It wasn’t a glamorous win, but the Vancouver Canucks still managed to collect their third straight victory on Friday, beating the visiting Winnipeg Jets 4-3 in a shootout.
“They can’t all be Picassos,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau.
The result marked the first time all season the Canucks (11-15-2) have won three in a row. The team is undefeated since Boudreau took over Sunday night as the club fired former coach Travis Green and general manager Jim Benning.
Boudreau admitted Vancouver didn’t give their best on Friday, but the veteran bench boss still saw positives.
“I thought it was a really gutsy effort by the defencemen. Some of these guys are playing more minutes than they’ve ever played before and you’re playing a team like Winnipeg with speed after speed and they competed their rear ends off,” he said. “And what can you say about the goalie? He’s not bad.”
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Thatcher Demko made 34 saves for Vancouver, then turned away all three shooters he faced in the shootout.
He kept his team in the game’s opening frame with a pair of highlight reel-worthy saves.
Kyle Connor uncorked a rocket from the high slot late in the frame and Demko mimicked an MLB catcher on the stop. A thud echoed throughout the rink as the speeding puck hit his glove, followed by a volley of cheers.
Midway through the period, the Canucks goalie robbed Blake Wheeler, snatching a point-blank shot out of the air as he dove forward.
“They’re a good team. They’ve got good players,” Demko said of the Jets. “They’re sneaky, they can make some plays happen out of seemingly not so much. So you’ve got to be on your toes, especially with that top line out, the top two lines out.”
Elias Pettersson scored the lone goal in the shootout, deftly stick handling his way in and out waiting Winnipeg’s Eric Comrie, then wrapping a shot around the outstretched goalie.
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Nils Hoglander had a pair of goals for Vancouver, while Conor Garland also found the back of the net and Bo Horvat added a pair of assists.
Wheeler and Connor each had a goal and two assists for Winnipeg (13-9-5). Mark Scheifele also scored for the visitors, who blanked the Kraken 3-0 in Seattle on Thursday.
Comrie had 33 saves in his first start since Nov. 19.
Despite the result, Scheifele thought his side played a great game.
I’m not a doctor, but it’s going to be a while.— Jets head coach Paul Maurice on Blake Wheeler’s suspected knee injury
“It sucks shootouts are the way to end it. You wish you could just play 3-on-3 forever, until someone scores,” he said. “That’s just the way it is, we have to be happy with our game and look at the good things.”
It was a costly loss for Winnipeg, with Wheeler going down midway through the third period with an apparent knee injury.
“It’s going to be a while,” head coach Paul Maurice said of his captain’s prognosis. “We’ll get him looked at [on Saturday]. I’m not a doctor, but it’s going to be a while.”
Both the Jets and Canucks had stellar chances to put the game away in overtime, but Demko and Comrie each made magnificent saves.
Goalie interference on Dubois
Vancouver got an extra man for the final 49.6 seconds of extra time after Winnipeg’s Nikolaj Ehlers was called for tripping. The Canucks called a 30-second time out to scheme, but couldn’t get a puck past Comrie.
The two sides traded goals across the first two periods then locked in for a defensive battle in the third.
Winnipeg briefly appeared to take the lead 13:44 into the second when a puck slid into the Vancouver net off the skate of Andrew Copp. Vancouver challenged for goaltender interference, arguing a collision between Pierre-Luc Dubois and Demko had stopped the netminder from making the save. After video review, the goal was called back for goaltender interference.
On the Jets bench, Maurice appeared to have a few choice words about the decision.
Winnipeg evened the score at 3-3 minutes earlier when Connor slipped a pass through traffic to Scheifele’s tape, and the star centre blasted a one-timer that beat Demko stick side.
Garland registered Vancouver’s third goal of the night 7:06 into the frame.
J.T. Miller forced a turnover on a Winnipeg line change and sent the puck up the ice to Garland for a breakaway. The Canucks winger gave Comrie a head fake one way, then tucked a shot behind the goalie’s opposite skate.
Connor scored 57 seconds earlier when he flipped a shot over Demko for his 18th goal of the season.
Hoglander gave the Canucks a 2-1 lead just 20 seconds before the end of the first.
Wheeler intercepted a pass from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers in the neutral zone and sped away for a breakaway, but Demko made the stop and sent the puck up ice to Horvat. The Canucks captain dished it off to Hoglander, who fired a shot that caught a piece of Comrie’s glove before dribbling in as the netminder desperately swiped at it with his stick.
Long goal drought snapped
The Jets got a shot past Demko on a first-period power play after Miller was called for cross checking.
Using a Dubois screen in front of the net, Wheeler blasted a wrist shot from inside the faceoff circle to knot the score at 1-1 at the 11:07 mark.
He celebrated his first goal of the season with an emphatic fist pump. Wheeler last scored on May 11 when the Jets beat the Canucks 5-0.
The veteran right-winger has been playing some “pretty good hockey,” Maurice said.
“God, it’s got to be a weight off of him, but he’s putting up a lot of points lately, so he should be proud of his game,” he said.
Winnipeg was 1-for-3 with the man advantage Friday. Vancouver went scoreless on two power plays.
The Canucks opened the scoring 6:29 into the game. Hoglander used some stealthy stick handling to get around Scheifele, putting the puck between his own legs before unleashing a backhanded shot from the hash marks.
The goal was Hoglander’s first in 12 games.
The Canucks continue their homestand Sunday when they host the Carolina Hurricanes. The Jets have a brief reprieve before entertaining the Buffalo Sabres in Winnipeg on Tuesday.
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