VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks have suddenly won four times in five games with two coaches and one goalie.
Yes, there was a smidge of a distraction in the middle of this run when the National Hockey League team fired head coach Travis Green and general manager Jim Benning. The last two wins, including Wednesday’s 2-1 shootout victory over the Boston Bruins, have an entirely different feeling than the final two wins of the previous regime.
Brock Boeser, who failed to score in his final 13 games under Green, has two goals in two games for new coach Bruce Boudreau and scored Wednesday on a power-play redirect.
Boudreau has also pushed the right buttons on struggling star Elias Pettersson, who looks more engaged by the game, and top defenceman Quinn Hughes. And goalie Thatcher Demko has simply continued being the Canucks’ most valuable player, allowing one goal in 69 shots since Sunday’s coaching change.
The new boss’s first three days could scarcely have gone better.
“When you’re trying to sell something and if it doesn’t go right, that message goes out the window pretty quickly,” Boudreau said about the value of starting 2-0. “And who knows, we’ve had a really tough schedule. But every game (you win) and you feel a little bit better yourself.”
The Canucks looked ebullient — just like their re-energized fans — when Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller beat Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman in the shootout to give the home team both points after Boston tied the game on a five-on-three power play in the third period amid a cluster of three Vancouver penalties.
“That was fun out there to get the win, and you can see the excitement after Bo scored there,” Hughes said. “It just feels good. Everyone’s really happy and excited about that, and I think there’s a sense of belief that we’re just going to keep going here.”
Boeser added: “Our group has really come together these last few games, and I think it’s big for our group, and I think it’s big for hockey teams to win hockey games and be close. I think tonight was another great step for us, and we’ve got to continue to play hard and play together.”
Despite yielding the tying goal to Patrice Bergeron at 4:51 of the third period, the Canucks’ historically-bad penalty killing survived three other disadvantages. And Vancouver won despite playing without No. 2 defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who is out with what Boudreau hopes is a day-to-day injury, and losing second-pairing blue-liner Travis Hamonic in the second period when he was hit away from the puck by Brad Marchand.
When Bergeron’s tying goal left Boston on the power play for another 1:51, and Tanner Pearson took a delay-of-game penalty at 7:22, it felt like Vancouver might blow another game to the Bruins in the third period — just like they did 10 days earlier in Boston when the Canucks surrendered two late power-play goals to lose 3-2.
But in their brave new world, the Canucks did not crumble.
“You get the five-on-three goal and they get a little bit of momentum,” Boudreau said. “(But) you stand tall. Just perseverance. You lose the defenceman and we’re basically down to three lines after a while, and we have three penalties in the third period. Just determination and the will to win, I think, is a great attribute. And hopefully they’re starting to get it.”
Boudreau said he couldn’t commend enough his five-man defence, which included four righties and saw Tyler Myers log a season-high 28:08 of ice time. But he was still second to Hughes, whose 28:32 of TOI included 1:21 of short-handed time.
Just like Pettersson, Hughes has asked the new coach for an audition on the penalty kill.
“For him to put me out on the PK. . . it means a lot,” Hughes said after a game when five-on-five scoring chances were 14-7 for the Canucks when he was on the ice. “I feel like I’m trying to round out my game. I’m tired of hearing that I’m just an offensive defenceman or whatever. The knock has always been that I’m not very good defensively. And yeah, I’m not going to be as good as some guys defensively — that’s the reality. (But) I think that it’s something I can build into my game.
“I’ve got to earn my ice time on the penalty kill, and if I do a good job, I’m sure they’ll keep putting me out there. It’s up to me, but I think I did a good job out there. And it means a lot to me, for sure.”
Given more responsibility, Hughes probably feels like a different player than he was last week. It looks like he’s playing for a different team, too.