Tuesday , February 7 2023

Willes: Fistfight Oilers felt like Canucks' biggest game in years


Vancouver Canucks defenseman Derrick Pouliot (5) beats Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) to the ice in the first period.


There is a perception that Vancouver Canucks did not play a significant game after the New Year's Harper's first administration.

This is not true. I feel that way.

In each of the last two years of Willie Desjardins, for example, the Canucks were three games over the .500 at the end of January, before sinking on the face of the earth. This makes their finishes 28 and 29 even more impressive.

In the fire season of the Torts tire there were also 10 games over .500 on January 26th. So the territory is not unloaded.

But this is true. It was something about the Wednesday night contest with Edmonton Oilers, who felt like the Canucks' most important season game in four years. Perhaps this game and the six players' bench that surrounds it is not exactly a referendum on reconstruction, and it was not exactly a battle of titans but it was significant on several levels.

Ask Travis Green.

"It's an equally important role," said Canucks coach before Wednesday's meeting with Conner McDavid's Traveling All-Stars. "It's an interesting game, you want your players to be involved in games that matter, we talked about it today, this is a game where you want to play the best."

Maybe it was not the best. But it has served yet a greater purpose.

In an adventure that had all the reserves of a play-off contest, two teams with a mean of battle for relevance were defeated in a fighting battle at The Rog. Alex Chiasson completed a five-round shootout, giving Oilers a 3-2 victory after finishing the match with Wild West, the final minute of which Jake Virtanen gained nearly the right end for Canucks and 59 minutes of unlucky hockey .

Edmonton Oilers's Mikko Koskinen's concierge ends up trying to cover the puck.

Rich Lam /

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She was not always nice, but she was passionate and exposed something in both teams. For Canucks, the trick will play that game again and again for the next 2 1/2 months and if it does not bring them into play-off, it will still be invaluable in their development.

"It's the type of game that every player wants to be part of," said Jay Beagle, who saw McDavid very much tonight and behaved admirably. "I like this kind of games and you like to have those matches. It's what you're playing for, you play for the playoffs and the playoff atmosphere, that was tonight.

And it was kind of a night in which a player like Beagle plays a leading role.

The Canucks started slowly, giving a short shot to the first sniper Jujhar Khaira, then fell 2-1 on a little McDavid magic. But in the last 40 minutes and OT, the home side might have been the best part and would have deserved a better fate.

Vancouver Canucks, Defender Derrick Pouliot (5), Edgar Oilers puck control, Zack Kassian straight wing.



Ben Hutton had a goal in the second half when Oilers won an offense. Oleg Oilers, Mikko Koskinen, who allowed two goals in Canucks' first seven blows before closing the door, made Bo Horvat's rescue gloves, then Virtanen returned in the final minute. McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were also shut down for McDavid's first-ever goal.

And then there were overtime.

The party started with Jacob Markstrom closing the door on Kris Russell followed by Brandon Sutter hitting Darnell Nurse on the skate while staring at an open net followed by Markstrom stopping Leon Draistaitl on a separate after Koskinen stopped him again Horvat. I mean, if you did, you lost something special.

"With an inch away," Sutter said of his chance of overtime.

"He's nervous when you look," continues Canucks. "When you play, you're worried about the next round, it's fun hockey, it's fun to play, they beat him when they went to that format.

OK, to reaffirm the Canucks lost a point in this game and will be scratches and crunching for everything they can get from now until mid-April. But given this stage of their development, this still means something in a game like this, where each game is important, where there is a battle for each square of ice. They are faced with another 34 games from now on until the end of the season and will be educated in these games for young players such as Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser for players who try to settle as Virtanen and Ben Hutton and even for Green.

"We talked about it," Green said. "We had some goals this year, we want to be quicker, we want to be harder to play, we wanted to develop young players and we wanted to play significant games in the second half."

They now have that much more to come.

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