‘A step in the right direction’: Recharged Canucks grind out much-needed win

Casey DeSmith made 17 saves to earn his eighth win of the season and Connor Garland's tally midway through the second held up as the game-winner as the Vancouver Canucks held on to defeat the Anaheim Ducks 2-1.

ANAHEIM, Calif. — One day after signing a $92.8-million contract extension, Elias Pettersson was already burning through his bankroll.

“I put a team dinner up (on the board) today, and luckily we won,” Pettersson smiled Sunday evening. “So we’ll see when that dinner is.”

Pettersson’s purchase couldn’t have gone to a better cause: the Vancouver Canucks ground out a hard-working, no-frills 2-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks — just the team’s second win in eight games and their first in regulation since Feb. 15.

It will be worth every cent on Pettersson’s credit card bill.

The victory came the day after the Canucks announced an eight-year extension for their star centre, who has been struggling like his team the last couple of weeks, and three days after a depressing 5-1 loss against the Los Angeles Kings when Vancouver appeared to be skating in mud.

A day off Friday and a remedial practice on Saturday seemed to allow the Canucks to recharge. No team in the National Hockey League has played more games this season than Vancouver, which emerged from the All-Star break with 13 contests in 24 days in February.

“Definitely,” Pettersson said. “I think we. . . almost like a reset. We know what we do when we play well, so we’ve just got back to doing all the small things all the time. Today was a tough; Anaheim played a good game. But it was a step in the right direction today.”

“The past couple of weeks have been the first stretch for us where we didn’t play well,” defenceman Ian Cole said. “And then when we did play well, it didn’t work out in our favour often enough. We’ve all been in these stretches, and the only way out is to work your way out. And even then, there’s usually a lag effect where you’re working and playing well and you’re still not getting wins. 

“Is today that first step out of that lull? I don’t know. Maybe. There’s only one way to ensure that’s the case and that’s to continue to work hard. Going on our own page and trying to skill our way through and playing loose defensively, that’s not how we get out of this.”

The Canucks have a rematch against the Kings in Los Angeles on Tuesday, then play their final road game of March on Thursday against the Vegas Golden Knights. The NHL trade deadline is Friday.

“It’s a grindy type of game,” coach Rick Tocchet said of Sunday’s win. “I think we got a little loose in the second with some turnovers. But I just liked the team effort. It wasn’t like we had a lot of outstanding guys; they just grinded it out.”

Importantly, they got the first victory since Jan. 9 for backup goalie Casey DeSmith, who had started only four games since then as Tocchet rode starter Thatcher Demko.

The last we saw DeSmith, he was numb from a 10-7 mind-bending loss in Minnesota two weeks ago, when the Canucks blew a three-goal lead by allowing six goals in six minutes, three of them on five-on-three Wild power plays and another at five-on-four.

With Demko resting for a game the next day in Denver, Tocchet wasn’t able to offer DeSmith a mercy hook as the 32-year-old was ventilated by eight goals before Minnesota scored its last two into an empty net.

And then, in his first start since then, DeSmith was beaten on the first Anaheim shot — and another terrible bounce — as Matt Jones’ blocked shot caromed directly on to the stick of Ducks teammate Alex Killorn for an open-netter at 4:15 of the first period.

“I mean, when the first shot went, I was like, ‘please, not again,’” DeSmith said. “But thankfully, I get to never think about that Minnesota game ever again.

“Everybody’s different, everybody has ways to kind of move past goals or put it out of their mind or whatever. I was just like: ‘OK, I’m not getting a shutout tonight. But let’s see if we can turn this into a win anyways.’ That’s just kind of the mentality I think you have to have. It’s not going to be perfect every night. You’re not going to get the bounces every night. But it’s like, control what you can control. That was my mindset tonight: just make the saves that I could.”

DeSmith finished with 18 consecutive saves as the Canucks, who dominated territorially for stretches, outshot the Ducks 31-19. 

The goalie got all the run support he needed when Nils Hoglander finished clinically from defenceman Quinn Hughes’ beautiful setup in the slot at 1:37 of the opening period, and Conor Garland redirected Nikita Zadorov’s savvy shot-pass past Anaheim goalie Lukas Dostal at 3:34 of the second.

[brightcove videoID=6348175708112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

It was the first time since DeSmith beat the New York Islanders 5-2 nearly two months ago that he had allowed fewer than three goals. His three starts before the Minnesota debacle ended in overtime losses.

“It’s a stressful game in the third,” Tocchet said. “It’s 2-1 only. Bounces, anything could happen. To be honest with you, I’d rather not have a 6-2 game for him. These 2-1 games, for a guy that hasn’t played much, he needs. So that’s why I say it’s a (perfect) recipe for Casey.”

“My job is to get wins,” DeSmith said. “Obviously, the starting goalie has to get wins, too. But as a backup goalie, maybe I only get in there once a week or once every two weeks, and when I get in there, I need to win. I need to kind of galvanize the group when I’m in there and not let games slip away and turn into losses. That’s the worst thing I can do as backup goalie. So whatever that was, three or four OT losses, that starts to sting big time. Even if I don’t feel like I’m necessarily playing poorly, it definitely doesn’t feel good to barely remember your last win, right?”

It’s nice for him that he’ll have Sunday’s win to think about now. The joy of teammates for DeSmith was obvious after the final horn.

“I was the first one to hug him,” Cole said. “And he yelled: ‘(Expletive) yeahhhh!’ I was like, ‘OK, I agree.’”

• Canucks callup Vasily Podkolzin, given most of this season to build his game in the American League, played his first NHL contest since last March 25 and looked good on a line with Garland and Elias Lindholm. . . Canuck defenceman Tyler Myers missed his first game with an undisclosed injury that could keep him out 1-2 weeks.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.