On Wednesday, it was a strong start, good goaltending and a crucial second-period response by the Lotto Line that paved the way to victory

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Travis Green was asked if he looks at the standings.

“Sometimes, I do. Sometimes, I don’t,” the Vancouver Canucks coach admitted during a lull this week in a four-game series with the Calgary Flames that was testing everybody’s mettle and belief system.

Following an impressive 5-1 victory at the Saddledome on Wednesday, the bench boss can take a more encouraging peek at the North Division standings. And although the Canucks have played the most games and are still out of a playoff position, they have been playing better.

“It gives you belief in what you’re doing and how you’re playing,” Green said post game. “It’s one thing to be told you’re playing well, and I think they (players) believed they were, but games like this will just solidify that belief and continuing to get the buy-in from the whole group to play a certain way.

“We’re not going to look past the next game or talk about trying to go on a run here. If we keep playing the way we can and have, good things are going to happen and I truly believe that.”

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On Wednesday, it was a strong start, good goaltending and a crucial second-period response by the Lotto Line that paved the way to taking something positive from a set with a bitter rival.

Here’s what we learned as Canucks went 2-1-1 in the series:


Feb 17, 2021; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Vancouver Canucks defenseman Nate Schmidt (88) celebrates his goal with teammates as Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) reacts during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Vancouver Canucks defenceman Nate Schmidt (88) celebrates his goal with teammates as Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) reacts during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Photo by Sergei Belski /USA TODAY Sports

LOTTO LINE RESPONSE

It could have gone sideways late in the second period.

The Flames were pressing and when winger Andrew Mangiapane bolted around Quinn Hughes, went across the crease and out-waited Braden Holtby to slip the puck over the goal-line, a two-goal deficit was cut to one.

However, that’s when the Lotto Line put together a pair of dominant shifts to shift momentum for good.

First, it was J.T. Miller needing just 15 seconds after the Mangiapane effort to take an Elias Pettersson feed and rip a slot shot off the post and past Jacob Markstrom. Thirty-seven second later, the line had the puck on a string and moved it around smartly before Miller did the dish and a pinching Nate Schmidt scored from the slot to make it 4-1.

For Schmidt, who has had a troika of faux pas in his own end this season that resulted in the puck going in the wrong net, there was an obvious sense of relief.

“It’s just nice to put one in their net for once,” chuckled Schmidt. “I’ve never banked one in off my goalie (Monday) and this game can be a downer in so many ways. Sometimes, those plays get magnified and it felt a lot better to be on the other side tonight. I’m getting a lot better with Eddie (Alex Edler) and we’re improving so much.”

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Feb 17, 2021; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Vancouver Canucks right wing Brock Boeser (6) scores a goal against Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Brock Boeser scores a goal against Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Photo by Sergei Belski /USA TODAY Sports

Brock Boeser then went post and in on an odd-man rush for his 12th goal of the season — one behind league leader Auston Matthews — and a three-point night to chase Markstrom.

“There are a few times they had us hemmed in, but we had a good response and I really liked our team game tonight,” said Boeser. “Personally, I learned a lot last season and it was a fresh start to this year. I’m feeling good and my whole body is feeling good. But it’s a team game. It feels so much better to score when our team is winning.

“We did a lot better getting in on the forecheck and turning pucks over and spending time in the offensive zone. It was a good step for our line. Over these last few games, we built a lot of momentum and we’ve just got to keep it going.”

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As for Miller, it was his first goal in the last six games and just his second in the last 11. The bigger focus of late had been the ample time he was logging — a season high 24:52 on Monday because of seven power plays and adding a penalty-kill component to his game with the injury to Tyler Motte.

On Wednesday, Miller was kept to 15:34 with just one power play and two penalties to kill and he looked fresher and faster. So did his linemates, who were hounding pucks and finding ways to finish. It’s how they have to play.

“A lot like our team, their game has been trending in the right direction,” said Green. “When you’re a good player and a good line, you stick with it and good things are going to happen. They played simpler and caused turnovers in the offensive zone and took opportunities on the rush when it was there. They made good puck decisions.


Feb 17, 2021; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Vancouver Canucks goaltender Braden Holtby (49) defends the goal against Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau (13) during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Vancouver Canucks goaltender Braden Holtby (49) defends the goal against Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau (13) during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Photo by Sergei Belski /USA TODAY Sports

ADVANTAGE TO HOLTBY

Markstrom had been the story in this series. Holtby was Wednesday.

