‘We didn’t really finish’: Canucks shoot often but poorly in Game 2 loss

Filip Forsberg and Anthony Beauvillier had a goal and an assist each and the Nashville Predators blocked an astounding 32 shots to steal Game 2 against the Vancouver Canucks 4-1.

VANCOUVER — Never have the Vancouver Canucks shot so often, and rarely have they shot so poorly.

The only way injured goalie Thatcher Demko could have helped his team Tuesday was if he had traded his paddle for a regular hockey stick, taken a position in front of the Nashville Predators’ net and actually hit the six-foot-by-four-foot target that seemed to be protected by some force field — and every human being in the Predators’ organization.

The Canucks attempted 84 shots on Nashville goalie Juuse Saros, and forced him to make a save just 18 times. Until a late, meaningless Predator power play, Nashville had blocked more Canuck shots (34) than they’d attempted shots of their own against Casey DeSmith, who is suddenly a focal point of Vancouver’s first real playoff series in nine years due to a Demko injury that coach Rick Tocchet said will keep the star goalie out “week to week.”

The Predators’ first shot of the third period occurred with 1:53 remaining and was Kiefer Sherwood’s empty-net goal that capped a 4-1 victory as Nashville evened the first-round series at 1-1 with Game 3 Friday in Tennessee.

It is difficult to know what to make of this Canucks “loss” when they shattered the franchise playoff record for shot attempts, blocks and misses, and generated, according to naturalstattrick.com, 72.5 per cent of expected-goals-for at five-on-five.

Asked what he saw when shooting, Canuck centre J.T. Miller said: “A yellow jersey.” 

His team, alas, was dressed in blue and not its plate-of-spaghetti retro yellow and black. The Predators were the team in white and yellow.

Chasing a team like Nashville, which opened scoring at 74 seconds of the first period, is not a winning strategy. And if you’re going to earn four power plays as Vancouver did, you’d better score on one of them.

“We just can’t waver, can’t start trying to make pretty plays, pretty passes,” Miller summarized. “I mean, we made nice plays today; we didn’t really finish. Eight-five shots, it’s not like we’re not shooting the puck. I mean, it’s a lot of attempts. I don’t know, I don’t want to reinvent the wheel here. We did a lot of good things.”

The not really finishing part was an understatement.

Defenceman Nikita Zadorov, with a screened shot from the top of the left-wing circle, was the only Canuck to get a puck past Saros and into the net. And he did it 15:33 of the second period when it was already 3-0 for the Predators.

Elias Pettersson missed an open net from the slot that he would hit 19 times out of 20. Pius Suter steered Miller’s shot-pass wide of an unguarded cage. Conor Garland had a swing and miss on a pass across the top of the crease on another semi-open net, and Sam Lafferty appeared to have Saros beaten on a breakaway only to lose control of the puck.

Dakota Joshua scuffed a shot off the post while being hooked with Saros down, and another shot by Miller ricocheted flush off the iron from Predator defenceman Alex Carrier.

With six shot blocks, Carrier made 40 per cent of the saves DeSmith did. Predators Colton Sissons, Ryan McDonagh and Roman Josi each registered four blocks.

“I just think, keep doing what we’re doing,” DeSmith said. “I think the guys played great tonight and played well enough to win. And if we keep bringing that game, we’re not going to get every bad bounce. Some of those posts are going to go in and some of those empty nets we’re going to connect on.

“We have a lot of good leaders in this locker room who have been around the block and we know when we’re playing good hockey.  And I think right now, we are. A lot of things to like. Even though it’s a loss, it’s a good game to build on.”

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Attributing such an important loss to bad luck and untimely shooting is dismissive of a Nashville team that obviously has a lot of grit to go with its talent.

The Canucks need to be better. And, especially, Pettersson needs to be better.

His open-net miss that would have made it 1-1 with three seconds remaining in the first period was astonishing. So was his unforced, cross-ice turnover at his blueline that turned into Sissons’ rebound goal at 8:04 of the middle period.

“I put us in a bad spot, made a stupid play,” Pettersson said post-game. “It can’t happen. That’s a big hill to climb after my mistake.”

Of hitting the side of the net instead of the back of it from Quinn Hughes’ cross-ice pass during a Vancouver power play, Pettersson said:  “I just knew I had an open net. I think the puck stood on high edge, but either way I’ve got to score.”

Pettersson finished 0-for-9 at hitting the target on shot attempts and was minus-three.

“He’s a young kid,” Tocchet said of the 25-year-old who just signed a $92.8-million-US contract extension. “This is his first kind of taste of the pressure-playoff thing and, you know, this is good for him. He’s got to learn. He’s got to dust himself off and be ready for Game 3. And he’s got to be very decisive with the puck. I want to see him shoot the puck. Like, he’s got to take it. I think he’ll be fine. I mean, this is good for him. It’s a good learning lesson.”

But an expensive one since you get only four strikes before you’re out in the playoffs.

The Canucks have a travel day Wednesday, then practise Thursday in Nashville ahead of Game 3.

“We should be prepared for anything at this point,” Hughes said. “We’ve played almost 90 games this year and pretty much seen it all. They’re going to block shots; they’re obviously desperate at this time of the year. But I mean, a bounce here, bounce there, we could have had. . . a lot of goals.”

And yet, just one on 18 shots on net. The Canucks’ other 66 shots never had a chance.

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