Canucks become their own worst enemy in third period collapse


VANCOUVER — Vancouver Canucks defenceman Noah Juulsen neatly summarized Valeri Nichuskin’s overtime winner Wednesday for the Colorado Avalanche like this: “Off my leg, off his head and in.”

But, Juulsen added: “I mean, we shouldn’t have been in that spot to begin with.”

Nathan MacKinnon’s power-play one-timer in overtime was mostly blocked by Juulsen, but as the puck ascended roughly towards Whistler, it struck the visor of Nichuskin in front of the Vancouver net and tumbled past goalie Casey DeSmith to give the Avalanche a 4-3 win in a game the Canucks led 3-0 until the final seconds of the middle period.

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That first Colorado goal, just so you know, was directed in by Mikko Rantanen’s stick with 1.8 seconds remaining after an Avalanche shoot-in was going to rim around to Juulsen but hit the photographer’s hole in the glass and bounced crazily towards the slot.

There was some bad luck to go with the dodgy calls that went against the Canucks, as their four-game winning streak ended while the Avalanche extended their run to five straight victories.

But, as Juulsen said, the Canucks never should have been in a spot where a bad call or bad bounce could cost them this game.

They led Nathan MacKinnon’s team 3-0 on home ice and were yielding next to nothing in scoring chances (and had allowed only 15 shots) prior to a defensive-zone faceoff that the Canucks actually won with 16 seconds remaining in the second period.

“That goal definitely gave them belief,” Canuck centre J.T. Miller, who scored 24 seconds into the game and set up Ilya Mikheyev’s first goal in 35 games at 2:44, lamented to reporters. “It’s all that team really needed. 

“Sh– happens though. We should be able to come up in the third, two-goal lead at home against one of the best teams in the league. I don’t understand any better reason to get up for that. It just sucks. 

“This (loss) is all us. We didn’t win our battles, didn’t execute our passes. We were dumping it in for no reason. No forecheck. They outplayed us, they deserved to win.”

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Averaging five goals and 42 shots over their previous four wins, the Avalanche had 16 shots through two periods and then peppered DeSmith with 17 in the third.

MacKinnon overpowered the Canuck goalie with a one-timer during a five-on-three power play at 3:19 of the third period after the Avalanche superstar had sold a softish one-handed hook by Ian Cole to put Vancouver two players down. But before the goal, Canuck Filip Hronek failed to clear the puck after Elias Lindholm’s clean faceoff win gave him time and space to do so.

Colorado tied it 3-3 at 8:43 when a review revealed that Ross Colton’s rebound shot from his belly, after DeSmith dove to stop Miles Wood’s wraparound, crossed the goal-line before hitting the goalie. But before that scramble, Lindholm failed to make a play with the puck to exit the zone and relieve pressure.

It wasn’t all the Canucks, like Miller said, but it was mostly them.

Vancouver just stopped playing, started treating the puck like it was radioactive and failed utterly to put the Avalanche defence under duress like it had been for most of the first two periods.

“There’s several things that we could have done differently to get a different result,” DeSmith said. “They have some incredible players and great special teams. You kind of have to do all the little things right. And I thought we did that for some of the game and I thought we lost it a little bit for other parts of the game.”

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Nikita Zadorov’s screened shot from above the left-wing circle made it 3-0 for the Canucks at 4:23 of the second period, and the defenceman who assisted on Mikheyev’s goal completed his Gordie Howe hat trick 37 seconds later when he fought Josh Manson.

The Avalanche defenceman was lucky to escape with only a minor penalty at 18:08 of the first period when he crunched Miller’s head into the glass on a hard takeout. 

Just five days ago, the National Hockey League suspended Ottawa Senator Parker Kelly for a similar hit on Los Angeles King Andreas Englund. That head shot was also initially ruled by referees to merit only a minor penalty.

“It’s fine,” Miller said, disappointing reporters while bolstering Manson’s case with the Department of Player Safety. “The guy plays hard. We’ve battled a lot over the years. I’m sure he didn’t mean to.”

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We’re not so sure. But we do know the NHL should help its referees by allowing them to review all head hits regardless of whether it is initially ruled a minor or major penalty. Manson’s blow was far more dangerous than it appeared in real time. And Miller, being Miller, didn’t lie on the ice although he did go directly to the dressing room.

Miller returned for the second period and finished with 17:17 of ice time and a 2-0 advantage at even-strength playing head-to-head against MacKinnon’s line.

After building the 3-0 lead, Miller said the Canucks played like they were hoping things would just work out.

“We gave them a little momentum and they took off from there,” Juulsen said. “Once they’re feeling it, they’re feeling it.”

Canuck feelings were far different by the end.

They play the Washington Capitals on Saturday.



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