After spirited playoff chase, the value of belief is part of the Canucks' culture

Bruce Boudreau speaks on the dramatic Sharks-Golden Knights matchup that kept the Vancouver Canucks in the playoff hunt, and says he's not quitting until the Canucks are mathematically eliminated.

VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks’ playoff chase, already a minor miracle, was literally down to its final second on Sunday. So to have another 60 minutes to play for on Tuesday feels like a massive, unexpected bonus.

Much has gone into the Canucks’ playoff dream overcoming common sense and surviving until the final week of a National Hockey League season. Some of it is inexplicable. But in the matter of Canucks versus Seattle Kraken on Tuesday, and especially San Jose Sharks versus Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday, the evidence is pretty clear: divine intervention.

How else to explain the Golden Knights, who would have eliminated the Canucks from the Western Conference wild-card race by beating San Jose Sunday at home, blowing the lead in the final second in regulation time, then losing in a shootout?

“You guys don't know me that well but, listen... I believe in things that happen,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said Monday after the Canucks practised at Rogers Arena for another last chance. “Like, I believed when I was 38 years old, playing in Fort Wayne (in the IHL), that I still had a chance at making the NHL. I always found that if you stop believing, then it never happens. But if you believe in it hard enough, then maybe some dreams do come true.

“If all the favourites won, boy, the betting world would really take a hit, right?”

With Vegas leading 4-3 and needing a win to move four points clear of Vancouver and within two of the Dallas Stars, Knights defenceman Brayden McNabb tried to clear the puck high up the sideboards in the final seconds. Standing at the blue line was six-foot-five Sharks defenceman Brent Burns, who used most of his height to knock the puck down before launching a desperate, wayward slapshot that bounced perfectly off the end boards for Timo Meier to score the tying goal with 0.9 seconds remaining.

Lucky for the Canucks, but all plausible. As Boudreau said: “It was just a dumb play by a defenceman on Vegas.”

But not getting nearly as much attention was the far less explicable winning goal in the shootout, which denied Vegas a victory and means the Canucks can survive again Tuesday if they beat the Kraken and the Golden Knights win in regulation in Dallas.

Both Vancouver and Vegas are trying to catch the Stars.

San Jose’s shootout winner was scored by 20-year-old, second-round pick, Thomas Bordeleau, who was still playing college hockey for Michigan when April began. Bordeleau is the grandson of former Canuck Paulin Bordeleau, who began his NHL career with three seasons in Vancouver in the 1970s after leaving junior hockey in Toronto, where his Marlboros teammate was Bruce Boudreau.

Boudreau said he remembers Paulin scoring on a last-minute penalty shot to beat Peterborough in Game 7 of the 1973 Ontario Hockey League final, which allowed the Marlies to advance and win the Memorial Cup.

“Crazy things can happen in sport,” Boudreau said. “I've seen it a lot of times in the last day of the year, where the underdog has beaten a team that just has to win the game. And they're heavily favored and they don't win. If you give up hope, then you're done. You always have to believe that there's a chance. And if we win tomorrow, you never know. You never quit until it's done.”

The Canucks haven’t quit. But, let’s be clear, they’re done.

Not only do they have to beat the Kraken while the Knights win in regulation against the Stars, the Canucks would also need to end their season by sweeping back-to-back games against the playoff-bound Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers, while Dallas and Vegas go a combined 0-4 the rest of the week. And one of the Stars’ opponents are the Arizona Coyotes.

But here they are, at least, at Game 80 and still playing for something. That was unfathomable at Game 22, when the Canucks were 6-14-2, or after Game 25 when Boudreau was hired to replace Travis Green, and president Jim Rutherford was hired to replace fired general manager Jim Benning.

The Canucks are 30-15-9 since then and, even dimmed by going 0-2-1 in their last three games, have played at a 105-point clip under Boudreau.

“When we first started talking about how we're going to turn things around back in December, you look at the big picture, it... was overwhelming,” defenceman Luke Schenn told reporters after he was nominated Monday for the Bill Masterton Trophy. “Like Bruce said earlier, you focus on the game at hand, and the one day, and then you win the week and kind of go from there. The smaller goals are a little bit more realistic, and then the bigger picture starts to be a little more clear.

“But here we are in the last few days of the season and, like you said, we're hanging on. That's all you can ask for at this time — is to continue to play meaningful games.”

Forward J.T. Miller said: “Bruce gave us a new life when he got here, a new jump and fresh start. And ever since then, I think we took our opportunity and decided to run with it. I'm really proud of our guys in here. It takes a lot of care and a lot of want. And it's really easy to roll over when you're 8-15, or whatever we were back then, and just write this season off as a regroup-type of year. We've really done almost everything we can to this point to show that we could compete against the best teams in the league. It's really exciting moving forward no matter what happens.”

Miller said players still have something to prove.  

“I always think of that Jim Valvano quote: never give in, never give up type of thing,” Boudreau said. “I think that comes from (me) being in the minors for so long and never knowing if you're going to get a job the next year, whether it's playing or coaching. But you just keep striving for it. I hope they've gotten that message this year, that it's a never-give-up situation. Winning is a culture that you bring, and I'm hoping if there's anything that I'm bringing to the team it's that winning is the only important thing.”

Right next to believing.

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