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The Warmup

As the Vancouver Canucks skated onto the ice on Tuesday night to face the Ottawa Senators, they did so hot on the heels of splitting a home-and-home with the division-leading Edmonton Oilers – but also having slipped from a Western Conference wild card position after a shaky November.

With Jacob Markstrom given personal leave to attend the memorial services of his father, Thatcher Demko got the start in net – with the recently-recalled Mike DiPietro backing him up.

The Canucks would at the very least be receiving a boost to their forward corps – as provided by Jeff Paterson on Twitter – with the return of Antoine Roussel. Tyler Graovac exited the lineup with an injury to make way for Roussel, and Tim Schaller moved over to center. Roussel started on a line with Adam Gaudette and Jake Virtanen.

And it was as appropriate a night for the Canucks’ current superpest to make a comeback as possible, with the organization set to honour its all-time best.

Alex Burrows entered the Ring of Honour with unanimous asset among the fanbase – as evidenced by the lengthy standing ovation he received from those assembled at Rogers Arena. After an emotional tribute from Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Burrows took to center ice accompanied by his family to deliver a heartfelt speech – making sure to slowly rotate as he did, ensuring he directed his words to each and every fan in attendance. He also did it off the dome, with no notes. Always the consummate professional.

Highlights included his talk of backdoor tap-ins, the confused response to his mention of “Juice and Kes,” and his surprising tears for Roberto Luongo – his long-time stall-mate. Even Mason Raymond got a shout-out! By the time he got around to mentioning his daughter – born “the day after the dragon” – there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

On a personal note, Alex Burrows is this author’s all-time favourite Canuck – and it’s a distinct honour to provide coverage of his night of recognition.

Thanks for the memories, Burr.

1st Period

Alright, after a quick dabbing of the cheeks and a hearty nose-blow, it was finally time for some hockey – and for another notable Canucks agitator to make their presence felt.

On his first shift back from an absence that stretched into last season, Antoine Roussel came out flying – landing two solid hits and nearly starting an altercation. Fortunately, Roussel’s gloves stayed on, because moments later he found himself on the receiving end of a two-on-one with Adam Gaudette – one that Roussel deftly lifted above Anders Nilsson to make it 1-0 for the home team.

As if the moment wasn’t magical enough, Roussel capped it off by pointing to Alex Burrows’ brand-new panel in the Ring of Honour. A fitting tribute to an individual who scored his fair share of emotionally-satisfying goals back in the day.

Less than three minutes later, Vancouver was on the board again. Some strong forechecking by Tanner Pearson and Bo Horvat led to the puck being turned over to Chris Tanev at the point. He returned it to Pearson at the netside for a tap-in that Nilsson had no hope of turning away – shoddy defensive play by the Senators, sure, but also a 2-0 lead for the Canucks.

The Canucks started to settle down a bit from there – actually going several minutes without scoring a goal as the period approached its halfway mark – but continued to maintain the vast bulk of possession with relentless pressure. Of note, Elias Pettersson kickstarted a series of offensive chances by cleverly avoiding a Thomas Chabot check – making the one-and-only Ottawa superstar look (briefly) foolish.

Quinn Hughes also continued to put on a solo show every time he touched the puck.

It would be the Senators, however, who earned the first powerplay of the game with Tanner Pearson in the box for interference. Though Ottawa was able to work the puck in close for a couple of chances, the Canucks escaped the early disadvantage unscathed – due in part to a generous early whistle on a chaotic scrum in the crease.

Roussel nearly notched his second goal of the period whilst driving hard to the net – again the beneficiary of an excellent Gaudette set-up. This time around, Nilsson proved equal to the task with two pad saves on Roussel’s initial attempt and the immediate rebound.

Another close call – and another nice stop by Nilsson – led to Josh Leivo being hauled down and sending the Canucks to their first powerplay of the night. Elias Pettersson – who entered the night with 97 points in 99 career games – played an atypical role of net-front presence, and it worked – with Pettersson smartly tipping a Brock Boeser shot-pass up and over Nilsson and into the net.

With the scoreboard reading 3-0 in favour of the home team heading into the period’s final TV timeout, it was starting to look like Alex Burrows had indeed managed to give the Canucks one last inspirational lift. And they weren’t done there.

