It started on the fight card, the scoresheet and the scoreboard and ended with the Jets erasing a two-goal deficit in the second half of what looked to be a one-sided affair

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Travis Green cut to the chase Sunday.

“This was an emotional loss for our group,” the Vancouver Canucks coach said of blowing a 2-0 lead, forcing overtime and then falling 4-3 to the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Arena. “We did a lot of good things and made some mistakes and it’s just not going for us.

“But that’s reality. We’ve got to be honest with our team and re-set.”

Elias Pettersson was more blunt.

“We have the game in our hands but we kind of let it go,” said the centre, whose two-goal game resulted in just one point in the standings when it really needed to be two. “We have to be more crisp with the puck. I was trying to make some plays, I was losing too many puck battles.”

And, quite frankly, it has come to this for the Canucks. They had been playing better defensively, but simply aren’t scoring consistently enough with a 19th-overall NHL ranking that’s putting a playoff pursuit in serious jeopardy.

The Canucks put in the early work and looked like they were going to be rewarded but the visitors stormed back in second half of the game to take a 3-2 lead that looked like it was going to be a giant gut-punch to the Canucks.

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When Neal Pionk scored on a third-period power play to snap a 2-2 draw, it was as startling as Pettersson forcing overtime with a power play one-timer with 37.7 seconds left in regulation time. But the joy was short-lived. Pierre-Luc Dubois scored his second of the game just 27 seconds into the extra session to spoil a night that started with so much promise.

It started on the fight card, the scoresheet and the scoreboard and ended with too much drama. The Jets erased a two-goal deficit in the second half of what looked like it was a going to be a one-sided affair.

First, it was Zack MacEwen scoring a decision over Derek Forbort in an early bout. It avenged the Jets defenceman reacting to a heavy hit by Nils Hoglander on Friday by going after the rookie with a series of cross-checks that sparked a melee.

Then it was Brandon Sutter and Pettersson providing a rare first goal and first-period lead. Then it went south.

Here’s what we learned as the Canucks fell to 8-12-2 and further out of playoff contention:


Feb 21, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN;  Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck (37) makes a save on Vancouver Canucks forward Bo Horvat (53) in the first period  at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck (37) makes a save on Vancouver Canucks forward Bo Horvat (53) in the first period at Rogers Arena. Photo by Bob Frid /USA TODAY Sports

FUELLED BY FAST START

There’s something to having a net presence.

Sometimes, it’s followed by good fortune. And sometimes, it’s followed by pure artistry.

The Canucks are 0-10-0 in this compacted season when coughing up the first goal. So, when Sutter went hard on the forecheck early in the opening period, and the puck took a funky bounce off the backboards, the centre was left untouched for a two-foot tap-in for his sixth goal of the season.

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That was the good stuff. But the ending was hard to stomach.

“We had too many turnovers and things that fed their transition and they have a lot of forwards who can make plays,” said Sutter. “We’ve been playing better hockey the last two weeks, but at some point, these moral victories don’t really count. That sucks.

“It’s frustrating because we feel our game is better than when we had that rough patch. There’s a different feeling in the room and on the bench. There’s still a lot of confidence in our group and we can feel it. We can’t hang our heads, we’ve got to keep going.”

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It seemed only a matter of time before the Canucks would score again in an opening frame they dominated with a 17-9 shot advantage.

Bo Horvat drew a penalty while stopped on a partial break, was foiled on a wraparound attempt and had four shots. Brock Boeser pounced on a turnover and was denied before Pettersson did what he does best. A Boeser shot struck the centre and when the puck fell to the ice, the slick Swede put it between his legs and over the glove of Connor Hellebuyck with his back to the stopper.

“Miller made a good play to Brock and it was a good shot in the slot and I was just trying to screen Hellebuyck,” said Pettersson. “The puck hit me in the stomach and I just tried to get it quick to the ice and bat it in.

“We have to stay positive. Nothing comes with being negative. We could have had a lot more wins the past two weeks and we just have to get ready for the next one.”


Feb 21, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey (44) and defenseman Tucker Poolman (3) check Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller (9) in the second period  at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Winnipeg Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey (44) and defenceman Tucker Poolman (3) check Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller (9) in the second period at Rogers Arena. Photo by Bob Frid /USA TODAY Sports

LITTLE MARGIN FOR ERROR

J.T. Miller has described his season as a mixed bag — and it was just that on Sunday.

In the second period, the winger got the puck at speed, executed a toe-drag as he cut to the net and slipped the puck far side. It would have provided a three-goal cushion. Miller was then stripped of the puck behind his own net by Mark Scheifele. Blake Wheeler pounced on the loose puck and found Dubois unattended in the slot and he pulled the trigger to pull the Jets back into a game in which they were being outplayed.

And when Hoglander took a hooking minor in the offensive zone, the league’s 10th-ranked penalty kill denied the Jets. However, Scheifele drew the Jets even in the final period with a shot that Braden Holtby got a piece of but it trickled over the goal-line.

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“We out-chanced them and when you get two goals in the (first) period that’s pretty good in any game,” said Green. “They pushed back in the second but when didn’t give up a lot.”


Feb 21, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks goalie Braden Holtby (49) makes a save against the Winnipeg Jets in the first period  at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Vancouver Canucks goalie Braden Holtby (49) makes a save against the Winnipeg Jets in the first period at Rogers Arena. Photo by Bob Frid /USA TODAY Sports

HOLTBY GETS THE CALL

The last line of defence shouldn’t be your first concern.

If it is, you’re unsure about goaltending and in a world of hurt. And for the Canucks, who have seen the healing process of better defensive play extend to their stoppers, they made a curious decision Sunday.

Instead of riding Thatcher Demko, who only allowed a breakaway goal Friday in a 2-0 loss to the Jets and is being groomed as the starter, they opted for Holtby in the rematch. Demko also made 23 saves in a 4-1 win at Winning on Jan. 30.

Then again, Holtby had an 11-3-2 career record against the Jets. So, what gives?

“When we gave Demko a stretch, Holtby had a chance to work on his game,” Green said during his morning media availability. “We talked a lot about it. I trust (Ian) Clark’s (goalie coach) opinion. It comes down to my call, but he plays a huge part in it.

“I’m not going to tell you why we went this way. Both goalies have played well. I like that. I want to have both going. It’s important this season. Each team is a little bit different and I know some teams are going to ride one guy.”

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Holtby said his game remains a work in progress but wasn’t cutting himself any slack.

“I thought we played a pretty good game, but their second goal was a weird bounce and you can say what you want, but it’s one a goalie has to save to have success,” he said. “Myself, I just have to be better.

“I felt pretty comfortable throughout the whole game, but this is a game of individual plays and there are a couple I need to be better on. We’re growing the technical aspects and a game like that is more on me. I have to get up tomorrow, go to work and be better.”

So, who starts Tuesday against the Edmonton Oilers?

“We’ve got two guys that we like a lot and I like that both of their games are trending in the right direction right now,” Green added earlier in the day. “We’re going to keep it that way. We have hard decisions to make every night. And it has been harder of late and that’s a good thing for us.”

bkuzma@postmedia.com
twitter.com/benkuzma


NEXT GAME

Tuesday

Edmonton Oilers vs. Vancouver Canucks

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


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