VANCOUVER – With a deficit in the standings and a lead in the game, the Vancouver Canucks’ late rally Monday still felt more like two points lost than one gained.
After Brock Boeser forced overtime for the Canucks with a post-and-in wrist shot through traffic that tied the game with 30.2 seconds remaining in regulation time, Johnny Gaudreau’s sharp-angle one-timer on a four-on-three power play 23 seconds into OT gave the Calgary Flames a 4-3 win at Rogers Arena.
The point was still important for the Canucks’ confidence. They outplayed their opposition for a fourth straight game, but have only one win over that span and badly needed something to show for Monday’s effort.
But the six-game losing streak that ended Saturday against the Flames has left the Canucks will little margin for error in the National Hockey League’s North Division, and a couple of glaring mistakes with the puck kept them from taking both points on Monday.
Instead, the Flames crept a point farther ahead.
“I think we’re happy we had the pushback and got it to the overtime,” Canucks captain Bo Horvat said. “Obviously, it sucks not getting that extra point. In my opinion, it shouldn’t have gotten to overtime in the first place.
“Tonight, again, I thought we carried the play the majority of the game and tested Marky pretty well. But we made a couple of mistakes and they capitalized on it. We’ve just got to tighten it up even more. We’re going in the right direction, but we have to be just that touch better.”
Former Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom, who had looked untouchanble against his old team until it beat his new one 3-1 on Saturday, was beaten by Boeser on the tying goal as the Canucks played shorthanded but with their netminder on the bench for another skater.
It was the only shot to beat Markstrom over the final 45 minutes.
But the Canucks’ real missed opportunity was in the first period when they had four straight power plays near the start of the game. It felt like Vancouver might win the game then, and it was halfway there with a 2-0 lead after 15 minutes.
But Vancouver’s fourth line began a defensive-zone shift with 1:17 left in the opening period, couldn’t get out of its end and surrendered a key goal to Calgary with 25 seconds remaining.
Several times this season the Canucks have allowed goals in the final minute, changing momentum.
Milan Lucic’s goal from the slot – he was left unchecked by Jay Beagle after Jake Virtanen had the best chance to clear the zone but failed – got the Flames back in it and Calgary scored two more in the second to seize the lead.
Horvat turned the puck over by shorting his pass to Quinn Hughes on a three-on-two rush, and on the Flames’ counter-attack, Elias Lindholm wristed a 25-footer past goalie Thatcher Demko to make it 2-2 at 10:40.
“It was just a pass that should have been harder,” Horvat said. “It was just a little miscommunication between Huggy and I. Ultimately, I’ve just got to move that over to him quicker.”
That miscommunication was nothing compared to what came next for the Canucks.
Calgary took the lead five minutes later when Vancouver defenceman Nate Schmidt went Steve Smith by trying to pass in front of his goalmouth from behind the red line.
Dillon Dube got his stick on Schmidt’s pass, which ricocheted into an unsuspecting Demko, who was scrambling back into his net after giving the puck to Schmidt. With the puck somewhere in his feet, Demko sprawled trying to find it and knocked it into his own net at 15:51.
Schmidt said a few days ago he’d never experienced in his NHL career the bad luck he suffered last week when, in consecutive games, he kicked the puck on to an opponent’s stick on one goal and had a double-deflection bounce off him into his net for an own goal. Hopefully, bad things only come in threes because Monday’s mishap was the worst yet.
Still, the Canucks pushed back, outshooting the Flames 16-6 in the third period.
After breaking through against Markstrom on Saturday, the Canucks appeared to still have that momentum two days later. Tanner Pearson’s deflection of Hughes’ shot opened scoring at 3:52 of the first period, and Horvat doubled the lead during a two-man advantage at 14:44, scoring from the low slot after being teed up by Boeser’s quick relay from J.T. Miller.
But that was the only goal the first-unit power play produced on seven chances. After building the fourth-best power play in the league last season at 24.2 per cent, the Canucks are 20th through 19 games in 2021 at 17.4 per cent.
“There's been games where I've said that I think they've been good and they just haven't scored,” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “I didn't think they were very good tonight. I just didn't think they were sharp. Passing wasn't sharp, they were on the outside. When you get an in mini-series like this, teams do make adjustments as the series goes on and their penalty killers to did a good job tonight. But I thought our power play could have been better. You're not always going to score, but sometimes momentum is gained and lost with a power play.”
The Canucks failed on two third-period power plays before tying the game with their goalie out and Hughes in the penalty box.
“(Playing) .500 isn’t going to cut it,” Pearson said. “Every game is kind of a four-point game. . . playing everyone in your division. There’s no outside help; it’s all on yourself. We’ve got to keep getting points here and start stringing some (wins) together.”
The Canucks and Flames end their four-game series Wednesday in Calgary.
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