Without the playoffs to look forward to, it would appear beating the Toronto Maple Leafs is a cause for celebration for the Vancouver Canucks. Saturday night’s 4-1 victory over the visiting ‘Buds’ marks the sixth consecutive victory at Rogers Arena for the Canucks over the dreaded blue-and-white of Toronto.
With its physicality and pace, the game did have a bit of a playoff feel. A tense battle swung the way of the home team with two shorthanded goals for the Canucks nearing the midway point of the third period on the same Toronto power play.
The other factor that really stood out: Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko. He saved their bacon early and often, reminiscent of the club’s unlikely rally towards an almost playoff spot during the 2021-’22 season. Let’s just say he’s back with a vengeance after missing almost three months to injury recovery.
“He’s terrific,” Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet said postgame. “He’s just been so solid. Worked hard the last six weeks. He swallows pucks, he’s big out there. He’s been, every game since I’ve been here, he’s been unreal.”
NHL: Coop’ Benches Top Line
The 2020 and 2021 Stanley Cup champions and 2022 runners-up, the Tampa Bay Lightning, saw a surprising scenario unfold on Saturday evening. Head coach Jon Cooper benched his top line of Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov for the entire third period during the Bolts 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
“We have a set of standards here that everybody adheres to, and it’s not pick and choose, it’s everybody,” Cooper said postgame. “It’s how it was for today and those guys are an extremely important part of our team, but for 20 minutes tonight, I thought the other guys could get it done, and they almost did.”
The Lightning have lost four games in a row and sit in third place in the Atlantic Division. Because of wide gaps in the standings in the Eastern Conference, it’s been pretty clear for awhile that Tampa Bay will open the playoffs with a repeat first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite the setback in Vancouver on Saturday night, it appears the 2nd place Maple Leafs should have home ice for that first round series. They’re five points ahead.
The three players didn’t speak to the media postgame, but veteran teammate Pat Maroon did.
“They’re mad about it and they’ll man up to it and own up to it,” Tampa’s ‘Big Rig’ said. “And I think that’s why this locker room has been so good over the last few years, is that we all hold each other accountable.”
With Saturday’s win the Canucks moved their season point total to 55, still 6th worst in the NHL. That would bring them a 7.5% shot at winning the NHL Draft Lottery. They’re just one point worse than the Montreal Canadiens and two worse than the Philadelphia Flyers, so that percentage could get smaller if the Canucks continue to win.
Again, management doesn’t mind losses in this scenario, but players and coaches are always trying to win for competitive reasons and for the purpose of building some overall confidence and team identity.
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