Vancouver Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau said after the morning skate that Nils Hoglander probably needed a puck to go in off his head to end his epic scoring slump. Thursday night, Conor Garland put one in off Hoglander’s stick.
After losing a late lead against the New York Islanders, the Canucks scored twice in 45 seconds halfway through the third period to earn a 4-3 win. The scorers were even more surprising than the outburst.
With his first goal since New Year’s Day, Hoglander tied the game at 9:34 by guiding in an outstanding pass by Garland, who froze New York goalie Semyon Varlamov with a toe drag but instead of shooting passed across the slot to his struggling linemate. And Vasily Podkolzin, who until last week also hadn’t scored since Jan. 1, won it at 10:19 with a shot from the slot after a nice setup by Bo Horvat.
“I just think that’s going to do wonders for him, I hope,” Boudreau said of Hoglander scoring. “There was a shift before … and he almost fanned on (the puck) and he went to the corner. He was just grabbing that stick so tight. It was a great feed by Garland and to put it in, I thought it really just lightened his mind if that makes any sense.”
The second-year Swede had gone 20 games without scoring, eight without registering a point. Podkolzin, the rookie from Russia, suddenly has three goals in five games since ending his scoring drought at 16 games.
Each player was recently a healthy scratch by Boudreau.
Teammates were elated for Hoglander.
“It’s awesome,” winger Brock Boeser said, smiling. “Obviously, he’s a young guy and it’s probably the longest he’s gone without scoring. But it’s something you’ve got to work through. You get out of those slumps by hard work and he stuck with it. And it was a great play by Garland, too.”
Defenseman Brad Hunt, with his first NHL goal since signing with the Canucks last summer, and JT Miller also scored for Vancouver, which trailed 1-0, led 2-1, then trailed again.
Their seventh win in 10 games moved the Canucks back to a season-high four games over .500 and within four points of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Vancouver’s four-game road trip ends Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Canucks are 19-8-4 since Boudreau was hired as coach on Dec. 5, and at least one thing they’ve become is extremely resilient. Vancouver needs to build longer winning streaks, but the team has not lost consecutive games in regulation since ending a three-game tailspin (against what were then the top three teams in the NHL) on Jan. 16.
Thursday’s victory came after the Canucks were awful at the start of a 7-2 loss Monday to the New Jersey Devils.
“I think they’re more resilient than people give them credit for,” Boudreau said. “We’ve been a pretty good bounce-back team, and we want to continue doing that. I don’t think they get the credit for the toughness that they’ve shown that they maybe deserve.
“It’s a pretty overwhelming thing sometimes, you know, when you have that will to win all the time and you’re pushing.”
LONG ISLAND TRIVIA
The Canucks had gone 11 games against the Islanders since winning in regulation — a 4-0 win at Nassau Coliseum on Feb. 22, 2015. That was two arenas ago for the Islanders, who started playing at Barclays Center in Brooklyn the following season. Thursday was the Canucks’ first visit to UBS Arena at Belmont Park on Long Island.
Ryan Miller and Eddie Lack shared that shutout for the Canucks seven years ago. Miller was injured in a collision with teammate Jannik Hansen and did not play again until the playoffs that spring. The Canucks have used eight different goalies since then. Breakthrough star Thatcher Demko got the win on Thursday, making the last of his 24 point-blank saves against Anthony Beauvillier in the final minute.
A SUCCESSFUL HUNT
At age 33, Hunt finally scored a goal for his hometown Canucks, tying the game 1-1 on a slapshot that got through Varlamov at 7:19 of the second period, a few seconds after it appeared Travis Hamonic chopped down Sebastian Aho to create turnover. Hunt grew up in Maple Ridge, BC
Signed by Vancouver as a depth defenseman, Hunt has been back in the lineup since Kyle Burroughs was injured two weeks. Hunt went into Thursday’s game with no goals and seven assists in 24 games this season.
“Never would I have ever dreamed of playing for my hometown team and scoring a goal and getting a huge win when we needed it the most,” Hunt said. “It’s obviously a great feeling. I’m sure a lot of people are really excited — my parents, my family, they’re probably pumped. Yeah, it’s a really cool feeling.”
“I told him it’s about time,” Boudreau deadpanned. “He’s supposed to be a scorer; let’s start scoring. That’s kidding.”
No Canuck was more disrupted by the team’s COVID outbreak and various quarantines than Boeser, who had five goals in his first six games under Boudreau, but has scored just six in 22 games since coming out of protocol in early January.
Boeser has been working his way back to form and Thursday was one of the best Canucks. His bad giveaway led to Beauvillier’s go-ahead goal for New York at 1:49 of the third period, but Boeser also beautifully set up Miller’s goal in second, had six shot attempts and a shot-share of 67 per cent. He also looked physically engaged, winning puck battles and going to the net.
Boeser was on a reconfigured top line with Miller and winger Tanner Pearson.
“Those two guys are obviously older guys and they know what it takes to win in this league,” Boeser said. “Just getting back on that line, I wanted to work as hard (as they do) and be more aggressive. And I thought I did that tonight. I need to do that on a consistent basis.”