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I Watched This Game: Oilers ruin Canucks' feel-good comeback story in Game 4

The Vancouver Canucks stormed back from a 2-0 deficit in the third period, only to cough up the game-winning goal in the final minute.
The Vancouver Canucks staged yet another third-period comeback in Game 4 against the Edmonton Oilers but it didn't stick.

The Vancouver Canucks might be getting a little too used to staging miraculous comebacks.

Maybe that’s why it seemed like the Canucks barely showed up in this game until the third period. They looked like a team that felt like they didn’t need to put in a full 60-minute effort — 15-20 minutes would do it. They were counting on coming through in the clutch, scoring a couple of goals at key times, and walking out of Edmonton with a win, up 3-1 in the series.

The damned thing is, it almost worked.

The Canucks came up with yet another miracle goal with their goaltender pulled for the extra attacker to tie the game. They were a minute away from heading to overtime after being soundly outplayed for the vast majority of the game.

But even if you believe in miracles, you can’t rely on them. With 39 seconds left in regulation, the Oilers spoiled the story like a kid in 1980 coming out of The Empire Strikes Back shouting, “I can’t believe Darth Vader is Luke’s father,” to everyone lined up for the next screening.

For Canucks fans, it was a euphoric high followed by a devastating comedown. It could have all been avoided by a better effort earlier in the game.

“We need five or six guys to get going here,” said a plainly frustrated Rick Tocchet. “I mean, it’s the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There’s some guys, I don’t know if they knew it was the playoffs. We can’t play with 12 guys. We’ve got to figure it out quick.”

One of those “five or six guys” was essentially confirmed by Tocchet to be Elias Pettersson. The once-dominant centre was a shadow of his former self for most of the game, though he played a part in the third-period comeback. 

Even considering his subpar linemates — he had fourth-liner Sam Lafferty and Ilya “Ouroboros” Mikheyev for most of this game — it simply wasn’t enough from Pettersson.

“Yeah, he’s got to get going,” said Tocchet. “I don’t know what else to say.”

Here’s the thing: the Canucks were flat-out bad for most of this game and they still nearly took it to overtime. It’s hard to avoid feeling like the Oilers are not the Cup contenders they’ve been billed as, that they’re, at best, fraudulent. This series is still eminently winnable for the Canucks. After all, it’s tied 2-2 and the Canucks have home-ice advantage.

They’ll just need to get more from the players who failed to show up in Game 4.

“You can’t win if you have five or six passengers,” said Tocchet. “There was at least a half a dozen passengers tonight…But that’s playoff hockey, where the next game’s a new game. Some of those guys can be a hero for us. They’ve got to step it up.”

I’m holding out for a hero after I watched this game.

