The hockey gods aren’t always fair, and the Vancouver Canucks learned that the hard way on Sunday night.
After coming away with a much-needed point during Friday night’s 4-3 loss to Washington, the team looked to bounce back in a big way, facing off against Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third game of their current homestand.
The Canucks had been quite successfully prior to Sunday night’s contest, securing points in 17 of their past 22 games, but still needed all the help they could get to climb the Pacific Division rankings and to stay afloat in their current playoff race.
Tampa Bay, on the other hand, was living up to the massive hype that surrounded them at the beginning of the season, boasting a record of 37-15-8 to go along with their top-five status in the NHL
However, the Bolts hadn’t exactly been themselves as of late, dropping three straight games heading into Rogers Arena, with their most recent loss taking place in Edmonton just 24 hours prior.
As expected, head coach Bruce Boudreau iced a fairly similar roster to Friday, hoping that his players would be able to take advantage of their tired opponents. The most notable absence, however, appeared up front, with Elias Pettersson watching from the sidelines after not participating in the morning skate.
It was originally reported that the young Swede just needed to take the morning off as maintenance, but was then ruled out of the line-up due to an upper-body injury.
As a result, Vancouver was forced to recall Sheldon Rempal from Abbotsford to take Pettersson’s place. The 26-year-old has been red hot in the AHL lately, notching 26 points in his last 16 games, and was hoping to continue his scoring ways with the big club.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for Rempal or his teammates early on.
After nearly scoring the opening goal in the first two minutes, Tampa Bay continued to apply the pressure in Vancouver’s end, showcasing their strong movement and possession.
The puck found its way onto the stick of blueliner Jan Rutta, who threw a harmless point shot into a crowd of people in front of the net. The puck eventually made its way behind the cage to Pat Maroon, who threw it back out in front to an undetected Victor Hedman for the first goal of the game.
Tampa Bay made sure not to let up afterwards, once again pinning the Canucks in their own zone on multiple occasions. Vancouver did manage to finally retrieve the puck on the boards thanks to a smart play from Travis Hamonic, but it didn’t last very long as the 31-year old delivered it right back to Corey Perry, who slung the puck out front to teammate Ross Colton for an easy one-timer tally.
Like we’ve seen a handful of times this season, Vancouver was far too flat-footed and passive to start the game, surrendering 12 shots in just seven minutes. As a result, the team received an angry wake-up call from Boudreau during the first TV timeout, which fortunately appeared to work.
Vancouver was able to apply a fair bit of pressure on their next shift, leading to the first penalty of the game.
With Pettersson unavailable for the team, Boudreau opted for two defencemen on his primary unit, hoping that both Quinn Hughes and Oliver Ekman-Larsson would provide an offensive punch from the blueline.
The first unit did manage to contain the play in Tampa Bay’s zone for a good chunk of the man advantage, registering two shots on goal in the process, but their best chance came from Tanner Pearson on the second unit, who was denied in tight by Andrei Vasilevskiy in the dying seconds of the powerplay.
The Canucks kept up their strong gameplay for the remainder of the period, adding six more shots on goal while also keeping Tampa Bay off of the shot clock for nearly nine minutes.
Despite the increased efforts, Vancouver almost found themselves down 3-0 heading into the first intermission, thanks to a Steven Stamkos bullet that flew past Thatcher Demko. The play was eventually called back after a successful offside challenge, keeping Tampa Bay to just two goals after 20 minutes.
Vancouver did manage to register the first shot of middle frame, but ended up delivering the momentum right back to their opponent after Tyler Myers was sent to the penalty box for delay of game.
Fortunately, the Canucks didn’t allow Tampa Bay to properly set up on their powerplay opportunity, forcing the Lightning to move the puck under pressure and without much of a purpose. This successful shorthanded effort was primarily led by J.T. Miller and Bo Horvat, both of whom have show tremendous skill on the penalty kill lately.
The duo even managed to create a few offensive opportunities of their own towards the end of Tampa Bay’s powerplay, finding a way to maintain possession in the offensive zone. Both players were eventually denied by Vasilevskiy, who was searching for his league-leading 31st win of the year, but did manage to draw another penalty to send their team back to the powerplay.
Vancouver made sure not to waste any time of this man advantage, showering Tampa Bay with a flurry of shots right off the bat. The best opportunity came off the stick of Brock Boeser but, like his teammates, was stymied in tight by the former Vezina Trophy winner.
The Canucks continued to apply the pressure when they returned to even strength, with Miller and Rempal exchanging glorious scoring opportunities against Vasilevskiy for the team’s 21st and 22nd shots of the game.
Tampa Bay did manage to create some pressure of their own shortly after, highlighted by a strong net-front battle between Maroon and Luke Schenn that eventually led to the second powerplay of the game for the Bolts.
Tampa Bay did look much better on this powerplay attempt compared to their first, but still couldn’t get anything past Demko, who robbed Stamkos on two separate occasions to keep the score at 2-0.
Vancouver finished the second period two ahead of their opponent’s on the shot clock with 27, hoping that they could muster up more third period magic like they did on Friday.
It appeared that the Canucks had their wish granted just under six minutes in the final frame, which all started with the speedy Conor Garland beating out an icing call.
The 25-year old forward immediately delivered a crisp pass to Miller in front of the net, who wasted no time sending it past Vasilevsky to cut the lead to one. Miller’s goal also extended his point streak to 12 games, dating all the way back to February 12th against Toronto.
It appeared that Vancouver was able to tie the game up moments after, thanks to a greasy goal by Garland, but were ultimately screwed over in the end by the referees, who blew the play down too early without realizing that the puck was still live.
The bad fortune continued in the final 10 minutes for the home team, whose four-minute high-sticking review eventually turned into nothing after it was determined that the stick-to-face contact was actually the result of an accidental follow-through.
Vancouver did manage to outshoot their fatigued opponents by a margin of 36-31 after 60 minutes, but it was all for a losing cause in the end.
With the defeat, Vancouver’s record fell to 29-24-7, keeping them in fifth place in the Pacific Division behind the struggling Vegas Golden Knights, who were also unable to secure a victory on Sunday night.
Looking back on this game, there’s no doubt that the Canucks were the stronger team in the final two frames. However, Tampa Bay managed to take advantage of yet another poor first period start from the Canucks before handing over the reigns to their world-class netminder, who stopped 35 of 36 shots faced.
Vancouver is now 1-1-1 on their crucial seven-game homestand, and will be looking to rediscover their winning ways on Tuesday night when Jack Hughes and the New Jersey Devils visit town.
Puck drop is set for 7:00pm PST.
What are your thoughts from Sunday’s 2-1 loss against Tampa Bay? Let us know in the comments!