Nothing much went right for the Canucks Thursday night at the Garden. Check that, nothing at all went right for the visitors from far away British Columbia.
The new-age sons of Harold Snepsts arrived on Causeway Street positioned as this season’s would-be Stanley Cup champs, parked first in the NHL standings, and left 2½ hours later seeking safe harbor in Detroit.
The Canucks play the Red Wings Saturday afternoon. It’s never good when you’re running to Detroit for anything, other than, say, an early look at the latest e-car or the scrumptious eats in Greektown. Opa!
The Bruins, who breezed to a 4-0 win, rebounded after nothing much went right for them in a 4-1 loss Tuesday night to Calgary on home ice. Check that, nothing at all went right for them against the visitors from far away Alberta.
“Bad effort,” Bruins coach Jim Montgomery summarized in hindsight, speaking to 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Bob Beers following Thursday morning’s workout. “Worst effort I’ve seen in my two years as the Bruins head coach.”
Then the Canucks arrived and played as if they had scrutinized the Bruins-Flames game tape and decided to adopt the same Boston game plan — a low-intensity, baffling, and befuddling no-show.
Good time here for Reminder No. 1, Page 1, from the “Official NHL 82-Game Regular Season Viewer’s Guide”: Never judge a team on its worst night, especially two-thirds of the way through an interminable season.
“Next time in Vancouver,” said Montgomery, musing about the clubs meeting again Feb. 24, “we’re going to see a much different team.”
Reminder No. 2: You don’t really find out what any team’s all about until the playoffs start.
Bruins fans, who were mapping a Cup parade down Boylston Street this time last year, need only review Games 5, 6, and 7 last spring against Florida. The Panthers entered the playoffs labeled as also-rans and then ran roughshod over the blindsided Bruins. The beautiful season (65-12-5) disappeared faster than that ball between Bill Buckner’s legs.
The Vancouver beating, sparked by early shorthanded goals from Brad Marchand and Danton Heinen, was the worst defeat this season for the now 34-12-5 Canucks, as measured by goal margin and hit to the psyche. The best team in the Western Conference barely had its collective 60 toes on the ice when Marchand scored his shorty at 0:32, followed by Heinen at 15:32. Two shorties, bam-bam, and the Canucks were seeing stars like Sonny Liston.
“We just gave ‘em four goals,” said Canucks coach Rick Tocchet. “That’s really what it comes down to.
“It’s a big game, a lot of eyes were on us tonight. They didn’t play well their last game, their coach kind of called them out. They showed up and we just made some stupid mistakes.”
Thatcher Demko, the ex-Boston College netminder, gave up all four goals in the opening 21 minutes, and finished with 21 saves, putting a ding in what was a stellar .920 save percentage. He is now 27-9-1, and, despite betting clipped here, remains among the lead contenders for the Vezina Trophy.
Elias Pettersson and newcomer Elias Lindholm, the polished veteran pivot just acquired from the Flames, both finished minus-4. Elite young defenseman Quinn Hughes, who leads all NHL blue liners in point production (12-52—64), was barely to be found (three shots on net, minus-2).
The ever-surly J.T. Miller, who is among the best at dragging his team into the fight, was noticeable on the game summary only by two minor penalties he logged in the first period. He landed one shot and finished minus-2.
Miller (T4), Pettersson (T8), and Hughes (10) entered the night as three of this season’s top 10 scorers. They went a collective 0-0—0 and minus-8. That’s about as bad as it gets for a squad that began the night with a league-best plus-60 goal differential.
But again, it’s one night and just one night, for a Canucks club that had not lost in regulation over its last dozen games (10-0-2).
Montgomery, for one, didn’t read too much into it, largely, no doubt, because his own backside still had to be smarting after the Bruins’ horrendous showing just two nights earlier.
“I know it was first place in the West vs. first place in the East,” noted Montgomery, “but it didn’t have that kind of feel to it — the intensity of the game.”
Montgomery nonetheless was pleased with how “tenacious and aggressive” his team was in the wake of the loss to the Flames. Resilience matters. If muscle memory indeed is a real thing, the greatest value in the win over the Canucks could prove not to be the 2 points in February, but the confidence that his club can shake off a stinker and follow up with a focused, convincing win in April, May, or June.
For now, the two clubs are knotted again atop the overall standings. The Canucks and Bruins each have 73 points and a .716 points percentage, each with 31 games to go, each with the belief that they can pile up 16 wins at the time of the season when all that matters is who puts bare hands on the Cup and takes it for a spin around the rink in June.
No one then will remember anything that happened one night in February. The Canucks are on to Detroit. The Capitals will be here Saturday. Even after a night when the Bruins could do no wrong, we’re still a long way from knowing who’ll be the one to get it all right in the end.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.