Monday April 4 - Vancouver Canucks 3 - Los Angeles Kings 2
It couldn't have come at a more inopportune time. Ryan Miller was brilliant, with 20 third-period saves, Jannik Hansen scored his first power-play goal of the year and the Vancouver Canucks improved their record when leading after two periods to 18-4-8 when they beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 on Monday night to cap off their first three-game winning streak of the 2015-16 season.
The faithful at Rogers Arena were treated to a spirited and entertaining contest. Here are your highlights:
The Kings came out like they had every intention of winning the game and vaulting themselves back into first place in the Pacific Division. L.A. outshot Vancouver 13-6 in the opening frame and the shots were 6-1 for the Kings when Tyler Toffoli opened the scoring with his 30th of the year, six minutes in. But Emerson Etem answered off a goalmouth scramble with 13 seconds to go in the first, sending the teams to their locker rooms in an unlikely tie after 20 minutes.
The Kings regained the lead midway through the second, when their fourth line burned the Canucks' first line with a perfectly-executed 2-on-1.
But four minutes later, Vincent Lecavalier slashed Daniel, then Alex Burrows made sure the officials didn't miss a hit to his head by Brayden McNabb, setting up a 5-on-3 that made Jannik Hansen look like he's been a fixture on the power play for his entire career.
The play looked positively Vrbatian. In a good way—like when Vrbata used to score with the twins on the power play last season.
If Hansen can become a solid presence with the man advantage next season, he could have a chance at getting to 30 goals himself—which further cements my belief that the Canucks should not consider trading him, and that he has a legitimate shot at earning the team's MVP award in the season's final game on Saturday.
The 5-on-3 helped the Canucks take control in the middle frame, which they capped off with another last-minute goal. This time, Dustin Brown got awarded the giveaway in the Vancouver zone before Jared McCann carried the puck down the ice all alone before roofing it behind Jonathan Quick, while Jake Virtanen trailed in support.
Drew Doughty buzzed around throughout the final frame like he thought the two points were part of his destiny. His ice time increased period-by-period, capping off with 8:53 in the third and an average shift length of 53 seconds. Doughty put three shots on Ryan Miller in the third, tying Jeff Carter for the Kings' team lead at night's end with six shots apiece, but both players were limited to a single assist on the scoresheet, on the early Toffoli goal.
The Kings' best chance to tie came with 4:45 to play, when Nikita Tryamkin was sent to the penalty box for holding Anze Kopitar in a "game management" moment that brought back feverish memories of leads blown to the Kings in years gone by—and made me a little relieved that Kevin Bieksa and Alex Edler weren't being sent out for the penalty kill.
Leaning mostly on Hamhuis and Tanev, with a dash of Bartkowski and Biega, the Canucks allowed five shots during the penalty kill but kept the play to the outside, effectively sealing the win and sending #TankNation into an uproar.
Im not watching anymore games this season. This season has been the worst season in franchise history.
The victory moves the Canucks back up to 25th place in the standings, which is very likely where they'll finish the season. The bottom two spots are now officially out of reach. The Oilers and Leafs can't catch Vancouver, but the Canucks still have a chance to finish below any combination of Columbus, Calgary and Winnipeg.
It's unlikely that they'll move any higher. With three games to go and no chance of winning any tiebreakers, they're four points behind Buffalo and Arizona and five points back of Montreal.
Sports Club Stats now gives the Canucks a 44 percent chance of finishing 25th, a 28 percent chance of finishing 26th and an 18 percent chance of finishing 27th—a 90 percent likelihood it'll be one of those three spots.
The odds of winning the lottery and picking first overall from there:
In terms of lottery odds, the results of the last three games won't mean much. But—each time one of the three lotteries is won by a team that finishes above the Canucks in the standings, it'll bump them one spot further down the draft order. That's now the biggest reason why the lowest-possible finish would still be beneficial.
If the Canucks finish 27th overall, the worst-case scenario would be a chance to pick seventh. If they finish 25th, they could drop as low as ninth—but those are both extreme cases. It'd be pretty crazy to see three high-finishing teams all capitalize on their low odds and draw the winning ping-pong balls.
I've very much appreciated seeing the team turn things around and offer a few rays of optimism to counter the "tear everything down" attitude that has prevailed in recent weeks, though Henrik Sedin counsels that neither players nor fans should get too self-satisfied:
"What does it mean to win 3 straight against Stanley Cup contenders?": Henrik, "Nothing. Would have been nice to do it earlier." #Canucks
The captain elaborated in his postgame comments, via Ed Willes from The Province:
"I think we have to be really careful to evaluate our team based on the last five, 10 games of the season," said Henrik Sedin. "I've seen that mistake from other teams. You go into next year thinking you've got a good shot at it. We've got to remember we're playing teams getting ready for the playoffs and I don't see them putting their full, full effort into it."
Last year's late surge by the Columbus Blue Jackets certainly turned out to be a mirage, but to my eye, the Kings played hard last night—especially in the first and third periods. More often than not these days, L.A. can afford to take 20 minutes off and still escape with a victory against the Canucks. I don't mind the team taking some positives out of this stretch, but I'm also oddly pleased that Henrik is keeping the heat on and refusing to sugar-coat his message.
The Canucks are back at practice this morning, then will fly to Edmonton to meet the Oilers on Wednesday.
If you missed it, the start time for Wednesday's game has been moved to 4 p.m. PT, as it's the Oilers' final home game at Rexall Place. Expect a long pregame ceremony—my guess is that puck drop will probably come somewhere around 4:30.