Monday, he was healthy enough to score his first goal in 16 games, blasting a slapshot post-and-in to tie it with 40.5 seconds remaining in the third period before the Canucks capped another comeback with a 2-1 shootout win against the Canadiens.
In the first seven weeks of the NHL season, the Canucks were 0-for-14 at winning games they trailed into the third period. Now they’ve done it in consecutive games, against rivals in the Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs that Vancouver is chasing in the North Division after a false start to the shortened campaign.
The Canucks are on a three-game winning streak for the first time since January. More than just Gaudette’s fortunes are changing.
“Learning lessons along the way,” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “I think in the past, when we’ve gotten down, we’ve kind of gotten away from our game — away from the type of game that we need to play. The last few games, we’ve just stuck with it, stayed persistent with our game, had purpose to how we wanted to play and believed in it the whole way
The Canucks, who had the best scoring chances in overtime, won the goaltending duel when captain Bo Horvat beat Carey Price in the shootout before Canadien Tomas Tatar decided to try a circus move but was stopped by Thatcher Demko as he shot from behind and between his legs.
Gaudette was the unlikeliest hero.
Without a goal since Feb. 1, blanked on 30 shots since then, Gaudette was still promoted mid-game by Green on to a line with J.T. Miller. The coach also sent him out in the final minute as the Canucks’ attacked with the extra man.
Green must have known something because when Montreal defenceman Ben Chiarot drifted towards the middle of the ice as Horvat carried the puck across the blue line on the left, the Canuck kicked it out right to Gaudette. The winger skated into the right-wing circle before shooting post-and-in.
“I didn’t even know if Bo saw me; it was kind of a no-look pass,” Gaudette said. “I just wanted to get a shot on net. I feel like I never take a slapshot and for some reason, I took one tonight and it went in.”
Gaudette revealed in training camp that he had suffered from a digestive disorder that made it difficult for him to eat and add bulk to his lanky six-foot-one frame, but that doctors had solved the problem and he was finally getting stronger.
After scoring 12 goals and 33 points in 59 games last season despite a limited third-line role, Gaudette had just two goals in 24 games before Monday.
“Honestly, it wasn’t that hard because I really like how my game’s coming along,” Gaudette said when asked about his difficulty scoring. “Getting the chances, I knew if I just stick with it and do the right things it would go in eventually. It finally went in and it felt great. I can’t take my foot off the gas.”
Neither can the Canucks, who are probably already too late in turning around their season.
But they took two points Monday from a game in which they’d have likely salvaged nothing until a week ago.
The Montreal power play opened the scoring at 4:37 of the first period when Jeff Petry’s 50-foot wrist shot drifted, untouched by anyone and unseen by Demko, into the Vancouver net. Corey Perry was screening Demko for Petry, who was given too much time and space at the point.
The Canucks had 55 minutes to build a comeback. It took them 54.
But it was only because Demko was excellent again that Vancouver was still down only 1-0 in the final minute of the third period.
Vancouver’s power play, coming off a three-for-three performance in a two-game sweep of Toronto, had an outstanding chance to tie the game late in the first when Perry’s tripping penalty was soon followed by a call against Paul Byron for crashing into Demko on a shorthanded charge to the net.
The Canucks were given an 85-second 5-on-3. It was putrid.
With their two-man advantage, the Canucks were unable to force Price to make a save. Miller forced a pass that turned into a Montreal clearance, and Horvat turned the wrong way with the puck, leading to another clear. Miller and Quinn Hughes, whose ice time of 30:21 included nearly all of overtime, had shots blocked.
Maybe the Canucks felt shame because they looked dispirited to start the second period when the Canadiens pounded six straight shots on Demko. The Canadiens outhit the Canucks 11-1 during one stretch, which tells you which team was playing with energy and which wasn’t.
Green roused his team by mixing lines, dropping Brock Boeser to the third unit from the first and pushing Gaudette up to play with Miller.
The Canucks started playing again. As you may have guessed from their post-game theme: they stuck with it.
“It’s just resiliency from our group and sticking with the process,” Horvat said. “(This) gives our group confidence. We know that we can do it, and beat any team. It took us a little bit to figure that out, figure out just to stick with the process and stick with our game. Obviously, we’d like to play with the lead instead of chasing. But for us to stick it out and do it again tonight definitely shows the character in the room.”
“It’s a huge game for us,” Demko said. “We just want to keep getting better, keep building.”
The Canucks and Canadiens play again Wednesday.