SUNRISE, Fla. — The Canucks beat the Florida Panthers 3-2, but only one thing really mattered here Saturday night: the health status of Elias Pettersson.
The rookie was playing a marvellous game and had a second-period power-play goal to show for it, but a rough hit by Panthers defenceman Mike Matheson partway through the third period became the story.
The hit came after Pettersson made a nifty spin move in the corner, causing Matheson to fall. Pettersson moved the puck around the end boards and when the puck came back to him, Matheson nailed him into the boards.
Pettersson looked to hit his head into the glass before Matheson dumped him down onto the ice, where he looked to hit his head again.
A woozy Pettersson was helped off the ice. Canucks coach Travis Green had no update on his status after the game. No penalty was called on the play.
“That’s a dirty play,” Green said. “The league is trying to protect the good young players and that’s a dirty play.
“We won the game. I’m not going to comment on retribution. It was a play that was far away.”
Skill players being targeted didn’t surprise him, either.
“All the good players are. That’s hockey,” he said. “When you see a player get body slammed to the ice, you don’t want to see that.”
Green said he told his team to keep control and not go chasing after Matheson.
“You’ve got to show composure when you’re in a game. It’s a 3-2 hockey game. There’s 12 minutes left. You’re talking about a guy that has one fight in his career. I don’t think he’s known as a dirty player. You’re in a hockey game, you don’t just go start chasing guys around the rink.
“That’s just not the way it is. I’m just not going to talk about retribution.”
The Canucks also got goals from Bo Horvat — the game-winner at 6:11 of the third period coming on a beautiful effort, after he drove the net on a perfectly weighted pass off the boards by Sven Baertschi — and Antoine Roussel on a second-period penalty shot.
The Panthers got the game-opening goal off Jonathan Huberdeau’s stick, on a goalmouth scramble that Canucks goalie Anders Nilsson couldn’t stop because he’d been knocked out of position by a battling Chris Tanev.
The Panthers’ second goal, which put them up 2-1 at 17:20 of the middle period, was a rocket one-timer by Vincent Trocheck, fired from the left boards and sailing over Nilsson’s glove hand into the top-right corner of the net.
“This was a great win. I’m proud of our group tonight. Stick with our game plan,” Green said. “It was great, gutsy,” he added about the final minutes of the game, when the Canucks defended strongly.
Goalie Anders Nilsson’s performance, as well as the work on the power play and the penalty kill also came in for high praise.
“Got a big power-play goal from Petey and the penalty kill was good,” Green said. “I’m proud of how we played the game. That was our best game of the year.”
Here’s what else we learned Saturday in the Sunshine State:
The Swedish Rocket
If this keeps up, Pettersson’s wrist shot is going to be studied by physicists.
With his team trailing 1-0 in the second period, Pettersson collected a nice Baertschi pass off the left boards and found himself on the edge of the slot, on the right face-off circle.
He collected himself and then fired a patented wrist shot over Panthers goalie James Reimer’s left hand. The shot was so quick, Reimer barely moved. It was really only his head that moved — out of self-preservation it seemed — and his hand, which made a hopeful stab for the rocketing biscuit.
Five goals in five games
Pettersson’s career-opening five-game point streak now has him tied for the club record with Don Tannahill, who had three goals and two assists in his first five games in 1972-73.
Roussel made his Canucks debut on Saturday.
And what a debut it was. After taking two penalties in his first five shifts in the first period, the Roussel on the first-line experiment came to an end.
Matched with Brandon Sutter and Jake Virtanen, the trio proved to be effective.
Roussel scored a great goal on the penalty shot. He toe-dragged from left to right through the slot and Reimer probably thought he was going to try a high shot over his blocker, as is customary with such a move, but instead Roussel wired it under his glove hand.
The penalty shot was the result of Roussel being fouled on a breakaway, one created by a deft pass from Virtanen, who slipped the puck behind the Panthers’ defence at the blue-line, perfectly timed for the onrushing Roussel.
Biega on waivers
To make room for Roussel, the Canucks announced that Alex Biega would be placed on waivers Sunday morning. If he clears — other teams have until 9 a.m. PT Monday to put in a claim — he’ll be reassigned to the Utica Comets.
Travis Green said it was a difficult decision to take Biega off the roster.
“He’s a good man. Dedicated worker, great character,” he said.
Vancouver Canucks at Pittsburgh Penguins
4 p.m., PPG Paints Arena, SNET1, SNET 650 AM
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