I hope not. Just like the team we write about here is not about to get into any "tanking" ( not in the weak Pacific. They're in the playoff race as a result of the division's ineptitude ), I think the overlords feel good about tapping one of the vets. At least I hope so ! Although the "kids" have performed excellently. I'll do my best to maintain their standards.
The team came into this one coming off a run of 5-3-1 in their last nine. A win tonight against a somewhat puzzling Tampa team . Tapped as a division leader preseason, they are currently 5th in the Atlantic, just 3 points ahead of their host's 41 points. Their Top Three pick in 2013 is unhappy and wants out, and who knows if Stamkos will re-sign. Points to be had ( unless you are a proponent of tanking, then they have no chance against a team with so much more high end talent, and the Canucks should not even ice full lineups for the remainder of the season, to accumulate the most ping pong balls they can ! ), or points lost ?
Instead of Ben Bishop and Ryan Miller, ( though he backed up and is close, Markstrom has been excellent, with a .929 and only allowing 2 or less in his last 6 games ) it was the battle of the back ups, as Andrei Vasilevsky and Jakob Markstrom were given the net duties. With Poutine and Meatballs back for now, and " Big Country " Virtanen playing with Cracknell and Higgins to start ( and Vey and Higgy later. Once Sutter gets back and Vey goes back to the AHL, the Canucks may have something going once Whiteboard Willie gets the scented markers out and goes to town ). The lineup is still not totally there, but did have some balance at times tonight, due to Willie's machinations.
He made a few changes from the lineup that beat Eddie Lack's new team. ( Great move by Willie to give the first shift to Virtanen with the Twins, BTW ). Maybe Big Country was energized by that, or maybe he is just a good player, but he was the best Canuck player in the first, no doubt. One shot, two hits, one takeaway in 8 shifts and 5:36 TOI.
It was a tail of two starts in the first period, with the Lightning dominating the first 7-8 minutes, getting a goal 3:41 in when Killorn outwaited Markstrom after both Tanev and Edler made bad reads on the play. After getting outshot 5-0 in that time span, it was a dominant Virtanen shift twelve minutes in that turned the tide. That was followed up by another good shift, and then the first of two penalties against the visitors, when Callahan put the grab on Ben Hutton.
That one had some decent zone time and a Daniel Sedin shot, but it was on the second one ( a hook by Killorn on Virtanen ) when Bo Horvat continued his strong play. He came off the bench on the change, roared up the middle, and made a perfect pass to Sven Baertschi when the goalie and defenders went to him for the tying goal into an empty net. After being outshot 5-1 early, the Canucks had made it 7-6 by that point, and the shots ended up 8-6 for the home team.
Numbers after twenty ; Bo Horvat was 4 of 5 on draws, and had an assist in only 4:36 ice time over 8 shifts. Hutton had 8 shifts and 6:22, but it was Edler, with 10 shifts and 7:34 TOI that lead his team. Henrik Sedin had 2 shots to lead the team early.
The second period was one that Alexander Edler would like to forget. This is not to blame him, though it was his fault on this night that the game changed. ( sorry Eddy, you get the goat horns tonight ) The Canucks looked to be having solid breakouts, and were playing solid 1-1 hockey until Edler lost his bottom hand on his stick at just the wrong time, and got Nikita Kucherov in the mouth to draw a four minute minor. The Canuck penalty kill did yeoman's work killing off that four minutes...but...
Mr Edler then took himself off the ice with an inexplicable WWE style takedown of Condra at centre ice. The Canucks killed that one off, and actually did a good job in the period. The two straight calls against, however, took the team out of it's four line rotation ( that was getting guys like Virtanen open ice because that is what happens when you can roll four lines and at least two or especially three lines can "get going" ) The ice time tells us that he did not play that much less, as he had 11:06 in ice time through forty minutes. And the second was a period where both teams had great chances. Bo Horvat had a great rush, and there was a double deflection that Markstrom ( who was very good tonight ) stopped somehow, but the score ended up tied after two periods. Or maybe I am just rationalizing because they looked so much shittier by comparison in the third against a team playing a back to back with travel.
Second period digits ; Henrik Sedin came back from a 2 for 6 first period on draws to go 6 for 12 after two periods. He was tied with a suddenly shooting Radim Vrbata ( none after twenty, 3 after forty ) with 3 shots. Big Country had 1 shot, 1 miss, 2 hits and a takeaway to this point in 12 shifts and 7:50 TOI.
( I did not watch it, because I was watching the Bengals implode in the most insane way ever in the playoffs. I mean EVER in their rivalry with the Steelers, losing yet again in the most painful for the fans way possible. But it seems that Elliotte Friedmann was doing that "say something mildly controversial to provoke Canuck Twitter, then get HNIC a social media hit by responding to it there" again. It is effective, so I expect it may happen some more, even as it gets old fast. Are we that predictable Elliotte ? Or is this what passes for "edgy" in the new CBC / Rogers cabal ? Oh well... #sigh )
I wish that I could say the Canucks had a good third period. Let's just say it had it's moments for them, but the visitors simply played better. The Bolts won the shot clock battle in the third 17-5, and were full value for it. Credit the Canucks for keeping themselves in it, but it looked like they were playing for O/T. ( though I don't know why. They are now 1-8 in O/T, to go with a 3-2 shootout record. Not that scary, but loser points are loser points in the race for third in the Pacific, I suppose ).
Still, it was a debatable call, on a good enough night for the refs, that was another turning point. Yannick Weber did, technically "crosscheck" Tyler Johnson along the boards, but it was light contact, and Tyler put in an Academy Award worthy performance on the head snap. Don't put yourself in that position though Yannick, and give the refs an excuse, is what the coach will say. The Canucks tried to kill it off, but even though the Bolts were 0-20 ( and are 0 for 21 on the road, with the 29th road PP still ), this was an under ten minutes in the third PP, and it was by far their best on the night. The Canucks killed it off, technically, and Jakob Markstrom would have probably had the last second man advantage shot from Valteri Filippula, but for Edler having it go off his foot as he tried to block it, and through the goaltender's legs instead.
With the game 2-1, and the Tampa team playing their best at the "just dump it out now" game that good teams do to end games, it was looking a bit dire. But then Ben Hutton decided to go on a rush up the ice. A strong rush. A confident rush. He looked to play the give and go with Bo Horvat, and perhaps it was an attempt at getting Ben the tip, but the quick shot from Bo beat the goalie to get the game back to even again regardless, and gave him four in three games now.
It was insane. The Canucks must just shake their heads at this point. They had the majority of the puck, and chances in the three on three, and really should have scored a few times. In fact, it was because they had so much of the puck that they lost the game. ( even though the shots were 3-3 in that insane O/T, it just felt like the Canicsk should have potted one of their chances. )
Henrik Sedin was exhausted. Often in the stripped down extra time, it comes down to catching a team on the change, and with Hank trying to change after a long shift, Kucherov got the stretch pass from Namestnikov, and beat Markstrom on the breakaway for the winning goal.
Final math; Jake Virtanen ended with 10:04 TOI, and his 3 hits that led his team. Sven Baetschi and Hank had 3 shots each, but it was Vrbata with 4 to lead the team. The Canucks are the worst faceoff team in the NHL, and ended up at 28 for 56 in total. .500 ? Victory !!!
So, there it is. The team played hard, and got another point that may help them in the standings, but now @Stronbone1 and the hottest team in the NHL await. Oh well, the local puck media will be entertaining picking this one apart, and then Luongo will be here to distract us from the picking apart thereof.
Good times ! I will be back for the Carolina rematch, and then the Islander game, as well as the Penguins game to end yet another six game road trip. Until then...