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Canucks score four unanswered in wild comeback over Oilers
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Canucks score four unanswered in wild comeback over Oilers

The Vancouver Canucks pulled victory from the jaws of defeat in a thrilling comeback win in Game 1 against the Edmonton Oilers.

Game 1 was over. Finished. Kaput.

The Edmonton Oilers had waltzed into the Vancouver Canucks’ rink and run roughshod over the home team in the first period to take a 2-0 lead. Then they withstood the Canucks’ attempts to push back in the second period to score twice more against the flow of play.

Up 4-1 with less than half the game remaining, it seemed like the Oilers had locked the game away. More than that, it felt like they had proved right all the doubters who labeled the Canucks the heavy underdogs heading into this series. 

It was a dark four minutes.

But the Canucks, at least, never lost hope.

“This team has a never-give-up mentality,” said Elias Lindholm. “We were down 4-1 but it still felt like we could come back.”

“We all watched the Real Madrid game today,” quipped Nikita Zadorov. “They scored two goals at the end to make the Champions League finals. That was our inspiration — at least, it was mine.”

First, Lindholm chipped away at the lead before the end of the second period, letting a little light into the darkness. Instead of being down by three goals heading into the third period, it was just a two-goal deficit.

Then, in an electrifying five-minute span, the Canucks scored three more goals to turn a seemingly certain loss into an incredible, improbable, implausible win. 

It didn’t seem real even as it unfolded materially in front of the eyes of thousands of cheering fans. But, with the benefit of hindsight, the impossible almost seemed inevitable.

After the Oilers scored their fourth goal, they didn’t have another shot on goal until the Canucks took the lead. It was nearly 23 minutes of game time without a single shot. The Canucks simply took over the game. With that in mind, it’s easier to see why the Canucks didn’t fold under the pressure: they knew they were outplaying the Oilers.

“When you play well, it’s easy to stay positive,” said Zadorov. “When you play like shit, then it’s hard to stay positive. It felt like we were controlling the game pretty well at 5-on-5.”

The first-round series against the Nashville Predators, with their collapsing to the middle and blocking dozens of shots made erasing a 4-1 lead seem like an impossibility but the Oilers are not the Predators. The Oilers are far more vulnerable. The Oilers can be broken.

Besides, the Canucks managed a pretty miraculous comeback against the Predators too. If they could do it against the Predators, why not against the Oilers?

“You’ve obviously been down and come back before, so there’s a confidence level there and there’s composure there,” said Garland. “But that’s not a team you really want to do it against a bunch.”

True enough. I saw hopefully the last incredible comeback the Canucks will need against the Oilers this series when I watched this game.

  • Let’s just all take one big collective breath because that was one of the wildest, most unexpected comebacks I have ever seen and I’m still not sure I have fully wrapped my head around it. 

     
  • This game started off incredibly poorly for the Canucks but, since they won, we’re going to start the bullet points off on a positive note: The Canucks held Connor McDavid to zero shots on goal, the first time any team has managed that feat in a playoff game. In fact, the Canucks out-shot and out-chanced the Oilers with McDavid on the ice at 5-on-5, with J.T. Miller’s line leading the way in a match-up role. We haven’t seen a Canuck shut down McDavid like that since the halcyon days of Cole Cassels.

     
  • “He’s fast out there, so it’s just staying above and not giving him too much space,” said Lindholm. In other words, the formula for stopping McDavid is surprisingly simple. But simple doesn’t mean easy.

     
  • The last thing the Canucks wanted out of the opening minute of Game 1 against the Oilers was to put them on the power play and it’s something they repeatedly emphasized. So, of course, Ian Cole jumped on the ice early for a too-many-men penalty 40 seconds into the game. It’s like when there’s a creek right in front of a tee box and I tell myself repeatedly not to hit the ball into the creek — I’m definitely going to hit the ball into the creek. 

     
  • After the unforced error to put the Oilers on the power play, it seemed inevitable that the Oilers would score. To Cole’s chagrin, he ended up the victim of a pretty passing play to add insult to the injury of taking the penalty in the first place. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins passed the puck right through Cole’s legs to Zach Hyman at the back door, who gave it a completely unnecessary top-corner finish.

