Unbeaten under Boudreau, the Canucks are back in the playoff race

Brock Boeser scored twice as the Vancouver Canucks won their sixth straight game with a 5-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks.

It took the first 48 days of the season for the Vancouver Canucks to surpass six wins. They have matched that total over the last 10 days under Bruce Boudreau.

The highly-imperfect team remains perfect under its new coach, making it six straight wins Thursday by beating the San Jose Sharks 5-2 in Northern California.

When he spoke to the media on Dec. 6, the day after the organization fired Travis Green as coach and Jim Benning as general manager, Boudreau saw the nine-point abyss between the Canucks and the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and cautioned against looking too far ahead.

Just win the week, Boudreau said. And if you win enough weeks, maybe you look at the standings sometime in January and find yourself back in the race.

And 10 days later, the Canucks have closed to within a game of .500 at 14-15-2 and are four points out of the final playoff position in the West. The three teams between them and that spot are one point ahead.

The Canucks ARE back in the playoff race.

Brock Boeser sniped another pair of goals and J.T. Miller’s goal gave Vancouver some third-period breathing room on an outstanding night for the Boeser-Miller-Tanner Pearson line. Bo Horvat scored on a power play for the Canucks, who built a 2-0 lead in the first period and won wire-to-wire, and Jason Dickinson scored into an empty net to end a 23-game goal-less famine.

But the star, again, was goalie Thatcher Demko, whose 34 stops included a stunning game-saver on Logan Couture with three minutes remaining and the Canucks clinging to a 3-2 lead. Miller scored on a three-on-two on the next shift as Vancouver matched its longest winning streak in two years.


While the team has been transformed on the ice and is starting to build its identity under Boudreau, new president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford took another step in his mission to improve culture by naming career Canuck Stan Smyl to the position of vice president of hockey operations.

As a player, Smyl was the heart of the Canucks in the 1980s, and in management has become the conscience of the organization. The 63-year-old has been part of the Canucks since he made the team as a ferocious rookie in 1978, straight out of the New Westminster Bruins.

Since retiring as a player in 1991, his career shortened by the relentless physicality with which he played, Smyl has served in numerous capacities under six different management regimes, starting with Pat Quinn and now continuing in a senior role under Rutherford.

In their time of crisis less than two weeks ago, after the most sweeping night of organizational change in franchise history, it was Smyl who was sent by owner Francesco Aquilini to face the media, to speak passionately and calm fan unrest that mushroomed in the final weeks of the Benning regime. It was one of Smyl’s finest and most important moments.

Someone with his character, conscience and experience absolutely had to be included in whatever is coming next for the Canucks. With his new role, Smyl will continue to be an important voice and navigation point as the franchise transforms under Rutherford.


The Canucks have been reborn since the coaching change, and Boudreau’s bubbling positivity and encouragement have resuscitated a team stifled by its own negativity through the season’s opening quarter.

But watching the Canucks now, it’s hard not to feel at least a little bit sorry for Green, whose biggest failing was that two of his best forwards, Boeser and Elias Pettersson, were unfathomably bad the first seven weeks of the season.

After failing to score in Green’s final 13 games, Boeser has given Boudreau five goals in six games. Four of the coach’s six wins have been by one goal. Pettersson, who had two nine-game goal droughts under Green, scored in Vancouver’s previous two games, unselfishly set up Dickinson’s goal on Thursday and has quietly been one of the better Canucks since the coaching change.

Besides his enthusiasm, Boudreau’s more aggressive, attacking style also seems to better fit the Canucks’ lineup strengths. But it’s amazing how much stronger any team is when its best players show up.


For a team whose biggest weakness is the bottom half of their defence, the Canucks continue to soar through a test of depth on their blue line.

Minor-league callup Guillaume Brisebois became the 12th defenceman to play for the Canucks this season when he logged his second NHL game in 33 months. The 24-year-old was the lineup replacement for Tucker Poolman, who was ordered off the ice and into COVID protocol in the first period of Tuesday’s 4-3 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. But Brisebois left the game with an undisclosed injury just one shift into the second period.

So for the second straight game, the Canucks won while reduced to five defencemen. On Thursday, the Canucks big three on defence, Quinn Hughes, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers, logged 26:43, 25:40 and 24:54, respectively.

The Canucks are missing four right-side defencemen: injured Travis Hamonic, and COVID-positive Poolman, Luke Schenn and Brad Hunt.

Boudreau, however, said after the morning skate that Poolman had turned in two negative tests since a positive from Tuesday morning, and one more negative would allow him to return to the lineup Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Canucks have used 10 defencemen in six games since Boudreau took over from Green.

“It's nothing different for them from what they've been doing,” Boudreau said Thursday morning of the conga line of fill-ins. “It's just the pace they're going to see is a little quicker. They're all good hockey players. To get to the American League, to get to the NHL, you've got to be pretty good. So do what they did to get here. If they do that and try not to do too much, then I think we'll be okay. We don't want the new guys trying to be Quinn Hughes out there. Just do their job and they'll be fine.”


A third straight negative test would nullify Poolman’s Tuesday test as a false positive, according to NHL guidelines. Poolman passed the antigen rapid test that flagged Hunt just before Tuesday’s game, but was removed from the ice after eight shifts when the full PCR test results came in after the game started.

Boudreau said Schenn and Hunt have only “very mild” symptoms, similar to a cold, and “nothing crazy” like the Canucks endured during last April’s alarming COVID breakout before vaccines were widely available.


We know plus/minus isn’t a statistic for grownups, but most players still pay far more attention to it than their Corsi. Hughes said he was embarrassed last season when he finished minus-24. After going plus-three on Thursday, the 22-year-old is a team-leading plus-nine in 30 games. He also has 26 points and, in case you’re wondering, his basic Corsi is 55.4 per cent.

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