Canucks Takeaways: After a return to form, division title all but locked up

Casey DeSmith turned aside 32 of the 33 shots he faced and Tyler Myers collected two assists as the Vancouver Canucks provided themselves with some breathing room in the Pacific Division with a 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers.

Playing the same opponent who launched their wonderful journey six months ago, the Vancouver Canucks beat the Edmonton Oilers again on Saturday.

But unlike Vancouver’s season-opening two-game sweep against the Oilers back in October, this victory wasn’t an upset or a statement game or part of a quaint, unexpected start for the long-struggling Canucks. It was for the Pacific Division title.

The Canucks looked Saturday like the formidable team they’ve become this season and beat the Oilers 3-1 to put a chokehold on what would be Vancouver’s first division title since 2013.

Seeing their lead on the Oilers shrink to three points from 12 in the last month, the Canucks’ win gave them a five-point cushion with two games remaining. 

Any point from those two games clinches the division title and home-ice advantage through the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs (should Vancouver advance). And even if the Canucks lose in regulation against the Calgary Flames, Tuesday at home, and Winnipeg Jets, Thursday on the road, the Oilers would still have to sweep their final three games over four nights in three cities to edge Vancouver by a point.

We hate the cliché, but there really aren’t any easy matchups when the playoffs open, and finishing first in the Pacific may earn a more difficult wild-card opponent than finishing second and getting a well-known division rival in the first round. 

So maybe winning the division doesn’t matter. But losing it certainly would have for the Canucks, especially since they have topped the Pacific for four months and worked so hard this season to rebrand the franchise that hasn’t played non-COVID playoff games since 2015.

Adding a division banner to Rogers Arena would be a massive achievement for a team that was widely picked before the season to be in the wild-card mosh pit but, already with 107 points, has built the third most successful regular season in franchise history.

After Canuck goalie Casey DeSmith kept the game scoreless with a handful of big saves early on, Sam Lafferty made it 1-0 for Vancouver at 19:44 of the first period when he beat Stuart Skinner on a three-on-two as Edmonton defenceman Darnell Nurse backed into his own goalie.

Pius Suter’s redirect of Tyler Myers’ shot-pass made it 2-0 at 11:00 of the second period. Evander Kane finally beat DeSmith with a deflection at 17:48 of the middle frame, but the Canucks surrendered only eight shots and two high-danger scoring chances in the final period and secured their 49th victory — and 43rd in regulation — when Dakota Joshua scored into an empty net with 1:47 remaining.


We’re just putting this out there for discussion, but there’s a chance the Oilers missed the best player on Planet Earth as McDavid sat out his third straight game with an undisclosed injury. But that still left Edmonton with about 17 more players than they had performing at the start of the season when the Canucks beat the Oilers three times in four weeks by an aggregate score of 18-6. McDavid had three points in the three games. Canuck captain Quinn Hughes had eight.

The most impressive aspect of Saturday’s win is how comfortably and efficiently the Canucks defended their lead in the third period. The great silver lining of the team’s offensive struggles the last two months is that the Canucks had to refine their defensive game — not as a bonus, which is what it was in most of Vancouver’s first-half victories, but as essential. It is a good way to be in the playoffs, when there will be a lot of 2-1 games in the third period.

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Appearing to finally buckle under the weight of filling in for injured starter Thatcher Demko, goalie Casey DeSmith allowed 12 goals in 59 shots in lopsided losses against playoff-bound teams his last two starts. He watched minor-league callup Arturs Silovs get a second consecutive start on Wednesday, when the Canucks lost 4-3 in overtime against the Utah Coyotes.

With Demko still not playing — he got extra work with goalie whisperer Ian Clark after the morning skate in Edmonton — it was a bold decision by the coaching staff to go back to DeSmith with the division title at stake on Saturday. But the veteran backup responded with one of his best and most meaningful games this season.

DeSmith stopped 32 of 33 shots, including four challenging ones on an Edmonton power play after J.T. Miller took a tripping penalty at 68 seconds. In the third, he stuffed Zach Hyman on a rebound after stopping Leon Draisaitl on a charge to the net.

This was a big game for the Canucks, but a giant one for DeSmith due to Demko’s lack of game preparation going into the playoffs.

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Something else reminiscent of the Canucks’ early-season success: scoring from the bottom six. Lafferty’s goal, partway through a line change, was the fourth-liner’s first in eight games and second in 21 games. And Suter, promoted back to a line with Miller and Brock Boeser, scored for the first time in 13 games — and just four games after he was a healthy scratch.

In a season of surprises, the Canucks’ scoring depth and bottom-six play-driving in the first half of the season were among the biggest. Vancouver will need more of it to go anywhere in the post-season.


Anyone still wondering about coach Rick Tocchet’s deployment of Elias Lindholm as a third-line centre instead of as a helper for Elias Pettersson in the top six should remember Saturday’s game. Playing between wingers Joshua and Conor Garland, Lindholm spent the bulk of his five-on-five ice time going head-to-head against Draisaitl.

And although shots were 6-6 and the Lindholm line generated just 35 per cent of expected goals, the Canucks’ third line was strong over the final two periods and didn’t yield much to the Oilers’ best forwards. Lindholm went 11-9 on faceoffs, had six shifts in the final 10 minutes and finished with 17:54 of ice time to lead Vancouver forwards. Miller logged 17:36, and Pettersson 17:33.


Asked in Edmonton about winning the division, Canuck coach Rick Tocchet: “Well. . . it’s not over yet, so I’m not going to answer that question. Listen, anytime you play late in the season meaningful games (it means) a lot. That’s something this franchise wanted for a long time, and these are the games we need. We’ve got a big one on Tuesday.”

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