Canucks finding form with consistency, composure and a Pettersson resurgence

Elias Pettersson finished with three points, while Sam Lafferty and Ilya Mikheyev also recorded multiple points as the Vancouver Canucks took down the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3.

VANCOUVER — The start was nice, the finish even more impressive.

The Vancouver Canucks, whose play was as inconsistent as their win-one-lose-one results the last three weeks, put together close to a full game Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes, winning 4-3 at Rogers Arena.

The Canucks outshot the visitors 13-2 in the first 14 minutes and against a Carolina team that dominates shot metrics in the National Hockey League like the moon dominates tides, Vancouver yielded only four even-strength shots through two periods. Four!

Still, when Stefan Noesen tapped-in from a cross-bar rebound at 2:10 of the third period, the Canucks somehow found themselves tied 3-3. 

But then Canuck Elias Pettersson capped his three-point night by beating Sebastian Aho and Hurricanes goalie Antti Raanta on a wrap around just 79 seconds later, and Vancouver maintained one of its few perfections — improving to 15-0-0 when leading after two periods.

“These days, no lead is really that safe,” Canucks checking centre Teddy Blueger said. “You know, teams are coming back from four goals down. So you’ve got to stay on it and be disciplined and diligent in your game, and I thought we did a pretty good job. It’s really satisfying.

“I think down the stretch, those kinds of situations are going to be really important: defending with a lead, playing five against six.”

Canuck J.T. Miller said: “We just want to be comfortable in that situation. I know that’s easier said than done. If we want to be where we’re at, we’re going to be in that situation a lot, you know, up one or two going into the third period. We don’t want to change our game and sit back. If you sit back, teams are going to eat you alive.”

The Hurricanes aren’t dining on anyone lately, having lost four straight games in what has been a perplexing start for the analytics darlings who are annually picked to contend for the Stanley Cup.

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But even amid their mini-crisis, the Hurricanes are runaway NHL leaders in five-on-five shot share at 60.1 per cent (before Saturday). They also lead in shots on goal at 34.6 per game and shot-differential at plus-10 per game.

Yes, there are a lot of empty calories in there for a team that emphasizes shot volume.

But Carolina’s 24 shots on goalie Thatcher Demko matched its second-fewest this season. Ten of those shots came in the third period. And only 14 of them came at even-strength.

Five power plays, including two too-many-players penalties against the Canucks, got the Hurricanes into the game and brought them within a goal when Brady Skjei scored in the final minute of the second period after Vancouver defenceman Quinn Hughes jumped on early on a change.

The Canucks essentially disarmed the Hurricanes at even strength. It’s like they took fire away from the dragon and dared it to beat them by spitting sunflower seeds instead. The Hurricanes came close.

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“We knew the kind of game we had to play,” Vancouver defenceman Tyler Myers said. “I think it’s a sign that we’re maturing as a group. This is the way games are going to be later in the year, so we need to be ready and prepared for that type of fight. We knew they were going to come out hard in the third and they got the tying goal there early. 

“But I love how our group stuck with it and Petey had a big goal for us to go back ahead. We just played a really solid game — one of our more consistent games. We’re starting to do the things again to allow us to be successful. We need to realize it’s a good formula and get more consistent with it.”

After skating in quicksand at the start of Thursday’s 2-0 win against the Minnesota Wild, the Canucks have built five straight periods of solid defending and puck management. They’ve also won consecutive games for the first time since Nov. 15.

“We knew what kind of team they are and what kind of game it would be,” Pettersson said. “We talked about it and I think we executed mostly well tonight. It was a very grinding game but I’m happy with our team performance.”

He should be happy with his own. After scuffling along with the Canucks in the second half of November, Pettersson had a goal and two primary assists in 19:45 of ice time, and suddenly has seven points in the first four games of December.

“I mean, I’m always trying to be the best version or best player I can be every game,” Pettersson said. “Honestly, sometimes it’s not going the way you want. It’s just always trying to find (your way) back to the groove.”

It looks like he’s got his groove back. The Canucks are starting to rediscover theirs, too.

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