After going 3-1 on their most recent east coast road trip, the Vancouver Canucks returned home on Wednesday night, facing off against Cole Caufield and the Montreal Canadiens to kick off a crucial seven-game homestand.
The team entered Wednesday’s match-up just one point back of the Anaheim Ducks, hoping to gain some ground in the extremely tight playoff race. Montreal, on the other hand, couldn’t be farther out of the postseason picture, sitting dead last in the league with a record of 15-34-7.
However, the Canadiens have slowly started to turn their gameplay around since the arrival of Martin St. Louis as their new bench boss. Despite no prior coaching experience, St. Louis has already made his mark on the team, leading them to a 7-3-0 stretch in their past ten games, while also proving that they won’t go down without a fight each and every game for the remainder of the season.
As expected, the Canucks didn’t make any changes to their roster, with head coach Bruce Boudreau icing the same line combinations from Saturday’s 6-4 win in Toronto.
The penalty box filled up for both teams early on, with Tyler Motte and Brent Kulak on the receiving end in the opening moments of the first period.
The Canucks appeared to be the stronger of the two clubs on the man advantage, maintaining consistent pressure and puck movement, but were only credited with one scoring chance, thanks to a redirection play between Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson.
The young Swedish centre kept his foot on the pedal after the powerplay, showcasing his skill and puck control alongside Conor Garland and Nils Höglander. The trio had a particular dominant shift halfway through the period, pinning Montreal in their own zone while also testing Sam Montembeault multiple times, but were still unable to open the scoring.
Despite outshooting Montreal by a margin of 5-1 at the halfway mark, the Canadiens still managed to find the back of the net first, taking advantage of a Luke Schenn pinch that left defensive partner Quinn Hughes all alone on a 2-on-1.
Fortunately, Vancouver made sure not to let the momentum swing in their opponent’s favour, with Travis Hamonic notching his second goal in as many contests to tie the game up at 1-1. The secondary assist was credited to J.T. Miller, who extended his point streak to 10 games.
Similar to the first period, Vancouver found itself back on the powerplay to start the middle frame, but were once again unable to generate any goals to regain the lead.
The Canucks continued to struggle shortly after the penalty expired, handing Montreal numerous glorious scoring chances but, like we’ve seen all season, were saved by Thatcher Demko between the pipes.
Demko, who entered Wednesday with wins in nine of his past 12 starts, once again held down the fort, robbing Montreal on a 2-on-0 before stymying their second powerplay opportunity of the game.
Vancouver was eventually able to reward their netminder for his hard work halfway through the second period, thanks to a nifty rebound goal from Boeser on the man advantage.
However, just like Vancouver in the first period, Montreal made sure to not to waste much time bouncing back, thanks to Artturi Lekhonen’s second goal of the game with just over five minutes to go.
Vancouver almost managed to regain their lead in the dying moments of the middle frame, but were once again foiled by Montembeault, who dove back to snag the puck before it crossed the goal line.
Like we’ve seen often in the past few weeks, Boudreau immediately deployed Miller’s line to open the third period, and it paid off right away.
After jumping onto the ice for his second shift of the period, the 29-year-old cut across the middle on the neutral zone, stripping the puck from Jeff Petry before wiring his 23rd goal of the season.
Vancouver continued to put their foot on the pedal following Miller’s goal, drawing another penalty near the eight-minute mark to send them to their fourth powerplay of the game.
The Canucks carried over the pressure from their previous opportunities, showcasing their strong puck movement and speed while up a man. The puck eventually landed on the stick of Pettersson, who undressed a few Montreal defenders at the blueline before blowing a wrister past Montembeault to double up his team’s lead.
Montreal managed to make the game interesting in the final few minutes, with Rem Pitlick bringing the Canadiens within one, but Vancouver was able to seal the deal with an empty-netter from Bo Horvat.
It wasn’t the strongest 60-minute outing from the Canucks, but the team still made sure to make the most of their opportunities, particularly in the third period, and that’s all you can ask for from a team that’s still in the thick of battle for a playoff spot.
With the win, Vancouver was able to jump over Anaheim for fifth spot in the Pacific Division, and now only sit three points back of the Dallas Stars, who currently hold the second and final wild card position in the Western Conference.
To no one’s surprise, Miller was awarded the championship belt following his four-point performance. Miller has been outstanding for Vancouver over the past few weeks, registering seven goals and 14 assists during his current 10-game point streak, including seven multi-point outings over that span.
Miller has also notched eight points in his past two home games alone, and will be looking to continue his red-hot play on Friday night when his team takes on the Washington Capitals in game two of their seven-game homestand.
Puck drop is set for 7:00pm PST.
What are your thoughts from Vancouver’s strong 5-3 win over Montreal? Let us know in the comments!