Zack MacEwen – who probably would have exited the lineup to make way for Roussel if not for Tyler Graovac’s injury – went to the front of the net on a first line shift and tipped a Jordie Benn shot past Nilsson low on the blocker side. The goal was the first of the 23-year-old’s career, and the rout was officially on at 4-0 Canucks.

The in-arena cameras didn’t manage to catch Burrows’ live reaction to any of these goals – but one has to imagine it consisted mainly of his trademark toothy grin.

Intermission Highlight

Everything about seeing Mason Raymond again in the intermission – except for the inevitable rage that comes from remembering what Boston did to the guy (and got away with.)

The sheer exuberance of Antoine Roussel’s interview with Randip Janda was definitely the “cherry on the sundae.”

Intermission Lowlight

Ray Ferraro telling everyone listening to protect themselves from their apparently inevitable divorce.

“My advice? Call Zuckerman before your spouse does.”

Way to make Shorthouse’s injury lawyer advert look classy.

2nd Period

As play resumed in the middle frame, Marcus Hogberg had come into the game to replace the beleaguered – but not blameworthy – Anders Nilsson in the Senators’ net. Ottawa came out with much more purpose to start the second, but were unable to offer much in the way of challenging shots against Thatcher Demko.

JT Miller came inches away from putting the home team ahead by five goals, dribbling a puck along the goal-line and out as Hogberg temporarily lost track of a strange bounce.

Logan Brown looked to change the tempo with a clear-cut breakaway from the redline in – but Demko barely blinked as he snagged Brown’s wrister with a darting glovehand, careful not to leave a rebound with nary a Canucks defender in sight.

Demko regrettably lost his shutout a scant few minutes later on a scrambled play that saw three Canuck defenders collapse into his crease, but forget to clear the puck sitting unattended in the slot. JG Pageau skated in and fired the puck past Demko – cutting the Canucks’ lead to 4-1.

Vancouver may have been dominated in terms of effort and possession throughout much of the second, but they did at least manage to do a little dominating of their own – on Twitter:

As the period concluded, Demko had to turn aside another couple of Ottawa scoring opportunities and some serious traffic in his crease – including a desperate net-front conundrum that saw Elias Pettersson give Brady Tkachuk a solid whack to the back of the legs. That play resulted in Chris Tanev smothering the puck behind the net and earning a delay of game penalty – giving the Senators a powerplay opportunity that would extend into the third period.

Though the tide had clearly turned in favour of the visitors, the Canucks managed to skate off after 40 minutes still in possession of a comfortable lead – but also with considerable reason to worry given recent, Evgeni Malkin-related occurrences. At the very least, this time it was Demko leading the charge.

Hey, what are the odds Burrows could pop down to the dressing room for a little intermission inspiration?

Intermission Highlight

Absolutely everything about Alex Burrows’ sit-down with Dan Murphy.

From his charming anecdotes about his wife’s cajoling before the ceremony and wishing he had hugged Daniel Sedin after slaying the dragon to his thoughtful update on the life of Charlene Ward, Burrows was every bit the heart-and-soul individual that Vancouver fans have come to expect.

Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention “win da turd.”

3rd Period

Unfortunately, the Canucks were more “turd” than “win” as they opened up the third period – allowing the Senators to establish early pressure and cut the lead in half less than a minute in. Tyler Ennis tipped a Thomas Chabot point shot past Thatcher Demko at the 40 second mark of the final frame, reducing the home team’s advantage to 4-2 and further maintaining the momentum Ottawa had developed in the second.

JG Pageau just missed cashing in on his second goal of the game moments later, and Vancouver were officially on their heels – but a break was coming. Erik Brannstrom pushed his own net off the moorings and earned a delay of game minor for his troubles, giving the Canucks their second powerplay of a game and a great opportunity to tilt the ice back in their direction.

Instead, the Canucks frittered away all two minutes and immediately gave up a Brady Tkachuk chance as the penalty expired – making it clear that the Sens were still in control.

A strong shift from captain Bo Horvat helped some, and generated two genuine scoring chances – one for Horvat and one for Tanner Pearson that Marcus Hogberg had to be sharp to kick away.

