Talk about a great start to the road trip for the Vancouver Canucks.
After posting a mediocre record of 2-3-2 on their most recent homestand, the team made their way south of the border, looking to turn the tide against Cale Makar and the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night.
Unlike their previous three games, the Canucks looked much more engaged and energetic at the start of the first period, registering three shots on goals in the first two minutes alone.
As expected, the Avalanche responded right away, utilizing their speed and physicality to create pressure in Vancouver’s end.
Fortunately for the Canucks, it seemed that Jaroslav Halak was up to the task.
The 36-year-old netminder had been quite dismal between the pipes for the past two months, allowing 14 goals in his last four outings, but appeared much more dialled in against Colorado’s high-octane star power.
Despite the initial pressure, Vancouver continued to create scoring chances on the transition but, similar to the Avalanche, were stymied by the opposing netminder in Darcy Kuemper.
Unlike Halak, Kuemper had been lights out recently, posting back-to-back shutouts and a .979 SV% in his past three games, and appeared to be in the same spectacular form on Wednesday night.
The two teams exchanged penalties halfway through the opening frame, with the best chance coming off of the stick of Nazem Kadri in the slot, but neither were able to capitalize on their glorious opportunities.
The bad blood started to boil over in last few minutes of the period, with Oliver Ekman-Larsson getting tangled up with Andrew Cogliano right after the Colorado forward caught rookie Vasily Podkolzin with a questionable knee hit.
The Avalanche made the most of the space and time during the 4v4 sction, relentlessly applying pressure and cycling the puck in Vancouver’s end, but were unable to beat Halak in the dying moments to keep the score level heading into the first intermission.
Both teams continued to exchange scoring chances in the first half of the second period, including a Podkolzin wrist shot that just barely missed the net, as well as an in-tight one-timer from Nicolas Aube-Kubel, but both Kuemper and Halak remained perfect between the pipes.
The momentum shifted in Colorado’s favour in the final few minutes of the middle frame, all thanks to consecutive slashing penalties against blueliner Quinn Hughes.
Like we’ve seen far too often this year, the Avalanche had no issues setting up shop in Vancouver’s end at the beginning of the man advantage, and were looking to build on the fourth-best powerplay in the league. The club did manage to register five shots on net during their two opportunities but, despite their strong efforts, were still unable to put anything past Halak.
Vancouver finally managed to open the scoring early in the third period, thanks to a Brock Boeser laser beam that beat Kuemper on his seventh shot attempt of the game.
The flood gates opened up for Vancouver shortly afterwards, with Tanner Pearson and J.T. Miller capitalizing on a 2-on-1. The play all began with Halak, who intelligently fired the puck up the boards and out of his own end.
The puck was eventually deflected to Pearson, who raced down the left flank before firing a wrist shot onto Kuemper. The Colorado netminder did manage to stymy Pearson with the left pad, but was unable to control the rebound, ultimately directing the puck towards Miller for his team-leading 25th goal and 70th point of the season.
As expected, of course, Colorado didn’t go down without a fight.
After Podkolzin was sent to the sin bin for his team’s fourth penalty of the night, the Avalanche went right to work. The puck eventually made its way onto the stick of Nathan MacKinnon, who immediately sent the puck towards the net. Halak managed to make the initial save on the in-close tip, but was unable to stop Kadri, who cut the lead to one with just over 15 minutes remaining in the period.
Colorado remained the more dangerous team following Kadri’s goal, hemming Vancouver in their own end on multiple occasions. The Avalanche also didn’t shy away from throwing their weight around, either, with defenceman Kurtis MacDermid hammering Matthew Highmore with a questionably high hit along the boards, sending the bottom-six forward straight to the quiet room for concussion protocol.
With just over two minutes left on the clock, Colorado pulled Kuemper from the net for the extra attacker, hoping to produce some last-minute magic to send this game to overtime.
However, like we saw all night long, Halak was ready for the task, making one last big save in the dying seconds before Bo Horvat sealed the deal with an empty-net tally.
Halak finished the evening with 32 saves, while Miller posted yet another multi-point performance, bringing his grand total to a whopping 22 on the year.
With the win, Vancouver was able to extend their positional lead over the Anaheim Ducks, who fell to Chicago by a score of 4-2 on Wednesday night. The team now sits just three points back of the Dallas Stars, who currently hold the second and final wild card position in the Western Conference.
More importantly, the team was able to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, with every player seemingly contributing and buying in to the bigger picture en route to one of their most impressive road performances of the season.
Could it be too little, too late for this organization at this point in the season? Quite possibly.
However, if Vancouver can continue to play this way for their remaining 17 games, they might be able to make this postseason push a bit more interesting down the stretch.
The Canucks are back in action on Thursday night, facing off against Kirill Kaprizov and the Minnesota Wild in the second half of their back-to-back. Puck drop is set for 5:00pm PST.
What are your thoughts from Wednesday’s impressive 3-1 win in Colorado? Let us know in the comments!