It was a meeting between the two hottest teams in the NHL. Both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Vancouver Canucks were on seven-game winning streaks, just the second time in NHL history that two teams with active winning streaks of at least seven games have met, according to the inimitable Jeff Paterson.
One of these two teams was going to see their streak cut short, while the other would leave with an even more impressive eight-game winning streak.
Anyone hoping for an evenly-matched clash between two titans was in for a rude awakening, not to be confused for la rue d’awakening, which is when you’re driving down the road and you nearly fall asleep and suddenly startle awake when you almost get in an accident. Also, it’s a great episode of the cult classic cartoon Clone High.
Until there were five minutes left in the second period, you could convince yourself that these two teams were on even footing, that the Canucks were on par with one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, a legitimate Stanley Cup Contender-with-a-capital-C. The game was tied 2-2, the shots were even at 16 apiece, and the Canucks even had the momentum, having just scored the tying goal.
And then it all went to hell and no one even bothered to provide the Canucks with a handbasket.
In the space of three minutes, the Lightning scored four goals. Really, they scored five goals, but one of those goals was disallowed, on account of them scoring a goal earlier in the shift that got missed.
If you missed those three minutes, you must have been wildly confused when you returned to your television. When you left, the game could go either way, but it was likely to be a tight, one-goal affair, with neither team giving an inch. When you got back, the Canucks had given 63,360 inches.
You might be worried that you won’t know what to say to your Canucks fan friends on Wednesday if you did miss those few minutes or, heaven forfend, the entire game. Never fear. You can either just say, “Did you see that ludicrous display last night?” and you’ll be fine, or you can read the rest of this article, because I watched this game.
- The Canucks lost by seven to end their seven-game winning streak, which is, in one sense, a good thing. If you’re going to see a winning streak cut short, you might as well go all out. Blow it all to pieces. 9-2? That’s not enough: they should have lost 10-2 or 11-2. Let it be the kind of performance that jolts the team awake instead of lulling them into a false sense of security.
- What is somewhat alarming is that, despite the streak, it took just one loss for Canucks to once again be outside the playoff picture. They’re currently sitting in ninth place in the Western Conference, behind the Winnipeg Jets for the final Wild Card spot. It turns out a bunch of the other teams in the West have also been winning games, which is just bad manners if you ask me. Quite rude.
- (The Canucks have two or three games in hand on most of the teams ahead of them in the standings, so don’t flip any pools just yet)
- It really felt like two completely different games. The first game, even though the Lightning had some long shifts in the Canucks’ zone, the two teams looked pretty even. The Canucks created some great chances: Bo Horvat hit a crossbar on the power play in the first period and J.T. Miller got robbed by Andrei Vasilevski on a great setup by Elias Pettersson in the second period. If either of those two chances went in, we’re talking about a very different game.
- Then the Lightning completely took over the game. The goals came quick as some sort of incredibly speedy thing, like an electrical discharge or something. Jacob Markstrom, who had been instrumental in the Canucks’ streak, suddenly looked fallible, but it was hard to blame him too much, given the turnovers and defensive breakdowns in front of him.
- Let’s start with the good: Pettersson opened the scoring late in the first period for the Canucks on an odd play. He tried to set up Brock Boeser at the backdoor, but his saucer pass plunked the sprawling Jan Rutta directly in the face. Pettersson, as is his way, made sure Rutta was okay and apologized before skating away. Rutta, assured that Steven Stamkos would get the puck out, went to the bench for a line change, leaving Pettersson all alone. Whoops.
- Stamkos failed to get the puck out, as Boeser chased him down and intercepted his pass. He turned and fed the wide open Pettersson, who faked a deke to the backhand and tucked the puck under Vasilevski’s right pad as soon as the goaltender lifted it to push across. It was a lovely goal, made possible by a puck to the face.
- The Lightning’s first goal came off a turnover when Alex Edler sent a suicide pass to Jay Beagle. Instead of blowing up Beagle, Victor Hedman instead poked the puck to Ondrej Palat, who set up Tyler Johnson for the goal. Markstrom got a piece of the shot and the puck went off the crossbar, only for Johnson to get his stick behind Markstrom and backhand it in.