The second unit was able to complete a line change while maintaining pressure as Adam Gaudette burst into the zone, and that led directly to an Oscar Fantenberg knuckler from the point that snuck past Hogberg – and the net-front presence of Gaudette – to put the home team ahead 5-2.

But if you thought that was the end of the Senators’ comeback effort, hold on to your hat. A miniscule 14 seconds later, Vlad Namestnikov took advantage of some questionable coverage by Fantenberg to knock an Ennis set-up past the outstretched pad of Demko.

They say the depth defenseman giveth, and the depth defenseman taketh away.

Travis Green, however, wasn’t about to let another three-goal lead go so easily – and so he threw out a coach’s challenge for an offside violation. John Shorthouse and John Garrett quickly pronounced the goal overturned, but the on-ice officials took a considerable time longer to reach the same conclusion – leaving the scoreboard at 5-2 in favour of the Canucks, and Fantenberg with reason to once again celebrate his first goal with Vancouver without any guilt.

Even that small victory didn’t mean the frustrations were at an end for the Canucks – who by this point had allowed their opponents 40 shots against their netminder.

After Elias Pettersson whiffed on a chance, Brock Boeser took a questionable hooking call as the play moved back up the ice – sending the Sens to their third man advantage of the game with plenty of time remaining. The Canucks’ PK unit – led by a valiant effort from Horvat – did well to limited Ottawa’s chances and keep them to the outside for the entirety of the penalty.

With that final trial behind them, the Canucks cruised to a victory that ended up being way harder than it should have been.

The only action of note in the game’s final five minutes was a sequence in which Tkachuk buried Troy Stecher with a hit from behind that went unnoticed by the officials – but not by Stecher’s teammates. Both Fantenberg and Zack MacEwen landed solid – and legal – checks on Tkachuk in the ensuing seconds.

“Al-ex! Burr-ows!” earned one last chant from the crowd at Rogers Arena as the game entered its final minute. The Canucks may not have “won da turd” for Burr, but they did tie it – and tonight, that was good enough.

The Wrap-Up

What more can be said about this game that hasn’t already been said?

In the end, Tuesday night was all about Alex Burrows – and in more ways than one.

Not only was Burrows’ pregame induction into the Ring of Honour the centerpiece of the evening, it was also responsible for inspiring the Canucks’ only real period of good hockey.

Luckily for them, it was also a period that saw them score four goals.

From there on out, it was up to Thatcher Demko to preserve the lead in spite of the efforts of a team that collapsed in front of them – though they admittedly managed to clamp it down in the waning minutes of the third. The victory put the Canucks back into a playoff position, one point ahead of the San Jose Sharks for the final Western Conference wild card.

It wasn’t a perfect win or even a pretty one, but it was a night on which the Canucks still managed to get the job done – and really, isn’t that a fitting result on Alex Burrows night?

Fancy Stats At A Glance

Gameflow from Canucks vs Ottawa December 3, 2019 (courtesy of naturalstattrick.com)

Heatmap from Canucks vs Ottawa December 3, 2019 (courtesy of naturalstattrick.com)

Top Performers

Thatcher Demko

After an uneventful first period, Demko had to put the team on his shoulders for the ensuing 40 minutes – but he did so while maintaining a calm cool collectedness. Demko made a remarkable 40 saves, many of which were recorded as high-danger chances, and many of which came with Brady Tkachuk planted directly in front of him. It was perhaps Demko’s most impressive outing of the season thus far.

Adam Gaudette

Gaudette’s skating ability directly led to two goals for the Canucks – both of which saw him earn an assist. He deserves particular credit for his speedy forecheck on the Oscar Fantenberg goal, yet another example of the extra offensive gear he has added to Vancouver’s attack. And he did all that with just 14:04 of ice-time.

Antoine Roussel

Sure, Roussel scored in his first shift and didn’t notch another point all night – but that goal was vital in giving the Canucks an early boost and sparking their four-goal period. Beyond that, Roussel was on the ice for another goal and generated a couple of other chances on his own – returning to the lineup with the exact sort of emotional lift that the organization was hoping for.

Next Game

The Canucks finally get some time off – three whole days of it! They’ll pick things up again on Saturday, December 7 for a matinee matchup with the visiting Buffalo Sabres. The start-time is 1:00PM PST, and the game will be broadcast on Sportsnet.