The Canucks improved to 12-15-2 to stay in pursuit of a North Division playoff position

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Grind and grunt.

It’s not a dance, it’s an attitude.

The Vancouver Canucks needed to adopt one because the Montreal Canadiens came as advertised Monday. They’re big and mobile on the back end and their forwards are quick and take away neutral-zone entries. Their goaltender is pretty good, too.

It’s why the Canadiens took a dominant 4-1-0 season series lead and 28-16 goal advantage into the latest Rogers Arena clash that was expected to be a litmus test of will for the Canucks to offset their limited chances to display skill.

Could the Canucks build off two consecutive victories over the Toronto Maple Leafs? Could they get to Carey Price? Could they keep Tyler Toffoli, that one-man wrecking crew who entered the night with eight goals and 11 points against his former club, from sticking in more daggers?

Toffoli wasn’t a problem, but scoring was. Then Adam Gaudette went far post and in with 40.5 seconds remaining in regulation time to force overtime. Brock Boeser was then denied on a backhand move at the side of the net before Bo Horvat settled the issue in the shootout with a forehand snap shot for the 2-1 triumph, his fifth goal in the season series.

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“It was a big win,” said Canucks coach Travis Green. “That’s a good team over there and I liked how our team stuck with it. You’re always learning lessons along the way. In the past, when we got down we got away from our game, the type of game we need to play. The last few games we’ve stayed persistent and had purpose and believed in it the whole way.”

And seeing was believing.

For Adam Gaudette, who hadn’t scored in 15 games and had connected just twice before Monday, despite two five-shot outings and four four-shot games, his tying goal opportunity was a reward for strong play and being deployed in the final minute.

“Once Bo got the puck in the middle of the ice, I saw room to skate and I don’t even know if Bo saw me because it was a no-look pass and I just wanted to get a shot on net,” said Gaudette. “I feel like I never take a slap shot and for some reason, I took one tonight and it went in.”

In a move from centre to wing this season, Gaudette has been challenged to keep growing his game, keeping his chin up and keeping weight on with a digestive problem he has overcome. He had a dozen goals last season and hasn’t let the pressure of being on a one-year contract extension get to him.

“Honestly, it hasn’t been that hard because I like how my game is coming along,” he added. “I’m getting chances and knew if I stuck with it, pucks would eventually go in and it did. It felt great, but I’ve got to keep my foot on the gas.”

As for his shootout winner, Horvat had a plan to net his second shootout winner of the season against the Canadiens.

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“I kind of took the same route I did the previous shootout (6-5 win Jan. 20) and just tried to mix it up,” said Horvat. “Maybe he thought I was going to go five-hole again and I tried to pick a different angle. It (win) gives our group confidence and we know we can beat any team. It took us some time to figure that out and stick with the process.

“Tonight just showed the character in our room.”

Here’s what else we learned as the Canucks improved to 12-15-2 to stay in pursuit of a North Division playoff position:


Bo Horvat scores on Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens during the shootout.
Bo Horvat scores on Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens during the shootout. Photo by Rich Lam /Getty Images

PRICE NOT QUITE RIGHT

In his previous 11 meetings with the Canucks, the Canadiens starter sported a 9-0-2 record, 2.16 goals-against average and .935 saves percentage. If Price sees the puck, he’s probably going to stop it, so long-range shots Monday were probably going to be moot. It was going to take something special to beat him. Or some help off the post.

“They play quick and have a fast group of forwards and limit your chances off the rush and you really have to earn everything you get down low — grinding and making it more of a grunting game,” said noted Canucks grinder Antoine Roussel.

And he was right.

It’s why Horvat stepped out from behind the net and tried to put a puck up and over the stopper in the first period. It’s why Jake Virtanen then sped down the left wing, and as he cut toward the net, tried to put a backhander over Price’s shoulder and under the crossbar and just missed.

It was a night when the Canucks could have used the creativity, release and production of Elias Pettersson. The centre missed his third-consecutive game with an upper-body injury. He has 10 goals, including four on the power play, and he could have been a factor.

