VANCOUVER – It was March 31 when Vancouver Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau gathered players around the dressing room campfire and told them about the good old days when he was a rookie coach with the Washington Capitals and his team went 11-1 in its final 12 games to make the playoffs on the last day of the season.
It sounded like a good story and no doubt was at least a little inspiring for players.
But as a suggestion for what the sagging Canucks might be capable of accomplishing in the final month of this NHL season, it seemed completely detached from reality. The Canucks had just lost eight of their previous 11 games, apparently dooming their Stanley Cup playoff chances.
They lost 3-2 in overtime to the Vegas Golden Knights on April 3, leaving them 12 games to go. On Monday, 15 days later, the Canucks won their sixth straight, handling the Dallas Stars, one of the teams they are chasing, 6-2 at Rogers Arena.
They are five points behind Western Conference wildcard teams Dallas and Nashville, four behind the Los Angeles Kings in the race for third place in the Pacific Division. And Vancoiuver has six games to go, starting Tuesday at home against the Ottawa Senators.
After the final horn sounded Monday, the scoreboard showed a video of Lloyd Christmas from Dumb and Dumber: “So you’re telling me there is a chance. Yeah!”
The Canucks’ hope for a miracle finish feels a lot less dumb than it did two weeks ago.
“It’s daunting in a sense but it’s fun because no one’s giving us a chance,” coach Bruce Boudreau said after the morning skate. “So we’re just going out there to have fun and we’re going to work our ass off. And if we win (tonight), then it shortens it down to six games and all we have to do is win six. We know what’s at stake; we want to do it, but we also know that we’re huge underdogs, and so we’re just going to play our butts off and see where it ends up.”
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
Monday was the latest biggest-game-of-the-season for the Canucks — because of the opponent and the fact Vancouver had only one other game remaining against a team they’re trying to run down. They face the Kings on April 28 in Game 81.
The last-minute scratch of Alex Chiasson, improbably the Canucks’ hottest scorer lately, felt typical of their luck. They were outshot 11-5 early on by the Stars and could have trailed by a couple of goals.
But Elias Pettersson tapped in a puck at the post, beautifully reversed to him by minor-league callup Sheldon Dries – who else would it have been? – to put the Canucks ahead 2-1 at 15:09, seven minutes after Roope Hintz had tied it for Dallas.
Vancouver led the rest of the way, also answering Hintz’s second-period shorthanded goal with a Jason Dickinson deflection at 10:33 that restored the Canucks’ two-goal lead and chased Dallas starter Jake Oettinger.
And just to further illustrate what strange things are happening, Dickinson, elevated to the second line due to Chiasson’s unexpected absence, finished with a goal and two assists, seven shot attempts, was plus-three and logged 15:50 of ice time in his best game of the season. The three points matched Dickinson’s offensive output from his previous 23 games.
It’s incredible, but not dumb.
“He looked like a different guy,” Boudreau said. “You know what, you can have a bad year and then you can correct that bad year in a couple of good weeks and playoffs. I think he’s smart enough to say, ‘OK, I’ll put that behind me, what didn’t go right this year. Let’s just worry about what’s in front of me.’”
COOL HANDS, LUKE
Defenceman Luke Schenn not only progressed from lineup extra to lineup regular this season, partnering top blue-liner Quinn Hughes, but also became a leader and culture-setter for the Canucks. Given a chance to move the 32-year-old at last month’s trade deadline, Vancouver general manager Patrik Allvin kept the two-time Stanley Cup champion, praised his leadership qualities and declared that Schenn would remain an important piece on the Canucks.
On Monday, he stepped up to fight Dallas captain Jamie Benn late in the second period after the Star finished a strong check on Hughes in the Vancouver zone.
“There’s not a player in in the game of hockey that will tell you they wouldn’t love that,” Boudreau told reporters before the game. “Anytime that a teammate stands up for them — and Luke will stand up in any situation — they love that. They’ll go to the wall for him because they know they’ve got big brother protecting them.”
CHIASSON A DREAM
It’s indicative how remarkable the Canucks’ surge has been that Chiasson’s surprising absence Monday felt like another mighty blow to the lineup as the game began.
Chiasson is the fourth-line winger who was promoted into the top six due to the recent wave of injuries, then went off for six goals and 10 points in seven games to double his points total for the season. After taking the warmup, Chiasson was a game-time scratch due to what the Canucks announced was non-COVID illness. Boudreau said Chiasson simply got sick.
Chiasson’s torrid streak coincided with injuries to Brock Boeser, Tanner Pearson and, Thursday, Canucks captain Bo Horvat.
Boeser and energy winger Matthew Highmore, out since March 24, returned to the lineup against the Stars. Boeser buried a two-on-one pass from Pettersson and matched Dickinson’s three points. Boeser was pointless in four games before he hurt his arm when accidentally hit hard by Pettersson on April 3.