Have you ever been driving on a familiar route — perhaps home after work — and zoned out for what seems like just a moment, only to find out you’re already halfway home and you remember none of the intervening drive?
It’s not an uncommon phenomenon, but it is a bit terrifying. It’s discomfiting to know that your brain can go into full-on autopilot mode like that.
I admit, my brain went into autopilot mode during this game. I watched this game, I swear. I watched the whole thing. But I’ll readily admit that there was a moment during the second period where I looked at my TV and suddenly realized that I remembered nothing from the past 10-15 minutes.
The concept is sometimes referred to as “highway hypnosis” when it happens on the road, as a person’s conscious mind wanders, focussing on other things, while the subconscious continues to direct all the parts of the body to drive normally, maintaining the right speed, staying in the right lane, and traveling to the right destination.
IIt primarily happens on a particularly familiar and boring stretch of road, with things you’ve seen a million times before and nothing exciting happens to focus your conscious mind. That aptly describes the first couple periods of Saturday’s game between the Canucks and Rangers. Not even the novelty of the flying skate jerseys was enough to jolt me out my reverie. Perhaps the skate jerseys made things worse, convincing my brain that this was literally just a replay of the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs and I already knew the outcome.
Alarmed, I rewound during the second intermission and rewatched some sections of the game that had refused to stick to my brain. Turns out my brain was right to zone out. I should have trusted my brain.
The action picked up in the third period, particularly on the part of the Rangers, and the game grew legitimately tense as the Canucks hung on for dear life, leading to an incredible moment from Jacob Markstrom, but ultimately this 90’s Night game took inspiration from the wrong part of the 90’s: the lack of scoring from the dead puck era.
As much as my brain may not have realized it, I watched this game.
- Really, I watched parts of this game twice. I just only remember one of the times, because I zoned out for the other one. It’s not my fault. Blame my brain.
- I’m not the only one that missed a big chunk of the second period. The NHL’s official nine-minute highlight video for this game jumps from the end of the first period straight to five minutes left in the second period. There were no highlights for 15 full minutes of game action, apparently.
- We’ve seen the Canucks play some exciting hockey during their current winning streak, so I’m placing the bulk of the blame on the New York Rangers, who, by comparison, make lima beans seem thrilling. Yes, the Canucks bobbled the puck all over the place, struggling to connect on routine passes, but that’s just because they were affected by the waves of dullness emanating from the Rangers.
- The way this game started, it gave no indication of the slog that was to come, as the two teams traded goals in the first eight minutes. That kind of start had fans in attendance upset they had paid for the whole seat, when they only needed the edge.
- Antoine Roussel opened the scoring off a nifty play by Bo Horvat and Loui Eriksson. Horvat had some life to him in this game and he shook off two Rangers with quick cutbacks to create some space, then centred for Eriksson, who tipped the puck between his own legs. Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev made the initial save, but Roussel was Jeannot-on-the-spot, banging in the rebound.
- It was a strong night for Horvat and his linemates overall, perhaps because he didn’t have a hard match against the Rangers leading scorer, Artemi Panarin, instead playing primarily against the second line of Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Pavel Buchnevich. The easier match-up and the hard-scrabble tone of the game seemed to suit Horvat nicely.
- The Lotto Line ended up going power-against-power with the Panarin line, with the two sides essentially battling each other to a standstill. When Panarin and Pettersson were on the ice together at 5-on-5, each team had just one shot on goal. Considering Panarin has 22 goals and 55 points this season, tied for 7th in the NHL in scoring, that’s not the worst result.
- Buchnevich did tie up the game in the first period, when his line was up against Adam Gaudette’s third line. Alex Edler threw a big hit on Buchnevich in the corner, but that worked to his advantage. Everyone seemed to forget about Buchnevich after Edler drilled him, and he snuck to the back door, which the Canucks left open like they had burned dinner and were trying to keep the smoke alarm from going off. Kreider stole the puck from Chris Tanev and set up Buchnevich with the open net.
- I want to highlight one sequence that illustrates how frustrating this game was to watch at times. J.T. Miller made an aggressive play in the neutral zone, forcing the Rangers back into their own end, where Pettersson joined the forecheck. He and Miller pinned down Marc Staal in the corner, forcing a turnover. And then Tanev’s pass down the boards clanked off Pettersson’s stick, the Rangers cleared the puck, and nothing came of their excellent forecheck.
- It’s a great illustration of something Miller told me a couple weeks ago about the Lotto Line: “We don't want to play like a skilled line. I think when we play well and break other teams down, then the skill takes over and things start to open up.” There’s just one problem: the skill didn’t take over on Saturday night.
- Full credit to Jacob Markstrom, who was wide awake even as his teammates sometimes seemed a little sleepy. The Canucks’ newest All Star (at least untill all y'all vote in Quinn Hughes) looked the part, making 36 saves on 37 shots. He made 14 saves in the third period alone, including the perfect save for a 90’s Night in Vancouver.
- Kirk McLean was in the building, part of the pre-game ceremony to celebrate the 1994 playoff run. That made Markstrom’s fantastic two-pad stack against Jacob Trouba even more special. Call it Markstrom’s tribute to The Save, as he was wearing the appropriate jersey and gear.
- Panarin found some space thanks to a pick set by Ryan Strome on Pettersson. Markstrom had to respect the possibility of Panarin’s shot, so when Panarin instead found the pinching Trouba on the other side of the ice, Markstrom had to come across in a hurry. With no time to properly get square to the shot, he threw up the old-school two-pad stack to rob Trouba.
- The Canucks got the game-winner a couple minutes later. Quinn Hughes created some havoc by jumping down the boards on a faceoff win by Horvat. From behind the net, Hughes took a hit to get the puck to Horvat, who relayed the puck to Tyler Myers with a nifty saucer pass. With little room to shoot, Myers just threw the puck towards the net with as much mustard as he could manage. It was just the right amount of mustard, as Georgiev never saw the off-speed shot off the stick thanks to an Eriksson screen in front.
- This game was huge for the Canucks, giving them a 7-game winning streak for the first time since 2013. Sure, that was part of the dreadful 2013-14 season that resulted in John Tortorella and Mike Gillis both getting fired, but they had a delightful seven-game winning streak in December that had Canucks fans momentarily convinced they were a playoff team. Appropriately for the theme of this game, I’m 94% sure the 2019-20 Canucks are better than the 2013-14 Canucks.