  • One player that was definitely a driver and not a passenger was Conor Garland. At times it felt like he was carrying the entire team with his effort — perhaps an UberPool situation in his Corolla — and he even managed to make the second power play unit look dangerous for the first time in a blue moon. He had a team-high eight shot attempts and Tocchet even double-shifted him in the third period. 
  • “[Garland] just doesn’t give up,” said Tocchet. “That’s why he’s out there. He’s digging for us. He’s one of the guys that we rely on to give us juice. Hopefully, some guys look at that and go, ‘Hey, man, I’ve got to get going.’ Gar’s been like that all year.”
  • While Garland made the second power play unit look decent, the first unit was a disaster, wasting away two power plays in the first period, including a four-minute double minor. They struggled to even gain the offensive zone and, when they did get set up, they were frustratingly static, moving their feet about as much as a rod hockey player.  
  • “It just wasn’t good. Not good enough. They know it,” said Tocchet. “I didn’t think they worked hard and they mismanaged the puck. It’s a four-minute power play. I don’t know, I think the second unit had some shots, but it’s just not good enough…You have to have a work ethic and you have to hold pucks. I don’t think we did.”
  • The four-minute power play came from an Evander Kane crosscheck to the face of Tyler Myers that was called a high stick by the officials. That’s notable because a crosscheck doesn’t have a double-minor option: it’s either a two-minute minor or a five-minute major, which comes with an automatic game misconduct. Tocchet could even be seen saying on the bench, “Five minutes!’ Kane arguably should have been out of the game entirely instead of just in the penalty box for four minutes.
  • Given the uproar over Carson Soucy’s crosscheck to the face of Connor McDavid, is it at all likely that Kane similarly gets a one-game suspension for crosschecking Myers in the face? Oh, my sweet summer child, no.
  • It was yet another rough game for Ian Cole, who had two turnovers leading up to J.T. Miller taking the first Canucks penalty of the game. On the ensuing power play, both Cole and Dakota Joshua chased Connor McDavid as he cut into the middle, leaving Leon Draisaitl wide open in his offence at the bottom of the right faceoff circle. Arturs Silovs got across to get his shoulder on his shot but it wasn’t enough to keep the puck out.
  • “It’s probably the best power play of all time,” said Garland. “You see how many weapons they have, how much movement they have, but I think our PK has done a great job. That’s hard to go against. But we have to play disciplined, you can’t give them their touches and let them get into a groove.”
  • Cole had a disastrous shift in the second period wherein he made a pretty strong argument that he and not Noah Juulsen should come out of the lineup when Carson Soucy returns from his one-game suspension (Juulsen made his own argument later, don’t worry). It started with a terrible read at the Oiler blue line that allowed Darnell Nurse to burst past him for a chance, then he had the puck knocked off his stick to Nurse for another chance, and then he tried a blind, backhand pass through the slot for a turnover. To top it off, his clearance probably should have been called for an icing but it was waved off.
  • The Canucks finally started to string some good shifts together in the second period, led by Quinn Hughes and the Good Job Lads: Garland, Joshua, and Lindholm. Hughes was brilliant, repeatedly extending possessions in the offensive zone with dazzling displays of dekery to escape Oiler pressure. 
  • “The second period, I felt we had five or six shifts in a row where we were there,” said Tocchet. “Then in the third, there was chunks of it, but not consistently. You can say positives but we need more consistent effort from more guys and then maybe, instead of just four or five-shift chunks, we’ll have more possession time.”
  • The real trouble was extending that pressure when Hughes wasn’t on the ice. Shot attempts were 25-to-13 for the Canucks when Hughes was on the ice at 5-on-5 for a corsi of 65.8%. No other defenceman was above 50% in corsi, not even his defence partner, Filip Hronek. Shot attempts were 32-to-20 for the Oilers when Hughes wasn’t on the ice at 5-on-5; shots on goal were 19-to-6.
  • Honestly, Hughes ought to have played more than the 24:44 in ice time he got tonight. This was a game where Hughes should’ve gotten the same treatment Evan Bouchard got in Games 2 and 3 and played around 30 minutes. Any time Hughes wasn’t on the ice, Canucks fans should have been asking, “Where’s Hughes?” 
  • Noah Juulsen mostly played a safe, effective game. He also directly cost the Canucks a goal in the last minute of the second period. As Mattias Ekholm skated into the Canucks zone on a quick regroup, Juulsen stepped up to throw a thunderous open-ice hit. Unfortunately, chasing that hit led to a 2-on-1 behind him for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Connor McDavid against a tired Tyler Myers at the end of a long shift. Myers was able to take away the pass but Nugent-Hopkins sniped the puck off the post and in for a 2-0 lead going into the third.
  • “The second goal at the end of the period was a killer,” said Tocchet.
  • Simply put, Juulsen can’t chase that hit in that situation at that time of the game against that line for the Oilers. That’s the kind of play that ensures you’re heading right back out of the lineup as quickly as you went in. Maybe Ian Cole also deserves to come out — it’s an easy argument to make given his performance this series — but the context of Juulsen’s error makes it a tough one to dismiss.
  • Arturs Silovs made some outstanding saves to keep the Canucks in this game, with two in particular on a third-period penalty kill that would have loomed large if the Canucks had come back to win. First, he robbed McDavid at the backdoor by somehow trapping the puck under his skate like a karate master nabbing a fly out of mid-air with chopsticks. Then he took away the bottom of the net with his left pad to stymie Hyman to close out the kill.
  • It should come as no surprise that Garland kicked off the comeback for the Canucks in the third period. Joshua won a race to a loose puck on the boards and cycled the puck down low to Garland, who relayed it to Nikita Zadorov at the point. Zadorov’s shot was blocked and came out to Lindholm, who made like Henrik Sedin to tip-pass the puck between his legs to Garland as he wheeled into the high slot. Garland’s shot deflected off Nurse’s leg to ramp up over Calvin Pickard’s glove. 
  • It’s astounding how fearless Silovs is. Miller turned the puck over just inside the Oilers’ blue line and Kane poked the puck away, hoping for a breakaway. But Silovs came racing out like a modern-day Dominik Hasek to beat Kane to the puck and send it back out into the neutral zone. It was a daring and audacious play and I particularly loved how Silovs slid into the pokecheck in his butterfly, so even if Kane made contact first, his body would be behind the puck to block it.
  • With Silovs pulled for the extra attacker, the Canucks manifested the tying goal. Elias Pettersson won an offensive zone faceoff, leading to Brock Boeser smartly firing a puck into traffic in front of the net. Like Faustix, Boeser got a bounce, as the puck hit Dakota Joshua’s skate and deflected in to make it 2-2.
  • The good feelings didn’t last long. In the final minute, Kane crashed into Filip Hronek on the forecheck to win a puck, then Draisaitl knocked a Boeser clearing attempt down as Miller blew the zone early. That led to Draisaitl controlling the puck behind the net and Miller made the mistake of drifting too low in the zone. Draisaitl passed to Evan Bouchard in the high slot and he ripped a wristshot past Miller, Lindholm, and Silovs, who never saw the puck past the two forwards. Just like that, the Oilers regained the lead and won Game 4.
  • If you feel I’m being too hard on Miller on that goal, I couldn’t possibly be harder than Miller was on himself. Looking dejected after the game, Miller took full responsibility for the goal.
  • “I was in the wrong spot in the D-zone and I didn’t block the shot,” said Miller. “I’m pretty upset with myself at the moment. That was a pretty big play at the end of the game there. That pass should never have gotten to Bouchard and [the shot] certainly shouldn’t get past me. Arty can’t see anything.”
  • The fault doesn’t solely lie with Miller. Hronek could have made a stronger play on the dump-in to keep from getting crushed by Kane. Lindholm or Hronek could have played Draisaitl more aggressively behind the net to give him less time with the puck. Lindholm could have gotten entirely out of the shooting lane to box out Dylan Holloway and give Silovs a better chance to see the puck. Several players could have made better choices; Miller made the wrong choices.
  • Miller will be fine. He’s bounced back from mistakes like that all season and come back with outstanding performances. It’s entirely likely that Game 5 will be his best game of the series. I’m not worried about Miller; I’m a lot more worried about Pettersson. And this is me saying this, so you know I’m being sincere.
  • “To tie it up like that, we had a great push the entire third, and then for that to happen is obviously disappointing,” said Hughes. “But these things happen and you’ve just got to move on.”
  • Moving on.