Young Canucks face stern test against proven Sharks
In a Western Conference where no team seemingly wants to lock down a wild-card playoff spot, the youthful Vancouver Canucks are staking their claim to play more meaningful games in April.
And it may be young players like Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser who get Vancouver (26-26-7) over the cusp of the playoff threshold.
The upstart Canucks will take rookie All-Star Pettersson and second-year winger Boeser into San Jose's SAP Center for Saturday night's contest against the Sharks - the second time the teams have met in a week. The third meeting between the clubs this season will conclude Vancouver's three-game road trip.
If Vancouver is seriously going to push for a postseason spot in the wildly up-for-grabs wild-card chase, the Canucks will have to do a much better job of playing in their own end and competing with more success against the Sharks than they have in the previous two encounters.
San Jose (34-17-7) won the first two meetings convincingly, primarily behind great goaltending from Aaron Dell and Martin Jones. Dell needed just 19 saves to blank the Canucks 4-0 on Nov. 23, while Jones turned aside 25 shots in his hometown of Vancouver in a 7-2 victory Monday.
The sharpshooting Boeser came to the rescue late for the Canucks in their 4-3 shootout win Thursday night against the Kings in Los Angeles. Pettersson scored in the shootout's first round, and Boeser rolled in the game-winner off goalie Jonathan Quick's partial glove deflection.
Vancouver backstop Jacob Markstrom, who posted 35 saves in regulation, denied Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe after Ilya Kovalchuk scored, helping the Canucks win for just the third time since the All-Star break (3-4-1).
A top candidate for the Calder Trophy awarded to the NHL's best rookie, Pettersson, 20, used the man advantage Thursday to snipe in his 26th goal of the season. Boeser, who netted 29 goals as a rookie last season, registered his 20th from 22-year-old Adam Gaudette, who tied the contest with 1:38 left in regulation.
Vancouver is playing without four contributors - Brandon Sutter, Sven Baertschi, Alex Edler and Thatcher Demko - but Boeser said the club knows how it has to play.
"It's just showing up at the rink every night and playing for a full 60 minutes," said Boeser, 21. "We've got to make sure we're engaged for a full 60 and compete every night."
The Sharks wasted a chance at home on Thursday to maintain their slight grasp of first place in the Pacific Division over Calgary.
While the Flames scored late and earned a point in a 3-2 shootout loss at Florida against the Panthers, San Jose was trounced 5-1 by the Washington Capitals, as the defending Stanley Cup champions scored five unanswered after Kevin Labanc put the Sharks up 2:06 into the contest.
Jones stopped just 24 of 28 shots as the Sharks saw their stout six-game winning streak halted - five of the victories were on the road. San Jose slipped into second place because Calgary, which also owns 75 points, holds one game in hand.
"I thought they were hungrier, they were a little better than us ... ," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said of the Capitals. "We've had some pretty good nights in the last month. (Thursday) wasn't our best. The mistakes we made ... we couldn't outscore our problems."
--Field Level Media
Updated February 15, 2019