It was going to take something significant to steal the Sunday spotlight from Roberto Luongo.
Payback for the Mike Matheson hit that concussed Elias Pettersson? A Nikolay Goldobin goal? A dormant power play coming to life?
Even amid some uncertainty to what degree the Vancouver Canucks would seek retribution on Matheson — the Florida Panthers defenceman drilled Pettersson into the end boards and threw him head first to the ice on Oct. 13 in Sunrise, Fla. to receive a two-game suspension — it was still the sidebar.
Luongo was the story. He always is. He got the Luooos. Matheson got the booos.
That didn’t stop Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle from finishing early and hard checks on Matheson and Antoine Roussel from wanting a piece of the blueliner. And then with Matheson on the ice as a spectator, it was Michael Haley who had to step in and fight Erik Gudbranson in a prolonged late first-period bout. Matheson was challenged to fight earlier but wouldn’t. Haley stepped in and Gudbranson stepped up.
“Especially in a one-goal game, you’re not going to take an instigator penalty and risk giving them a power play,” said Gudbranson. “It’s not the wild west like it used to be. I think Petey would much rather we bring home the two points than put ourselves in a bad spot with a one-goal lead. I know guys tried it (asking Matheson to fight) and he didn’t want to do it.”
Bo Horvat believed the Gudbranson fight was galvanizing because the Canucks found a way to gain traction in the game before wanting to settle a score. Haley was on the ice again with 10 seconds remaining but the Canucks had already made a collective statement.
“Guddy did his job and there was no reason for them (Panthers) to stir the pot even more,” said Horvat. “I thought we handled it the best we could and struck together as a team. I went on the ice with him (Gudbranson) on that shift and I knew something was going to happen. For him to answer the bell against a tough guy like that, it’s not easy and he handled himself with ease it seemed.
“It pumped us right up. You’re engaged right away and to get it (fight) out of the way in the first period, we just took off from there.”
With all that out of the way, it was Luongo turning back the clock in a 32-save performance and the Canucks finally finding a way to solve their former stopper and then scoring a pair of empty-netters.
Here’s what we learned as the Canucks won for the first time in four games (1-2-1) with a 5-1 decision — thanks to a third-period winner by Ben Hutton — that moved them into a tie with Minnesota and Anaheim, although the Wild have three games in hand and the Ducks one:
Lou’s swan song? Maybe not
Every Luongo sighting rekindles the polarizing debate.
Does the franchise leader in wins and shutouts deserve to have his number retired by the Canucks? Or, should he be in the Ring of Honour? In what could be his final Rogers Arena appearance, the 39-year-old showed he still has game — even though his numbers were uncharacteristically poor (3.36 goal-against average, .891 saves percentage) in his first 22 outings.
Luongo flashed a glove hand in the first period to rob Brock Boeser off a rebound. He then took a Boeser wrist shot to the mask, made a glove save off Loui Eriksson down the wing and took another Boeser shot off the side of the mask.
It took 21 shots to finally beat Luongo when Eriksson channelled Pettersson in the second period. He knocked down a Mike Hoffman cross-ice pass in the defensive zone, went in all alone, and outwaited Luongo to score his first goal in nine games.
Luongo then got a glove on a Markus Granlund shot and foiled Tyler Motte. How can he step away after a day like this? The Panthers are in an 0-4-2 funk and need him more than ever.
“It’s understandable that people are curious, but to be honest with you, I don’t know myself,” said Luongo. “I don’t have an answer. I’d like to play as long as possible. I still love playing the game. Right now, I’m going through a little bit of a tough time, but once I get out of it, I’ll be back to where I need to be and it will be fun again.
“It’s always nice to come back here. The fans are great. It’s always special for me. It will always have a special place in my heart. It’s going to take little more desperation for us (to win). It starts with me on out.”
The band is back together
Injuries and indifferent play meant Horvat was going to play with a host of wingers.
The centre’s performance pendulum swung from shutdown guy to straight-ahead scoring guy and despite now going nine games without a goal, there’s reason for optimism. Being reunited with Sven Baertschi and Boeser has given the first wave of attack plenty of giddy-up and potential.
Horvat, who had six shots Thursday, had four in the first period Sunday and once again had his chances. He put a power-play chance over the crossbar and put a Troy Stecher feed just wide on the backhand. Boeser had the two shots off Luongo’s mask and got the empty-netter to seal the deal. The line combined for 11 shots and 14 attempts.
Markstrom had no margin for error
Jacob Markstrom didn’t see a lot of rubber, but he had to make a couple of tough saves off Jared McCann (rebound) and Evgeni Dadonov (jam) before Frank Vatrano scored on the backhand.
OVERTIME: Chris Tanev fell awkwardly into the end boards on the opening shift of the second period and left the game briefly before returning to the bench. The power play is now 0-for-12 the past four games.
Edmonton Oilers vs. Vancouver Canucks
7 p.m., Rogers Arena, SNETP, SNET 650 AM
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