Markstrom spectacular, Pettersson has shootout winner for Canucks vs Flames
Saturday February 9 - Vancouver Canucks 4 - Calgary Flames 3 (SO)
Back at Rogers Arena for the first time in two and a half weeks, the Vancouver Canucks delivered full value to their fans with a thrilling 4-3 shootout win over the Western Conference-leading Calgary Flames on Saturday night.
Here are your highlights:
The setup had all the drama of a Hollywood blockbuster. The stakes were high, as the Canucks needed to keep pace in the playoff race after wins by Minnesota, St. Louis and Arizona and single-point overtime losses for Colorado and L.A. In the first act, the Flames were established as worthy adversaries as the teams traded goals to finish the opening frame tied 2-2. In the second, the Canucks came up against overwhelming odds as they were outshot 20-5 but managed to stay in the game. From there, it was on to the epic battle that stretched through the third and into three-on-three overtime—with both teams hitting goalposts to come within inches of the win.
In the end, our fair hero Elias Pettersson delivered the knockout blow with the first shootout goal of his career, capping off another amazing game.
First-star honours, of course, went to Jacob Markstrom, who had his second-busiest night of the year as he faced 47 shots—while playing his fifth game in eight nights, no less. The Canucks' season high for shots against was 49 in their 6-3 loss to Winnipeg on November 19, when the team was mired in its seven-game losing streak.
Markstrom was especially sharp against Johnny Gaudreau, one of the league's top snipers, who led the Flames with seven shots on goal but finished the night with just one assist.
Even in the midst of such a frustrating night, Gaudreau wasn't selected as one of Calgary's players for the shootout. Bill Peters elected to go with Matthew Tkachuk, Sean Monahan and James Neal, all of whom were stopped by Markstrom.
That prompted me to look at the Flames' team stats. As good as they've been this year, they're 0-for-3 in games that have gone to the shootout (5-for-8 in games that finished in overtime). Monahan has the Flames' only two shootout goals of the year—Saturday night was his first miss. Tkachuk and Neal are now both 0-for-3, Gaudreau is 0-for-2 and Elias Lindholm, Mark Jankowski and Noah Hanifin are each 0-for-1.
In his career, Gaudreau is 4-for-18, for 22.2 percent. And Matthew Tkachuk went 4-for-5 last season but hasn't scored at all this year. Funny how it works.
A bit surprising, too, to realize that Pettersson's goal on Saturday was his first in three shootout attempts. He made it look like he could pop those in all day, every day.
When Pettersson announced himself as a future NHL star in the season opener against Calgary on October 3, Travis Green conservatively played him just 9:46. The only time since then that his ice time has been in single digits was the night he was hurt in Montreal on January 3, when he played 9:08.
On Saturday, Petey played a busy 21:16, with two assists, four shot attempts, a giveaway, a takeaway, a block and three hits—on Garnet Hathaway and James Neal in the third period and on Sean Monahan in overtime.
The dishes were fantastic, but the most impressive part of Petey's game for me on Saturday was his defensive commitment. It's not a new thing, but he took it to a new level against the Flames—maybe in part because the blueliners can really use that helping hand with Alex Edler missing from the lineup?
Now that I've seen the Tanev-Gudbranson pairing in person, I'm even less of a fan than I was when I watched them on TV during the road trip. Gudbranson finished with a team-high three giveaways, all in the last four minutes of regulation. His scariest shift for me was a monster early in the second period when he got pinned in the defensive zone on the long change for a whopping 1:41. I didn't think that was going to end well, but after a number of failed attempts by the Canucks to clear the zone, Guddy eventually escaped to the bench just before the puck was iced, and disaster was averted.
Also on the blue line, it was another big night for Ben Hutton, who came in at a pretty-reasonable 25:49 but skated miles in the third period when he played 9:55, including 5:21 on the penalty kill. The hours he spent in the gym improving his fitness over the summer are paying off big for him right now—and should also have a positive impact on his bank account when he gets his new contract this summer.
Troy Stecher was actually the high-minute man on the blue line, with a season-high 26:16 of ice time, including 6:31 on the power play and 2:24 in overtime.
There's no denying Alex Biega's enthusiasm but all that energy can lead to some good moments and some bad ones. In 12:53, he had five shot attempts, a team-leading six hits and a giveaway. He also earned a high-sticking double minor while delivering one of the more memorable highlights of the year as we saw James Neal literally spittin' his chiclets.
And as I wrap up my gleeful recap, it seems that I'm burying my lede:
The Canucks have been one man under the roster limit since Edler, Sven Baertschi and Thatcher Demko went on IR, with only Guillaume Brisebois and Mikey DiPietro recalled.
The cries have been loud for Zack MacEwen to get a look at the NHL level. The 22-year-old Prince Edward Islander, who was signed by the Canucks as a free agent out of the QMJHL in 2017, had a goal and three assists in Utica's 5-2 win over Rochester on Saturday and is now up to 17-25-42 in 49 games with the Comets this season. This is his MacEwen's first NHL call-up. Just being around the team will be a great experience for him. It'll be interesting to see if he gets a look in game action over the next week, where the Canucks have another busy stretch with four games in six nights.
Most of the healthy Canucks are on the ice at Rogers Arena on Sunday for an open practice.
Don't worry about Markstrom, Sutter and Tanev—the three of them are just getting a day off. The team is back in action on Monday night, against San Jose.