Canucks rekindle confidence, momentum to close out eastern gauntlet

Elias Pettersson scored his 9th goal of the season, and Brock Boeser scored the eventual game-winner, as the Vancouver Canucks defeated the Nashville Predators 3-1.

You plan for Paris, France and end up in Paris, Texas. Then the airline loses your luggage and the hotel loses your reservation, everyone is crying and all you want to do is go home.

That’s about how the Vancouver Canucks’ road trip started. But it ended Tuesday with a boat ride down the Seine, past the Arc de Triomphe, and memories to last a lifetime.

OK, maybe it was nothing like that, but the Canucks still turned their holiday through hell into something memorable – maybe even something they can be proud of by beating the Nashville Predators 3-1 to end their misadventure on a two-game winning streak.

After a 10-day schedule break that cooled the team, amid a nine-game stretch of road games made possible by COVID and capacity restrictions in Canada, the Canucks opened their five-game odyssey by losing to the three teams at the top of the NHL standings.

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And the schedule at that point wasn’t getting much easier: the Washington Capitals on the second half of a back-to-back, then the Nashville Predators for the third game in four nights. And for each game, another player missing in COVID protocol.

At that point, winning the final two games seemed as daunting as a two-month playoff run. Going 0-5 was a safer bet than 2-3.

But the Canucks came back to win both, finishing their nine-game world tour at 5-3-1 and rekindling a little confidence and momentum as the team returns to Vancouver for its first home game, Friday against the Florida Panthers, since Dec. 14.

A live hockey game at Rogers Arena will feel like Retro Night.

“I learned that there’s a lot of heart,” Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau said of the trip. “There’s a lot of will and a lot of want. When we tied the game, you could see that we wanted this game a lot. It meant a lot to us to be able to go with a two-game winning streak home, where we haven’t been in over a month. I think the big thing is belief and want. These guys want it; they don’t want to. . . be thought of as a bottom-place team. A lot of them have hearts of lions and it showed in this trip.”

Hearts of lions. That sounds like a good thing.

Canucks Central
Post-Game: Elias Pettersson scores again as Canucks end road trip on a high
January 19 2022

DECEMBER DEMKO

No one was more disrupted by the unexpected schedule break than Thatcher Demko, who lost his rhythm after being the best goalie in the league in December.

Demko was noticeably off in the 5-2 loss against the Florida Panthers that opened the Canucks’ trip last Tuesday, and was the second-best goalie in Thursday’s 4-2 defeat against the Tampa Bay Lightning. But after backup Jaroslav Halak returned a positive COVID test shortly before Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, Demko was forced to play all five games. The repetition helped, and by Washington and Nashville he was back in MVP form, stopping 62 of 65 shots against the Caps and Preds, including everything he faced at even strength.

“It started to feel like we were playing our hockey again towards the end of the trip,” Demko said. “Kind of shook the rust off. I think it was huge to lose three and then bounce back and win two. It kind of felt like the last couple years, we were in situations where we might lose a couple, and then the third and then the fourth. I was proud of our group for stepping back up against a tough team in Washington on a back-to-back, answering the bell there and making sure we didn’t let this thing slide too far. And obviously following up today was huge again.”

PEACHY PETEY

When struggling forward Pettersson finally broke his slump by scoring twice in Washington, Boudreau said it was important to show it wasn’t a “one-off.” Pettersson came back on Tuesday with another elite game, playing back at centre and driving a line with rookie winger Vasily Podkolzin, 20, and sophomore Nils Hoglander, 21.

The trio was dominant, especially in the second period, and finished with a shots-for percentage of 75 and expected-goals-for of 80 per cent. Pettersson scored the tying goal at 7:23 of the middle period by burying the rebound from Podkolzin’s breakaway attempt after a quick-up by Demko and good pass by Hoglander.

“It’s amazing what a little confidence can do,” Boudreau said. “When Pettersson scored that goal and both Podz and Hoggy got an assist, it seemed like their whole mindset jumped up and they played at a level they hadn’t played at in a few games. Sometimes getting a point here or a point there, it’s really good for your mindset, especially for young players. They showed it today and we needed it.”

Pettersson’s ice time of 20:17 was his most since Boudreau replaced Travis Green as coach on Dec. 5.

“I think everyone can see the confidence he has now with the puck and those plays he’s been making over the last few games,” Boeser said. “That’s the Petey we all know and love. I mean, he could have probably had another two or three tonight.”

THE COVID CONUNDRUM

The Canucks won Tuesday without captain Bo Horvat, the latest in a series of one-a-day deposits into COVID protocol. Before the Washington game, key winger Conor Garland went into quarantine, following Halak from the previous day. These important Canucks are scattered across hotels around the Southeast and now will be unavailable for the three-game homestand that starts Friday.

Asked when the players might finish their quarantines and be allowed across the border to rejoin the Canucks, Boudreau said: “I hope it’s in the year 2022.”

The Canucks were trapped in a federal government quagmire following the last road trip when they flew Boeser, Justin Dowling and Phil di Giuseppe back to Canada on Jan. 3 after those players served the NHL’s five-day quarantine in the United States. As Canadian citizens, Dowling and di Giuseppe were forced to start new 10-day quarantines at home, but Boeser, who is from Minnesota, was allowed to return to the U.S. so he could join the Canucks in Florida.

It is believed Horvat, Garland and Halak will voluntarily do 10-day quarantines in their U.S. hotels before trying to get back to Canada.

THE LAST STAT

If we gave you three guesses who led the Canucks in road-trip scoring, you’d probably be wrong because the correct answer is Tyler Motte. The energy forward, who struggled after the coaching change and didn’t register a point in reduced ice time during his first eight games for Boudreau, had one goal and three assists on the trip. And he was probably deprived of another goal on Tuesday when he was chopped by Filip Forsberg on a breakaway with an empty net and was not awarded an automatic goal, as per the rulebook.

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