     
  • Things only got worse for Cole. He made a great read in the neutral zone to pick off a pass and jump up the ice but then threw the puck away once he got into the offensive zone. The turnover started an Oilers rush the other way but Cole again picked off a pass and, again, he threw the puck away, turning it over to Leon Draisaitl. Cole was handing out turnovers like a Grandma at a potluck. Draisaitl fed Mattias Ekholm for a point shot to beat Arturs Silovs, who had three of his own teammates screening him.

     
  • The Canucks at least were crushing Oilers left, right, and centre in the first period. Zadorov clobbered Evander Kane, Carson Soucy drilled Brett Kulak, and Elias Lindholm erased Zach Hyman. The Oilers got their licks in, including a hit on Quinn Hughes that was borderline boarding, but it felt like the Canucks’ hits made a bigger impact.

     
  • It wasn’t all bad for Cole, who helped the Canucks get on the board in the second period. Lindholm won an offensive zone faceoff — he went 14-for-18 in the faceoff circle — and Cole blasted a shot intentionally wide. The puck ricocheted off the boards like a bullet off Superman to Joshua at the back door for a wide-open net.

     
  • Elias Pettersson had a strong all-around game and looked decisive and dangerous with the puck on his stick. The only trouble is his linemates struggled to get the puck to him. This shift in the second period was the most frustrating instance, as Nils Höglander made a great play to create a turnover but then completely missed the opportunity to send Pettersson in alone. The rest of the shift, Pettersson kept finding soft areas in the Oilers’ coverage but neither Höglander nor Mikheyev could get the puck to him. 

  • Filip Hronek was feeling a little bit saucy in this game. At least twice, he tried tricking Oilers players into passing the puck to him by insistently beavertailing his stick on the ice. Both times, it worked, as first Darnell Nurse flung the puck around the boards to him, then Warren Foegele handed him the puck at the point. Unfortunately, neither time resulted in anything for the Canucks other than showing that Hronek is a bit of a naughty boy.  

  • The officials made the right call by not giving Mattias Ekholm a high-sticking penalty for his follow-through that caught Dakota Joshua in the helmet, but you have to admit it looked awfully suspicious when it at first looked like Ekholm had violently stabbed Joshua through the head with his stick. I don’t know if “it was a follow-through” is an adequate defence for impalement.

  • Cole’s nightmare game continued with the Oilers’ third goal. After Cole couldn’t keep the puck in at the Oiler blue line, he tracked back defensively as the Oilers attacked in transition. Everything was fine until Cody Ceci’s shot deflected in off Cole’s pants. Even his pants were betraying him in this game and when you can’t trust your pants, it’s probably best to change into your pajamas and go back to bed.

     
  • Before you call for the Canucks to crucify Cole and give you Barabbas, let’s keep in mind how good Cole was against the Predators and accept that sometimes a player will have a bad game. Ironically enough, the Canucks out-shot the Oilers 8-to-3 when Cole was on the ice at 5-on-5 but the Oilers scored on two of those three shots. 

     
  • At least Cole wasn’t to blame on the Oilers’ fourth goal. Less than a minute after Ceci made it 3-1, Zach Hyman rushed up the left wing and took advantage of a wide gap from Tyler Myers to get in tight and fool Arturs Silovs with an off-speed shot that took a deflection off Myers’ stick. Silovs should have had that one but he couldn’t get cleanly down into his butterfly.

     
  • Something to keep an eye on as the series progresses is the health of Leon Draisaitl. The Oilers star left the game midway through the second period, only to return and get heavy usage in the third period. On more than one occasion in the third, however, he looked uncomfortable and at one point went straight to the bench after taking a tumble in the neutral zone. The Oilers said it was just cramping and an equipment issue; we’ll have to wait and see.

  • I cannot stress enough how much the mood in the building was very “Oh well, I guess we’ll get ‘em next game” after the 4-1 goal. There were a decent number of Oilers fans in attendance, who got in a few, “Let’s go Oilers!” chants that were barely opposed in those few bleak minutes. It made the resultant comeback all the more stunning and unexpected.

     
  • A heavy shift by the Good Job Lads — Conor Garland, Dakota Joshua, and Elias Lindholm — shifted the momentum in the Canucks’ favour. They were forechecking so hard that we should call it fivechecking and it led to a bounce that was way better than that joke. Lindholm tried to centre to Joshua but his pass banked off Stuart Skinner’s stick and slid just inside the post.

