Canucks, lacking urgency, steal win on back of Thatcher Demko

Canucks' goalie Thatcher Demko turned away 44-of-46 shots, helping lead Vancouver to a 3-2 overtime victory over the Ottawa Senators.

We get it. Elias Pettersson is injured.

The Vancouver Canucks are playing without their gifted centre, an elite play driver who is not only his team’s best offensive creator but one of the top forwards in the National Hockey League.

Already without scoring depth beyond their best four or five players, the Canucks aren’t going to be -- can’t be -- the same team without Pettersson, who is home with an undisclosed injury while Vancouver plays four road games this week in the Ottawa-Montreal corridor. No team would be the same.

But playing dull hockey to cope with injuries to Pettersson and others is different than playing listless or even careless hockey.

The Canucks on Monday again used goalie Thatcher Demko as a get-out-of-jail-free card, managing to beat the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in overtime despite getting outshot 46-28 by the only team behind Vancouver in the Canadian division standings.

It wasn’t just that the Canucks blew a 2-0 lead, surrendering the tying goal to Colin White with 2:10 remaining in regulation before winning it on J.T. Miller’s breakaway deke at 1:40 of OT. It was how poorly they played with the lead, how many times they turned over the puck or made a soft play on it, how often they failed to get it out of their zone to relieve pressure.

It was how much they shoved onto the shoulders of their first-year starter, as Demko made 44 saves in a game the Senators should have won by a couple of goals.

There was a degree of karma to the victory, as the Canucks won only twice during a nine-game stretch in February when they were the better team the majority of the time.

But with the Senators playing for the second time in two nights, and the Canucks generally well-rested and well-practised, and coming off a gritty 2-1 home win Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers, a lot better urgency and execution was expected from Vancouver on Monday.

“Well, I'm happy we won the game,” Canuck coach Travis Green said. “I didn't think we skated very well, didn't think we passed it very well, and our goalie gave us the game.

“In general, we've played pretty well for the last 17, 18 games. We've probably had three games that we didn't like (but) we also had some games that we really liked and played a helluva game and didn't get the results we wanted. It's nice to get a win when we probably didn't play our best.”

They weren’t anywhere near their best.

The Canucks led 2-0 after a first period in which they were outshot 18-9.

Former Senator Jayce Hawryluk jammed a rebound under goalie Joey Daccord at 10:14, and Tanner Pearson doubled the lead at 18:49 when he zipped a shot into the top corner after White blindly passed the puck from the end boards straight to the Canuck in the slot.

It was Pearson’s first goal in 14 games.

“Probably imagined one (going in) off my rear end or something -- just a cheeky one, literally,” Pearson said. “They put a lot of pucks in the middle there; they were going D to D right through the middle. So I figured I'd just hang out around there and luckily it came to me.”

Up 2-0 on the road against a last-place team, the Canucks didn’t exactly evoke memories of Jacques Lemaire over the final 40 minutes.

They were careless, like when Brandon Sutter and Miller had giveaways trying to pass cross-ice under pressure in their own zone. They weren’t hard enough on the puck, like when Pearson was skating out of the zone hoping that Nate Schmidt’s rim-around would make it past Ottawa defenceman Artem Zub, which it didn’t before the Senators got their first goal. Or when captain Bo Horvat tried to dangle it through Zub in the neutral zone, but lost it and took a penalty.

“You don't want to give up freebies, no matter if you're up or down,” Miller said. “That should never change no matter what the score is. We have an identity as a team and taking care of the puck is a big part of that. Especially when you're ahead, you’ve got to make them go 200 feet if they're going earn it.

“We gave them a little too much tonight, and we know that. Obviously, we're in a position where we need two points, so we'll take that and move forward. We'll learn from our mistakes, and we just need to be better the next time we play. We've been good at responding whenever we haven't brought our best.”

Miller responded Monday by dunking on Daccord in overtime, taking Quinn Hughes’ pass as the Senators tried to change and blowing past an exhausted Brady Tkachuk at the Ottawa blue line.

The Canucks visit the Senators again Wednesday before playing back-to-back against the Canadiens starting Friday in Montreal.

“When we were up to 2-0... I don't think our team was sitting there thinking we played well,” Green said. “We looked sluggish, tired. We had passes that were bouncing off our sticks, passes that we should have made that we didn't make. The best part of our game was probably in the third period in the first 10 to 11 minutes. We just didn't (play) well enough throughout the whole game. But we did find a way to win it.”

That, at least, is a huge improvement over a month ago.

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