication how long Boeser will be out.

A wave of December injuries that decimated the top half of their lineup ruined the Canucks’ season after a surprising 14-10-4 start was driven offensively by Boeser and Horvat. With top two centres Horvat and Brandon Sutter out, among others, the Canucks went 3-11-2 between Dec. 5 and Jan. 14.

They are 4-6 since then but were playing well until this four-game road trip, which began Tuesday with an anemic 3-1 loss to the Florida Panthers.

Their run of good health, as rare as a Canuck winning streak, is over.

Depth forwards Sam Gagner (sprained ankle) and Brendan Gaunce (fractured foot) were injured against the Panthers, and versatile forward Markus Granlund (ankle) followed them home to Vancouver after the Tampa game. Key defenceman Chris Tanev, who left Thursday’s game but returned after blocking a shot, is also out of the lineup in Carolina.

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Green said earlier Friday that the plan was to keep Boeser on the road, although the medical team was awaiting more detailed images of the 20-year-old’s hand. Boeser was hurt in a fall, Green said, not through contact with a stick or puck. The Canucks’ trip ends Sunday in Dallas.

Canuck Nation already survived one Boeser scare this season when the best Vancouver rookie since Pavel Bure literally crawled off the ice after getting drilled by Mark Giordano’s shot during a 6-1 loss to the Calgary Flames on Dec. 17.

There were fears Boeser had suffered a broken foot – the injury that shelved Horvat for nearly seven weeks – but the rookie from Burnsville, Minn., and the University of North Dakota not only played two nights later against the Montreal Canadiens but began a four-game goal-scoring streak.

Boeser was named to the Pacific Division all-star team and two weeks ago became the first rookie to be voted MVP of the NHL’s winter show.

Green, obviously, has no one to replace him. Boeser leads the Canucks with 26 goals and 47 points in 51 games, is first in shots (150), second among forwards in ice time (17:20) and integral to Vancouver’s eighth-ranked power play.

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But beyond what the team loses on the ice with Boeser, any extended absence will be a huge blow to a fan base the organization is trying to solidify after it began eroding as soon as a decade-long run of Canuck superiority ended in 2013.

General manager Jim Benning is still dealing with the consequences of that era, which saw many draft picks traded to top up the lineup for playoff runs and few good prospects put into the development pipeline.

That’s why Boeser has become vital to everything the Canucks do. He is the best thing about the current Canucks, and the best thing about their future.

He was like a shelter in the storm.

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