Points to ponder as the Canucks talked about winning the game before settling any scores and they did both in finding a way to get to Roberto Luongo in a 5-1 triumph Sunday over the Panthers that placed them in a tie for the final Western Conference wild-card playoff position:
Matheson payback: Tick, tick, tick, boom
It was going to take something significant to steal the spotlight from 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 Canucks would seek retribution on Matheson — the Florida 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.
“The best way to rub it in their faces and to get back at them is to get the two points,” Bo Horvat said before puck drop of avenging the Matheson hit.
“This is all about winning today,” added coach Travis Green. “We’re two points out of wild-card spot.”
That’s what you expect everybody to say. In reality, everybody wanted a piece of Matheson. Your star player misses six games because he was pinned and slammed after Matheson was turned inside out by Pettersson. There was going to be payback. You just knew it. But first, the Canucks had to answer the competitive bell.
“It was a great game and I thought our team game was phenomenal,” said Green. “We didn’t really give them a whole lot of chances and Luongo kept them in the first two periods. I loved our game tonight.”
Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle finished early and hard checks on Matheson and Antoine Roussel wanted a piece of the blue-liner. He was challenged to fight, but wouldn’t. And then with Matheson on the ice as a spectator, it was Michael Haley who was jostling with Josh Leivo and then had to fight Erik Gudbranson in a prolonged late first-period bout.
Maybe some of the pre-game banter by Matheson made it to the locker room. Green said he never addressed his team. He didn’t have to. Especially after Matheson held court.
“I think the whole thing (post Oct 13 hit) was a little abnormal,” he started. “It’s nothing I’ve dealt with before and at the end of the day, and to this day, I wasn’t happy with the suspension because I knew what my intentions were and what was led to be, wasn’t the case.
“That was disappointing. But having said that, I understand it and I know where the league is headed and wants to protect its players. Any time a play like that happens, it’s important to reach out and see if he (Pettersson) is OK. I didn’t mean to do it. If I was that type of guy who meant to do it, I wouldn’t care but obviously I do. That’s why I reached out.”
That’s all fine and good but it wasn’t going to be good enough. Especially when Gudbranson found himself on the ice against the fourth line and Haley. But he had to be smart about it.
“Especially in a one-goal game, you don’t want to take an instigator penalty and risk giving a power play,” said Gudbranson. “Guys tried (to fight Matheson). “It’s not run-and-gun and it’s not the wild west like it used to be. I think Petey would much rather we bring home two points than put ourselves in a bad spot with a one-goal lead.”
What Gudbranson did resonated with the his teammates. It’s galvanized them and the D-man got the stick taps when he exited the penalty box. And even when Haley was on the ice with 10 seconds remaining in the game, the Canucks had already made their point. They won the game. They got the retribution.
“I know Petey would have like to play in this game and we did it for him,” said Horvat. “There’s no business with that stuff (in the last 10 seconds) because the game is over, the fight has been had and Guddy did his job. There was no reason to stir the pot even more. I thought we handled it the best we could and we stuck together as a team again.”
As for the manner in which Gudbranson answered the bell, it didn’t go unnoticed.
“I went on the ice with him on that shift and I knew something was going to happen,” said Horvat. “For him to answer the bell against a tough guy like that, it’s not an easy contest and Guddy handled himself with easy or so it seemed. It pumped us right up.
“To get it (fight) over in the first period, we got engaged and took off from there. We might not say it in the media, but we don’t forget what happened (in Florida). There was history and the emotions were high.”
Vintage Luongo: Prime performance not his last?
Every local Luongo sighting rekindles the polarizing debate.
Does the franchise leader in wins and shutouts deserve to have his Canucks number retired? Or, should he be in the Ring of Honour? There was no debating in what could be his final Rogers Arena appearance, the 39-year-old stopper still has game. Even though his numbers were uncharacteristically poor (3.36 goal-against average, .891 saves percentage) in his first 22 outings. he made 31 saves before a could of empty-netters and would finish with 32 stops.
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 out-waited Luongo to score his first goal in nine games.
“I had a feeling he (Hoffman) was going to pass it over to his D-man,” said Eriksson, who had a three-point night. “I was just trying to angle in and have a good stick and was able to pick it up for the chance. The puck was bouncing a bit in the beginning and I think he expected me to shoot it right away, but I was able to hold onto it and go around him.
“It was nice to finally score again.”
Said Green: “That line (Eriksson-Beagle-Motte) was really good and we needed them tonight because we played them against the top two lines and it would free us up to play Bo’s line against their fourth and third lines. And when we have that advantage, it’s good.”
Luongo then got a glove on a Markus Granlund shot and foiled Motte. How can he step away after a day like this?
“It’s understandable that people are curious, but to be honest with you, I don’t know myself,” said Luongo of his playing future. “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.”
Horvat’s hope: They put the band 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 re-united 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 net and put a Troy Stecher feed just wide on the backhand. Boeser had the two shots off Luongo’s mask and the line combined for 11 shots and 15 attempts.
“I thought we were good tonight and generated a lot of offence and chances,” said Horvat. “We’re familiar with each other and know where each other is going to be and did a good job of that tonight. We’re right there with the (wild card) spot.”
Markstrom manages, Hutton scores
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. As for Ben Hutton, it was his dash from the point to deposit a Stecher rebound that made it 2-1 before Boeser and Beagle would scored empty-net goals and Markus Granlund would close scoring.
“Me and Stechy talked before the draw and he told me to go back door and I kind of laughed, but he said it seriously,” Hutton said of his fifth goal of the season. “He put it right on a platter for me and we’ve been harping about going to the net a lot in practice. It turned out good.”
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.
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