Despite clinching a playoff berth quite a while ago, the Nashville Predators still had plenty to play for on Thursday night. A win meant first place in the Central Division, but their position is precarious: the Winnipeg Jets, despite their recent struggles, are still right there, and the St. Louis Blues are nipping at their heels. Both teams are just one point back with one game left to play for all three teams.
With the win, the Predators have control over their own fates. If they win their final game of the season, they lock up first in the Central, along with home ice advantage through at least the first two rounds, assuming they get out of the first round. Home ice not only provides a small competitive edge, but also means more playoff revenue and more games for your hometown fans.
The Canucks, on the other hand, don’t have anywhere near as much to play for. They’re out of the playoffs, so all that’s left is personal pride, as well as the pride in your team and your teammates.
Pride, however, can go a long way. For the Canucks, every loss still hurts and every win is still worth celebrating. They care deeply about these so-called meaningless games. They care about proving to themselves and everyone else that they can compete with the best teams in the NHL. They care about proving to their coaches and management that they deserve to be a part of this team next season.
Most of all, they care about winning. You don’t generally get to the NHL if you don’t love winning and hate losing.
So, even if the loss to the Predators was the best thing for getting the Canucks slightly better lottery odds and a slightly higher pick in the draft, it was still tough to see how devastated Troy Stecher was on the ice after a pass took a freak deflection off his stick into the net for the game-winning goal. If anyone on the Canucks care, Stecher cares.
Seeing the Canucks care made me care when I watched this game.
- Brogan Rafferty made his NHL debut with the Canucks just three days after signing his entry-level contract and before he’d even had one practice with the team. At times, quite frankly, he looked like someone that had never practiced with his team, seemingly unsure of where to put the puck on the breakout or who to cover in the defensive scheme. He settled in after some initial struggles, however, and didn’t look out of place. I’ll chalk up his errors to the lack of practice time and first game jitters, and reserve judgement.
- I don’t know about you, but I’ve been dying to see Quinn Hughes get some real ice time on the power play. First unit, second unit, who cares? Just get him on the ice with the man advantage so we can see what he can do. He got his chance in this game, with the first unit actually getting off the ice early enough in the Canucks’ two power plays to give the second unit a decent amount of time to work. It paid off: Hughes assisted on two power play goals, bringing him up to three points in four NHL games. His 0.75 assists per game is first all-time on the Canucks, so you may as well retire his number right now.
- Wait, never mind, then he wouldn’t be able to wear his number anymore. Whose ridiculous idea was this?
- The Canucks opened the scoring thanks to a wonderfully ridiculous play by Hughes and Markus Granlund. Hughes played a give-and-go with Granlund to gain the Predators blue line, then darted down the boards, bringing three penalty killers with him. Granlund jumped towards the net and Hughes found him with a lovely blind backhand pass. Granlund, all alone with Pekka Rinne, deked to the backhand and went top shelf where Grandma keeps the diamonds.
- In the above scenario, Grandma is a lifelong jewel thief, who has no regrets except for getting caught.
- Before the end of the first period, the Canucks struck again on the power play. Adam Gaudette skated the puck in then sent it to Ryan Spooner on the right side, who relayed it to Hughes at the point. His shot hit Tanner Pearson in the slot, but Pearson dug the puck out of his skates and sent it pinballing off the crossbar, off Rinne’s back, and in. Thankfully he called bank or it wouldn't have counted.
That's two straight power play goals for the #Canucks second-unit. This time it's Tanner Pearson who scores, sending home the rebound from Quinn Hughes' shot, doubling their lead over the #Preds to 2-0. pic.twitter.com/4yjLCqPvph— J.D. Burke (@JDylanBurke) April 5, 2019
- Just like that, Hughes now has more power play points this season than Derrick Pouliot and Brandon Sutter, and is tied with Adam Gaudette, Jake Virtanen, and Troy Stecher. Methinks he might be good at this whole power play thing.
- That was it for scoring from the Canucks, however. After out-shooting the Predators 16-9 in the first period, the shots were 24-16 through the rest of the game. It was either that the Canucks locking down defensively and trying to defend a two-goal lead for 40 minutes or that the Predators are one of the best teams in the Western Conference and are perfectly capable of flipping a switch when they realize they’re about to lose to the Canucks.
- Even with that flipped switch, it took some true ludicrosity for the Predators to overcome the two-goal deficit. Colton Sissons started things off with a shot from the right wing that appeared to be swallowed up by Jacob Markstrom. That’s what the referees thought, at least, as they blew the whistle to stop play. But somehow the puck hit Markstrom and slowly rolled through his legs and over the goal line like a yo-yo with a broken string.
- The play went to a video review and was confirmed as a good goal, which was the right call according to the rules and also according to good sense. I’m regularly frustrated by the “intent to blow” nonsense that sometimes wipes out perfectly good goals. If the refs determine on review that the whistle never should have been blown and that blowing it made no difference to the play, call it a goal.
- The Predators have been burned by the “intent to blow” rule before, specifically against the Canucks, so even if you disagree with the ruling, at least accept it as karma.
- After the Kyle Turris and Brock Boeser traded posts, Boeser had another glorious chance. Hughes jumped down the boards and centred for Spooner, whose shot was stopped by Rinne, then Rinne lunged across to stop Boeser on the rebound, somehow kicking out his right pad to turn the puck aside.
- Markstrom was fantastic in the second period, but he was somehow even better in the third. He robbed Nick Bonino after a ridiculous saucer pass by Austin Watson over Ben Hutton. Somehow, Markstrom got his blocker across to trap the puck between it and his right pad.
- Just over a minute later, he snagged a Roman Josi shot point blank in the slot. Filip Forsberg beat Hughes wide, while everyone lost track of Josi wide open in front. Forsberg set up Josi, who had all day to pick his spot, but Markstrom made sure that spot was his glove. I suspect a Jedi mind trick.
- Markstrom made many more saves: a scrambling glove stop on Viktor Arvidsson after Alex Edler accidentally knocked him over. A blocker save on an Viktor Arvidsson breakaway. Even some saves that weren’t on Viktor Arvidsson. If every one of his saves were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
- The Predators tied the game on a weird one. Markstrom made a save on a Ryan Ellis point shot, but couldn’t control the rebound. Meanwhile, Jake Virtanen tripped up his man, Watson, going to the net, and the puck went off his glove as he slid into Markstrom. While Ben Hutton looked for the puck, Nick Bonino, with an un-tied-up stick, put the puck in the open net.
- Travis Green challenged the goal, but apparently there’s nothing in the rules against a hot mess, so the goal counted.
- The Canucks seemed content getting it to overtime, where they’ve had some success lately, but it was not to be. Pettersson was checking Filip Forsberg and knocked him off stride, which gave Boeser a chance to take the puck. Forsberg battled back, however, and swept the puck off Boeser’s stick like a magician stealing a watch right in front of a guy’s face. Forsberg fed Ryan Johansen and his backdoor pass was blocked by Stecher. Unfortunately, he blocked it right into his own net.
- There was a tiny bit of hope for the Canucks when the goal went under official review. The war room in Toronto evidently wanted to see if it was offside, but it wasn’t even close. It just delayed the inevitable. It’s a tough way to lose a game, no matter when it happens.
- Just one game left. One afternoon in Saturday and the season is over. Then it’ll just be watching the playoffs from afar with a forlorn expression. And the draft lottery. Can’t forget the draft lottery.