Here’s what we learned as the Canucks improved to 15-16-2 on the second stop of their four-game road trip:

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What do Jimmy Vesey, Bobby Ryan and Mika Zibanejad have in common?

The trio has played prominent roles in drama that always seems to surround the Vancouver Canucks when they enter the twilight zone in Kanata, Ont. From goals to gaffes, and even the slow-moving wheels of government paperwork approval, it’s never been dull.

On Wednesday, it was waiver-wire claim Vesey who took centre stage. It came before puck drop and well before the Canucks would blow another 2-0 lead. They needed a five-hole shootout effort by Adam Gaudette in the fourth round — the only shooter to connect — to claim a 3-2 decision for their seventh victory in the last nine games to keep their playoff hopes alive.

“I have to give credit to Clarky (goalie coach Ian Clark) who gave me a couple of shootout ideas last year that I’ve been working on. I had a move on my mind and I stuck with it and it felt good,” Gaudette said of his first career shootout goal in just his second attempt.

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“My first one in Washington I just tried to snap it low blocker quick and I think I missed the net.”

The winner came on a night when the Canucks also lost Tanner Pearson to an ankle injury.

Vesey got an assist from a COVID-19 safe private driver to get from Toronto to Ottawa in time to beat the provincial quarantine clock. The winger took the warm-up, and even though his work permit was filed, it wasn’t processed in time. So, Jalen Chatfield took his lineup spot.

“We wanted him to play,” said Canucks coach Travis Green. “A lot of hands on deck and working all day to try and get his work permit changed over (as an American). They couldn’t get it done in time. We were better tonight than we were on Monday for sure. It was a low-event game and a good win for our team.

There was more high-event drama in the third period.

With the Canucks up 2-1, starting goalie Joey Daccord suffered a left-leg injury after stopping a point shot. Filip Gustavsson took over and Josh Norris then immediately beat Thatcher Demko to the glove side. Bo Horvat was then stopped on a breakaway and in overtime, Brock Boeser rang a hot shot off the crossbar before Demko twice denied Brady Tkachuk.

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“We were definitely better than the other night,” said Boeser, who opened scoring and was denied in the shootout. “We came out and had a much better first period and that kind of set the tone. We’re all kind of checking out the standings to see where we’re at, but we can’t worry about that — just focus on one game at a time. The two games in Montreal are going to be some of the biggest of the year.”

So were those wild historical losses.

On Feb. 27, 2020, Ryan returned from the NHL’s Players Assistance program for alcoholism. The Senators winger responded with a hat trick and fight with Chris Tanev in a 5-2 victory over the Canucks. And on Dec. 7, 2014, Zibanejad erased a 3-1 deficit with two goals in 4:46 and then set up the overtime winner in a 4-3 decision over Vancouver in which the winger had four points.

On Wednesday, the added drama was to see if Horvat could help deliver on a promise. The Canucks centre vowed to give goalie Demko the support he deserved.

Here’s what we learned as the Canucks improved to 15-16-2 on the second stop of their four-game road trip:


Ottawa Senators goalie Filip Gustavsson (32) makes a save on a shot from Vancouver Canucks centre Bo Horvat (53) in the third period at the Canadian Tire Centre.
Ottawa Senators goalie Filip Gustavsson (32) makes a save on a shot from Vancouver Canucks centre Bo Horvat (53) in the third period at the Canadian Tire Centre. Photo by Marc DesRosiers /USA TODAY Sports

CAPTAIN’S CALL HEARD

Demko has been under siege, but in his previous eight starts, the starter had a sparkling 1.73 goals-against average and .943 saves percentage. He faced as many as 46 shots and never fewer than 30 in a 5-1-0 run heading into Wednesday. He simply stole games and needed some help.

“We can’t keeping relying on him and hoping he’s going to make the save — we’ve got to force the issue and score goals,” said Horvat.

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It didn’t take long for Horvat to deliver. His spin-a-rama feed along the wall found Boeser and the winger whipped his 15th goal of the season — tied for fifth in the league — stick side at 2:29 of the opening period. Less than six minutes later, Horvat benefited from a cross-ice feed from Nils Hoglander for a two-foot, tap-in for his 13th goal.