     
  • “I would say after Lindy’s goal to get it back within two, it was right there,” said Joshua about the difference that goal made. “You’re two shots away.”

     
  • The Oilers didn’t get a single shot after their fourth goal until the Canucks took the lead but there were some close calls that required big defensive plays. Pius Suter’s fantastic back pressure on one shift broke up a chance for McDavid, then he poked away a McDavid pass to Mattias Janmark to end the possession like he was John Constantine.  

  • Pettersson played his part in preventing McDavid from getting a shot on net. With more room on the ice at 4-on-4, McDavid was at his most dangerous, wheeling out of the defensive zone at top speed, but Pettersson was able to get a piece of the breakaway pass, then dove out to poke the puck off McDavid’s stick. It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done. 

  • Later on the 4-on-4, J.T. Miller drew the Canucks within one with one of the most ridiculous tips I’ve ever seen. And I was in high school during the heyday of frosted tips, so I’ve seen some pretty ridiculous tips. Brock Boeser sent the puck down low to Miller and it looked like a regular pass to keep the offensive zone possession going. Instead, Miller perfectly angled his stick to deflect the puck just inside the near post past Skinner from an absurd angle. 

     
  • “Listen, I’ve practiced that every day for ten years and I’ve never had one go in,” said Miller after the game to Sportsnet 650. “It worked perfect, little fortunate.”

     
  • The Canucks were still down by one but not for long. A few minutes later, Teddy Blueger skated onto a Nils Höglander chip in and executed a lovely little buttonhook to buy himself some time until Nikita Zadorov could join the play. Blueger put the puck in Zadorov’s wheelhouse and he stepped into it like Jason Derulo into a pair of pants. Just like Silovs on Edmonton’s second goal, Skinner was screened by his own teammates.

     
  • “Teddy made a great play,” said Zadorov. “He made a delay, with a lot of room for me to get a shot through. Luckily it hit the net and the goalie was screened.”

     
  • Less than a minute later, Garland blew the roof off Rogers Arena with the game-winning goal. Zadorov made a heads-up stretch pass to Joshua in the neutral zone and he held the puck and drew in a defender before sending Garland in full flight down the right wing. Garland made like Darryl Sittler in the 1976 Canada Cup and faked a slap shot to freeze Skinner, then slid the puck five-hole.

  • “I’ve scored that goal a couple times in my career,” said Garland. “You just try to open up the goalie and slide it through and see where it takes you.”

     
  • About the only thing better than Garland’s game-winning goal was his mean-mugging goal celebration, as he stared down his teammates like a total badass. This is the raddest Garland has ever looked.

  • Tocchet has repeatedly emphasized the importance of holding onto pucks against the Oilers — not just throwing the puck away when under pressure but holding possession and looking to make a play. Both Blueger’s assist on Zadorov’s goal and Joshua’s assist on Garland’s goal are prime examples: both could have dumped the puck and got on the forecheck, but instead held the puck and looked for a better option.

     
  • “He’s done that all year,” said Garland of Joshua. “I think I have a couple goals like that this year — I can remember one in New Jersey — where he just holds it, holds it, holds it, and makes the D get their feet stopped. That’s what makes him such a good player: his poise and confidence with the puck in the open.”

     
  • “We’ve talked about it before this series and we talked about it in between periods: you’ve got to hold pucks,” said Tocchet. “Sometimes it’s okay just to hold a puck in a battle situation. We get in trouble when we throw pucks away. There were some good times where we did hold it…but we’ve just got to keep that mentality. It’s hard to do and it wears on you because you’re gonna get hit, you’re gonna battle, and you’ve gotta move your feet. It’s taxing but if everybody does it, I think it’s winning hockey.”

     
  • Tocchet was fired up as the final horn sounded, belying his typically stoic nature. He nearly ripped several fans’ hands off with his exceptionally enthusiastic high-fives. He was so fired up, in fact, that he was a little bit embarrassed about it afterward.

  • “That’s usually not me,” said Tocchet. “I don’t even know if I cheered when Lindy had that overtime goal in Nashville. I don’t know, I just liked the demeanour of the guys and just let it out. I don’t know, I just liked the way these guys came back and were resilient. But it’s Game 1, you know? I actually don’t like seeing me doing that, to be honest with you. I really don’t. Not Game 1.”

     
  • Five wins down; eleven to go.