The lights on the Vancouver Canucks’ playoff hopes were still flickering, ever so faintly, before they flew to Denver to face the Colorado Avalanche, and they’re still burning, barely, after a 3-2 shootout loss for the Avs on Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center.The Western Conference race for the final playoff spot has been mostly a turtle derby for the last month-plus, with seven teams in the mix, but its been winnowed down to definitely three teams and the Avalanche are one of them; it could still be four if the Canucks manage to pull wins out of the next two games on this road trip.The Avs now sit in the last playoff spot in the west, five points up on the Canucks.“(Thursday) is a must-win game,” Canucks defender Alex Biega acknowledged post-game.That was always going to be the case, win, lose or tie on Wednesday; that the Canucks got a point is a mild positive, but two points would have been far, far better.Canucks coach Travis Green wasn’t happy with how his team started the game, but was happy enough they did pull out the point.“(Markstrom) gave us a helluva game,” he said.“You get to a shootout you’re flipping coins a little bit. It was a good comeback on the road.”The Canucks could have been broken early in this one. Shots were 17-8 for the Avalanche after the first period — and that was with the visitors spending six minutes on the power play. (It also helped that Mikko Rantanen missed a wide-open cage on a two-on-one give-and-go rush early in the first period.)Jacob Markstrom made 39 saves in regulation — and four more in overtime — to carry his team, who finally found their game halfway through the second period.
Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom, right, stops a shot off the stick of Colorado Avalanche left wing J.T. Compher in the first period.
David Zalubowski /
Even though the Avs are not a deep team and they’re not great defensively, they have game-breakers at the top end of their lineup and you can see how they’ve managed to keep in the race. They were also 1-11 in overtime games coming into Wednesday, suggestive that they should be higher up the standings.The Avs got first-period goals from Nathan MacKinnon and Rantanen, their two best players. MacKinnon’s came off a turnover near the Canucks’ blue-line, as he fired home a one-timer. And Rantanen’s came shortly after Markus Granlund was stripped of the puck near the blue line. The Finnish star fired a shot off the right boards that Markstrom was able to get across in front of, but couldn’t stop completely as the puck caromed in off his left thigh.Still, the Canucks were in it until the game’s final moments and managed to draw even with 3:02 to play, as Josh Leivo fired home on a one-timer from the top of the right face-off circle, a set play off a face-off that saw Ryan Spooner feed him off the half-wall.A very fun overtime settled nothing.The shootout winner was scored by Carl Soderberg.The Canucks got their first goal from Antoine Roussel, on a first-period tip of a Biega point shot.Here’s what we learned…The GoalieYou may have heard Jacob Markstrom has had an excellent season.How he stood tall in the first period, keeping his team in the game, was yet another chapter in his excellent season.But the loss still stung. Even the Leivo goal didn’t pump him up.“I don’t celebrate when we tie games up,” he said flatly. “Just the wins. The wins count.”He’s now in the upper half of the league’s starters in even-strength save percentage, which doesn’t sound that great, but it’s a number weighed down by his early season struggles and bad luck.Since the start of December, his even-strength save percentage is a very impressive .934.
Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks fires a shot on goal.
Matthew Stockman /
Pitiful power playThe Canucks had three power plays in the first period but couldn’t generate much, getting only three shots on net. They had another near the end of the second but again struggled to generate much offence.The struggles on the power play now stretch back months. They have just seven goals with the man-advantage since the start of 2019, a stretch of 21 games.In that time, the Canucks have scored 2.78 goals per hour on the PP. Seven NHL teams have scored more goals per hour at five-on-five.The losses of Alex Edler and Chris Tanev did hurt the playoff push — but the ineptitude of the power play down the stretch has been nearly as a big a factor.Teams have started keying on Elias Pettersson and have been pretty successful in taking him away as a shooting option, and there just aren’t enough things happening elsewhere in the zone to make those penalty killers worry about anything else.
Vancouver Canucks defenseman Alex Biega, front, skates back to the team box with left wing Antoine Roussel, back left, center Markus Granlund and right wing Brock Boeser after Biega scored a goal against the Colorado Avalanche in the first period.
David Zalubowski /
Long bombThe point shot is a dying thing because they’re such low-percentage shots. But if you’ve watched Alex Biega, you know he doesn’t care. He’s just looking to get pucks to the net.And now he’s scored a goal and set up another in two straight games on bombs from out by the blue-line.Thursday’s was tipped in front by Antoine Roussel, who had another feisty game for the Canucks, regularly getting in the faces of the Avalanche on top of his endless forechecking.
Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon, second from left, is congratulated after scoring a goal by, from left, defenseman Ryan Graves and right wing Sven Andrighetto as Vancouver Canucks left wing Josh Leivo passes by in the first period.
David Zalubowski /
The wheelsIf you’ve not yet seen Nathan MacKinnon play live, we recommend you do.He’s possibly the league’s most dynamic skater and when he’s on the puck in the offensive zone, he’s constantly hunting for open space.
Canucks coach Travis Green gestures behind players during the second period of the team’s NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Denver.
David Zalubowski /
Pearson debutsWinger Tanner Pearson made his Canucks debut, skating in sweater No. 70.He was relatively quiet — he did get a shot and featured on the power play — until overtime, when he seemed to direct the puck into the net after getting tangled up with Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov. But after a video review, it was confirmed as no goal.Pearson said he thought it was maybe a goal even before the puck came back to his feet.But the NHL’s situation room in Toronto ruled it was no goal because “the actions of Tanner Pearson impaired Semyon Varlamov’s ability to defend his goal.”Gaudette good to go?Adam Gaudette stayed home because of an illness, the same bug that limited him in Monday night’s game.The team hopes he’ll be back in the lineup on Thursday in Arizona; one fan on Twitter reported she spotted him on a plane to Phoenix on Wednesday.firstname.lastname@example.org/risingaction