The Vancouver Canucks have finally broken the 12-year curse, and they made sure to do it in emphatic fashion.
The team entered Rogers Arena on Tuesday night, looking to exact revenge against Jack Hughes and the New Jersey Devils.
It hadn’t necessarily been a disappointing homestand for the Canucks so far, who posted a 1-1-1 record in their first three games; however, Vancouver knew that they needed to put together a full 60-minute performance against the Devils, a club that they haven’t been able to conquer since February 2014, while also getting back into the win column to maintain their position in the current playoff race.
Unfortunately, the team had to embark on their hunt for two points without Elias Pettersson, who was sidelined for the second straight game due to an upper-body injury; instead, the team recalled centre Nic Petan from Abbotsford to slot in down the middle, hoping that the 26-year-old would provide some spark and offence into the bottom-six.
The Canucks have been rather impressive when registering the first goal of the game, going 15-2-2 over that span; unfortunately, the same can’t be said when surrendering the first goal, with their 6-7-3 record providing more than enough evidence to support that claim.
And even with the difference in points between the two clubs, Vancouver knew that they couldn’t start the game flat-footed, much like they did during the 7-2 beatdown in New Jersey a few weeks ago.
Fortunately, the Canucks received that message loud and clear heading into Tuesday night.
After the two teams traded scoring chances to open the first period, Vancouver made sure to strike first, all thanks to (you guessed it) J.T. Miller.
The 29-year-old forward, who came into Tuesday’s contest on a 12-game point streak, found himself alone with the puck in New Jersey’s zone. Instead of dumping it in to complete the line change, Miller circled back to the neutral zone, making sure to bring along a few of his opponents with him.
As soon as a small gap opened up, Miller was able to dish the puck to a streaking Brad Hunt, who fired a slapshot past Nico Daws to open the scoring for the home team.
With the primary assist, Miller extended his point streak to an astounding 13 games, bringing himself within just two games of tying the franchise record currently held by Todd Bertuzzi and Peter Nedved.
Vancouver continued to apply the pressure against New Jersey shortly after the Hunt goal, creating numerous opportunities in their opponent’s end in hopes of extending the lead, including a pretty cross-ice passing play between Miller and Conor Garland that was eventually denied by Daws.
A few shifts later, head coach Bruce Boudreau deployed the line of Nils Höglander, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser to see if they could make some noise. The trio was able to maintain strong pressure in the offensive zone, with Boeser controlling the puck behind the net before sending it to Horvat in front.
The captain was initially denied on the attempt, but Höglander made sure he was there to clean up the rebound out of midair for his 10th goal of the campaign with just under 10 minutes left to go in the first period.
Vancouver became a little sloppy after the goal, poorly executing a line change that forced Thatcher Demko to make a key save in tight, his second of the period.
This seemed to spark New Jersey, who were able to swing the momentum in their favour for the rest of the period. Similar to the game a few weeks ago, New Jersey made sure to put their speed and puck movement on full display, particularly during their neutral zone rushes.
After establishing another zone entry, the puck eventually found its way onto the stick of blueliner Ryan Graves, who snapped a wrist shot past Demko to cut the lead down to one heading into the first intermission.
The Devils continued to be the stronger team to kick off the middle frame, creating two high-danger scoring chances in the opening minutes, including a partial breakaway opportunity for Jack Hughes, who took advantage of an Oliver Ekman-Larsson stumble at his own blueline.
Vancouver managed to counter with a breakaway opportunity of their own, all due to a nifty breakout pass from brother, Quinn, to Miller, but the alternate captain was once again stymied by Daws.
New Jersey didn’t let the scoring chance phase them, wasting no time to bring the game back to level. After Daws recorded yet another save in his own end, the puck was alley-ooped down the ice to Hughes, who blew past Tyler Myers before sliding the puck past Demko for his 19th goal of the season.
Vancouver was able to punch back with a few more shots of their own, including another wrister from Miller, who had already recorded seven shot attempts before the halfway mark of the game had even occurred.
Fortunately for the Canucks, their captain knew exactly what needed to be done to reignite the team.
After picking off a sloppy pass from Tomas Tatar, Horvat made his way down the left flank on a partial breakaway. Similar to Hunt, Horvat only needed to look up for a moment before firing a clapper at Daws that just managed to squeak through the German netminder to restore Vancouver’s lead.
Like we’ve seen very often lately, head coach Bruce Boudreau immediately deployed Garland, Miller and Tanner Pearson on the next shift to carry the momentum, and they made sure not to disappoint.
Similar to the opening goal, Miller was once again able to gain control in the neutral zone before sending the puck to Pearson on the wing. After entering the offensive zone and leaving the puck for Myers, Pearson continued his movement towards the front of the net, eventually putting his stick down on the ice and receiving a gorgeous slap-pass from Myers for the easy tap-in tally just 17 seconds after Horvat’s.
Pearson’s goal marked the end of the night for Daws, who gave up four goals on 21 shots before being replaced by Jon Gillies.
The new Devils’ netminder had to be sharp on his toes right away, with Vancouver continuing to maintain strong puck movement and possession in their opponent’s end.
New Jersey was eventually able to escape their own zone and took full advantage of the opportunity thanks to Nathan Bastien, who managed to beat Demko to the loose puck before he could cover it up to bring the Devils within one.
Things turned from bad to worse for the Canucks shortly after, with Tyler Motte making a four-minute trip to the sin bin with just over two minutes left in the second period.
Vancouver was fortunately able to kill off over half of the man advantage to round out the middle frame, but you’d be dead wrong to say that a handful of fans hadn’t become more nervous during the intermission given the close score, as well as Vancouver’s penalty kill.
Once again, however, Horvat knew exactly how to bring smiles back to the fanbase.
With seconds remaining on the powerplay, Horvat was able to receive an outlet pass from Hughes, eventually making his way just past the blueline with the puck before sending an absolute dart past Gillies for his second goal of the game.
Miller also managed to register the secondary assist on Horvat’s shorthanded tally, bringing his point count to an astounding eight goals and 19 assists in just 13 games.
Miller made sure to keep his foot on the pedal afterwards, with he and his linemates producing yet another strong shift en route to Vancouver’s first powerplay of the game with just 10 minutes left on the clock.
The team wasn’t able to capitalize on the man advantage, but they did manage to double up on their lead right after, thanks to a nifty tip-in from Juho Lammikko that ultimately sealed the deal for the home team.
In the end, Vancouver was slightly outperformed by the Devils over three periods, but they did manage to succeed on most of their scoring opportunities.
With the win, Vancouver was able to secure their 30th win of the season, while also coming within just one point of the Vegas Golden Knights for the second and final wild card spot in the Western Conference.
The Canucks also received strong performances from their top players, most notably Horvat, Miller, Hughes and Demko, which will undoubtedly need to continue if this team has any realistic chance of clawing their way into the postseason.
The Canucks will continue their homestand on Thursday night, facing off against Dylan Larkin and the Detroit Red Wings. Puck drop is set for 7:00pm PST.
What are your thoughts from Tuesday’s 6-3 win over New Jersey? Let us know in the comments!