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It’s why Green brought out the blender and had Gaudette on J.T. Miller’s wing, had Brandon Sutter between Tanner Pearson and Boeser. It nearly paid off when a Miller wraparound attempt in the second period went across the crease, off the leg of Gaudette and just wide of the far post.

“It wasn’t to put Brock down, it was just trying to get a different look because Montreal has a deep team of forwards,” said Green. “I just didn’t think we had a lot of life in our game and I put Gauds up to give us a little spark and talked to Boes on the bench because minutes were getting high and I wanted to give Gauds more time.”

The Canucks pushed the pace early in the third period. Their puck movement in the offensive zone was quicker and they found open ice to test Price with three shots. But he didn’t surrender and that was part of the problem. Getting to him meant getting him to cough up rebounds and not continually smother pucks.

A shot through traffic in the third period did glance off his glove and the post, but that’s as close as he came to cracking until Gaudette forced overtime.


Montreal Canadiens right wing Paul Byron (41) fails to get a shot past Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Monday, March 8, 2021.
Montreal Canadiens right wing Paul Byron (41) fails to get a shot past Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Monday, March 8, 2021. Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayw /THE CANADIAN PRESS

BIG LITTLE THINGS

Sometimes, it’s not a very complicated game.

The Canadiens opened scoring in the first period by subscribing to the first theory of running a power play after the Canucks were caught with too many men on the ice. The Canadiens got somebody to the net to cause havoc and take away Thatcher Demko’s ability to track pucks.

The league’s second star of the week— 3-0-0, 1.00 goals-against average, .969 saves percentage and one shutout — didn’t see Jeff Petry’s point shot that found the net because Corey Perry was left unattended at the top of the crease to set the perfect screen. It was Petry’s eighth point (4-4) of the season series.

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“I didn’t see the puck until it was right on top of me,” said Demko. “I just kind of lost it in the bodies.”

They’ve also scored four power play goals in the last four games, a credit to new assistant coach Alex Burrows, who’s in charge of the man-advantage units.

Demko kept the Canucks in it.

In the second period, he stopped Jesperi Kotkaniemi off a slot deflection and didn’t flinch when Quinn Hughes blew a tire on a zone exit and Joel Armia was stymied on a breakaway.

“I’m not sure if I got a piece of that and that was a situation where we were down one and Carey was playing real well and when he’s on his game he’s tough to beat,” said Demko. “If they get another one, it’s probably a tougher game to come back into obviously.

“It was a huge win. It was just trusting the process and getting to overtime and then Bo scores a nice one in the shootout. I thought I was OK. Some nights, the pucks are sticking to you and there were a couple today that were bouncing on me a bit, but our D-core was solid in backing me up.

“A lot of times I just had to make the first save and that’s always a plus.”

Demko stopped Nick Suzuki, Jonathan Drouin and Tomas Tatar in the shootout as Tatar tried to score between Demko’s legs.

“He’s a pretty shifty player and just looking at some of his shootout clips, there’s a lot of deceptiveness and different things he’s willing to try. I wasn’t too sure what he was going to attempt but just wanted to stick with it and give myself a chance.”


Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price (31) looks on as defenceman Joel Edmundson (44) checks Vancouver Canucks forward Nils Hoglander (36) in the first period at Rogers Arena.
Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price (31) looks on as defenceman Joel Edmundson (44) checks Vancouver Canucks forward Nils Hoglander (36) in the first period at Rogers Arena. Photo by Bob Frid /USA TODAY Sports

PP SHOTS IN DARK

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Opportunity came knocking late in the first period when the Canucks had a 5-on-3 power play thanks to Perry tripping Alex Edler at the Canadiens blue-line and Paul Byron running Demko over on a short-handed break.

However, in 1:24 of a two-man advantage and a remainder of the second minor, the Canucks managed just two shots — Pearson on PP1 stepping out from behind the net and a Virtanen snap effort from 39 feet.

The Canucks got another power play chance halfway through the third period with Nick Suzuki off for tripping and Boeser put a hot shot off Price’s blocker.

bkuzma@postmedia.com
twitter.com/benkuzma


NEXT GAME

Wednesday

Montreal Canadiens at Vancouver Canucks

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


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