The Vancouver Canucks celebrate their win against the Ottawa Senators in a shootout at the Canadian Tire Centre.
The Vancouver Canucks celebrate their win against the Ottawa Senators in a shootout at the Canadian Tire Centre. Photo by Marc DesRosiers /USA TODAY Sports

DEMKO’S RINSE, REPEAT

It’s customary for the backup goalie to see the net in back-to-back games.

However, you have to wonder what may occur Friday and Saturday in Montreal in a crucial double-dip against the Canadiens. In pursuit of a playoff position, the Canucks need to sweep the series and their best bet would be to keep riding Demko.

If Demko doesn’t have an overtaxing workload in the series opener — and even if he does — he could get the double nod before Braden Holtby, who’s trying to find his game. As for Wednesday, he knew what to expect.

“That’s a young, skilled group over there that’s playing hard right now and we knew they were going to give us a couple of tight games and they did and it took more than 60 minutes both nights and it’s huge that we got the four points,” said Demko, who finished with 30 saves and was perfect in the shootout.

“This is a good stretch for myself and the team and I knew I had some good games in me and I just want to keep developing this year.”

Demko gave ample reason Wednesday to keep the net.

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It showed in the first period. He didn’t flinch on a Chris Tierney breakaway and then gave Tim Stutzle nothing but the crest to shoot at on the power play. He followed with a tough save off Colin White before Ryan Dzingel scored off a rare rebound. Demko then responded by stopping Drake Batherson down low and then again in the shootout where he claimed that he might not have got a piece of the puck. but he did.

Demko also got 21 shot blocks in support with Travis Hamonic leading the way with six.

“It’s gutsy — it’s hard to do,” said Demko. “Those guys certainly don’t wear as much gear as I do and when they block shots, it tends to sting more. It just shows that guys are willing to do what it takes to win. Can’t say enough about the D-core and forwards getting in lanes, too. It’s great to see.”

As for Demko, Gaudette has seen this movie before on a different stage.

“It’s awesome,” said Gaudette. “He seems so confident in there and I knew Thatcher many years ago (NCAA) and I could always tell that he was something special and he’s not only huge for us, he’s going to get better.”

Green may have put it best about where Demko has been and where he’s going.

“We’ve always had a lot of faith and belief in Demer and he took good strides and played well at the end of the year,” he said. “We’ve got some guys out and we knew we were going to need some saves. It wasn’t a high-chance game.”


Ottawa Senators defenceman Nikita Zaitsev (22) is taken off the puck by Vancouver Canuck Tyler Motte (64) in the first period at the Canadian Tire Centre.
Ottawa Senators defenceman Nikita Zaitsev (22) is taken off the puck by Vancouver Canuck Tyler Motte (64) in the first period at the Canadian Tire Centre. Photo by Marc DesRosiers /USA TODAY Sports

MOTTE MAKES IMPACT

Tyler Motte often goes unnoticed because the fourth-liner does the tough stuff.

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The winger missed the previous 17 games with a high-ankle sprain and his speed, aggressiveness and presence on the penalty are his calling cards. He had a two-goal effort against the Senators on Jan. 27, and got off to a fast start with five goals in his first nine games, but his impact was on the penalty kill Wednesday.

Reunited with first unit penalty kill partner Brandon Sutter, he played a key role in the Senators going 0-for-2 on the power play and being held to three shots. He also set up Sutter for a short-handed chance in the second period that sailed wide.

The efforts were key because the Canucks had but two power plays. On the first, J.T. Miller, who runs the first unit off the half wall in place of the injured Elias Pettersson, wired a Pettersson-like slapper off the crossbar. Motte also replaced the injured Pearson on the power play, logged 20:42 and had four shot blocks.


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HOGLANDER’S HARD HELP

The rookie plays fast and hard and his ability to hound pucks was evident early this season.

It paid off on Horvat’s goal. Hoglander went hard after Senators defenceman Thomas Chabot, who was manning the point at the Canucks blueline. Hoglander went leg on leg to strip him of the puck, raced away and slipped a perfect cross-ice pass to Horvat with the skill of a veteran.

“It was a good play,” Green said of Hoglander. “He’s a young player and learning the game over here and offensively he does some really nice things. We just have to keep working with him to make sure that he can make those plays and also take care of the other end of the rinks that he needs to be aware of.”

bkuzma@postmedia.com
twitter.com/benkuzma


NEXT GAME

Friday

Vancouver Canucks at Montreal Canadiens

4 p.m., Bell Centre. TV: SNP. Radio: Sportsnet 650 AM


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