- The second Lightning goal came off a faceoff win on the power play directly to Stamkos on the left side of the faceoff circle and he generally doesn’t miss from there. That power play lasted two seconds, mainly because Tim Schaller stepped towards the faceoff dot instead of heading straight for Stamkos as soon as the puck was dropped. I’m not a penalty kill coach, but stopping one of the best goalscorers of his generation seems like a bit of a priority.
- The Horvat line stepped up to tie the game a few minutes later. Tanner Pearson chased down a dump-in, but couldn’t handle the puck. That turned to their advantage when Horvat faked a big slap shot and instead centred for Loui Eriksson, who got both his stick on the puck and a little lucky. His deflection careened off Hedman’s skate and in.
- Then things got ugly. Tyler Myers whiffed on a puck at the blue line, giving Alex Killorn a breakaway for the 3-2 goal. Then Oscar Fantenberg badly misplayed a 3-on-2 and Carter Verhaege ripped a shot off the back bar of the net, which was initially missed until Mitchell Stephens scored another goal seconds later. Stephens’ goal was wiped out, Verhaege’s counted, and the clock reset with the score 4-2.
- 31 seconds later, the Lightning made it 5-2 on a goal similar to their second: Beagle lost a faceoff in the defensive zone and Nikita Kucherov fired a shot from the top of the faceoff circle off the post, off the back of Markstrom, and in.
- 25 seconds after that, Erik Cernak made it 6-2, second a slap shot from the point through traffic to beat Markstrom. There was so much traffic it was like the Lightning was DDoS’ing the Canucks’ net.
- That was it: 4 goals in a 2:55 span. Markstrom understandably got pulled, bringing in Thatcher Demko to mop up what was left. It didn’t get any better for him in the third: a blocked pass gave Brayden Point room to make it 7-2. A pass from Troy Stecher to Edler was just off the mark and no one picked up Verhaege at the back door and he made it 8-2. Then, to cap it off, the Lightning got a 5-on-3 power play and set up Verhaege for the hat trick to make it 9-2.
- The Canucks’ defence looked disorganized, disheveled, and disarrayed. The pairing of Tyler Myers and Oscar Fantenberg looked particularly troubled, but every pairing had their issues transitioning the puck up ice and avoiding turnovers, and the Lightning’s forward depth wreaked havoc on their in-zone coverage.
- To make it even more painful, the Canucks couldn’t score on their own extended 5-on-3, with Vasilevski robbing Pettersson and Boeser on their chances. Boeser’s was the better of the two, though he had to take Horvat’s pass off his skate and couldn’t get the shot off as quickly as he would have liked, Vasilevski still had to make a marvelous blocker save.
- The game got testy near the end, as blowouts often do. I was honestly surprised that Edler’s big hit on Yanni Gourde didn’t lead to anything: he took a healthy run at the 5’9” Gourde and sent him flying, but nothing came of it.
- Instead, the match that lit the fuse was a hit by Jake Virtanen on Ondrej Palat. The hit looked a lot worse than it really was. While it initially looked like a hit to the head, Virtanen pretty clearly caught Palat on the shoulder on the replay. The worst thing you could say is that it was, as soccer announcers would say, a very cynical challenge. Virtanen blew up Palat and headed straight off for a line change, avoiding the ensuing scrum entirely.
- Poor Chris Tanev got the worst of it, as Tyler Johnson went after him while he was already in a headlock from Rutta. Johnson likely thought Tanev had delivered the hit, possibly confusing Virtanen’s 18 for Tanev’s 8.
- Virtanen initially was given a five-minute major, as the referees surely thought Virtanen had hit Palat in the head. They reviewed the replay, however, and reduced it to a minor penalty for charging. You could argue it wasn’t a penalty at all, but in a 9-2 game, taking Virtanen off the ice to ease tensions was probably the right call.