The Canucks stopper has been trying to find his game and the Stanley Cup and Vezina Trophy winner admitted the adjustments have been arduous. However, he found his game and Markstrom looked like he lost a little of his in allowing five goals for the first time this season. Holtby finished with 35 saves.

Holtby made a series of second-period stops with the Canucks up 1-0 and was much better at sealing up the short side and being calmer and better with his positioning and rebound control. It showed when Matthew Tkachuk set up Dillon Dube and Holtby got a pad on the redirect.

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It was a key save, especially for a guy who hadn’t played in nine days.

“I’ve gone through this before where you don’t play for a few games and it’s a blessing in disguise because you can do that extra work in practice and fatigue until you can’t do it anymore — to push yourself through things and create better habits,” said Holtby. “I’ve felt pretty comfortable about pushing my game in the right direction.

“The game has changed. It’s so fast now, especially below the hash marks and going side to side. I’ve tried to modernize my game and teach an old dog new tricks. It’s a good challenge and it takes work and repetition so it becomes second nature. Tonight, it started to show.”

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Bo Horvat was then sent in on a break and out-waited Markstrom, who bolted from his net to stop the foray. The captain calmly went wide and slipped the puck into an empty net to make it 2-1.

“I was just trying to not get hit,” said Horvat. “That was a pretty big collision with him and Tanner (Pearson) earlier and I obviously wanted to get my head up as quick as possible and thankfully he didn’t run me over. And thankfully, it (puck) went in, too. He has done that a couple of times when he played for us, so it was vintage Marky.

“We just want to keep building off this. Marky has stood on his head a lot against us and to finally put some past him is a reward for a lot of hard work tonight. But we have to do it every night.”

Jordie Benn had opened scoring by going five-hole on Markstrom off a Horvat cross-ice feed. It was the defenceman’s first goal since Feb. 10, 2020, but the spotlight rightly shone on Holtby.

“We always knew were going to go back to Holtby and that he had put in some good work,” said Green. “We have a lot of faith in both goalies and they’ve improved.”

Feb 17, 2021; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Vancouver Canucks center Bo Horvat (53) goes around Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) to score a goal during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Vancouver Canucks centre Bo Horvat (53) goes around Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) to score a goal during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Photo by Sergei Belski /USA TODAY Sports

THE WHOLE HOGLANDER

In a pre-season poll predicting the Calder Trophy winner, Nils Hoglander was not on the list of 20 considerations.

The Canucks rookie winger was expected to get a good training camp look and the Swedish Hockey League product was aligned with Horvat and Tanner Pearson on Day 1. Hoglander quickly showed speed, playmaking, gobs of grit and some finish to solidify a roster spot.

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On Wednesday, he made another strong statement.

He entered the night as the rookie with the most shots (38) and most missed shots (19) and ended it by starting the scoring sequence on the first two goals — his first career multi-point game — and then followed up with a shift in which he had two chances because of his nose for the net.

Hoglander also sprung Pearson for a memorable second-period breakaway with a smart bank pass off the sideboards. Markstrom came out to negate the winger and the collision was thunderous.

For Hoglander, who led the Canucks with five shots and eight attempts Monday, his stock continues to rise with the coaching staff. He’s now tied for third in rookie scoring with nine points (3-6).

“Hogs has been awesome,” said Horvat. “Not only does he makes plays, he works hard. And that’s the biggest thing. He takes care of his own end, too, and he’s just all over the ice. He’s a bit of a water bug out there. He’s constantly moving and getting in on the forecheck and he’s being rewarded for it. He’s added a lot to our line and the sky is the limit for him.”


Vancouver Canucks' Olli Juolevi, left, checks Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau during first period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. ORG XMIT: JMC105
Vancouver Canucks’ Olli Juolevi, left, checks Calgary Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau during first period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh /The Canadian Press

GOOD JAKE, BAD JAKE

With Jake Virtanen trade rumours surfacing again, potential suitors saw the good and bad Wednesday.

The fourth-line winger forced an offensive-zone turnover in the first period for a Jay Beagle scoring chance. But on the same shift, the line was hemmed in its own zone and Virtanen took a bad minor for slashing Mikael Backlund in the corner boards.

That’s what drives the Canucks crazy and has the curious concerned to see if Virtanen can put it all together. He skates fast and can hit hard when the spirit moves him. But inconsistency and poor puck decisions have plagued the winger. And if he is being showcased, it’s not a good look.

bkuzma@postmedia.com
twitter.com/benkuzma


NEXT GAME

Friday

Winnipeg Jets vs. Vancouver Canucks

7 p.m., Rogers Arena. TV: SNP. Radio: Sportsnet 650 AM


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