Lightning 2, Canucks 1: Slow start, too much Vasilevskiy prove costly


The Canucks showed resolve to get back into the fight Sunday. Whether somebody had to stand up in the first intermission to deliver a frank assessment, they were committed

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Beware the wounded beast.

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The Tampa Bay Lightning had lost four-straight games and hadn’t sank to that level of concern since the 2019-20 season. The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions also encountered mechanical issues with their charter aircraft late Saturday night following a 4-1 loss in Edmonton.

So, instead of zipping to Vancouver and skipping the game-day skate to ensure they were well rested for Sunday’s confrontation with the Canucks at Rogers Arena, they flew here the day of the game.

Add cranky and ornery to that wounded-beast warning.

“I was trying to think the last time they lost four in a row,” said stunned Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau. “The day you start taking that team lightly, is the day you’re in trouble.”


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With warnings in place, what occurred in a 2-1 loss where the Canucks allowed two early first-period goals in a span of 1:40 spoke to an ongoing penchant for starting slow and chasing games.

The Canucks entered the night ranked 30th in opening-period goals with just 40 through the first 59 games. It didn’t help that Elias Pettersson, who had 18 points (7-11) in his previous 17 games, is sidelined day-to-day with what the club is calling an upper-body injury.

What did help was the manner in which the Canucks showed the resolve to get back into the fight Sunday. Whether somebody had to stand up again in the intermission to deliver a frank assessment of what had gone awry, they were committed in the final two periods.

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Still, if the Canucks fail in their quest for a playoff berth — especially with the slumping Vegas Golden Knights losing their fourth-straight game Sunday, on a 3-7-0 slide and catchable — it will be because of those slow starts.

Ross Colton and Victor Hedman scored for the Lighting while JT Miller connected for his 24th goal of the season in the third period and Conor Garland appeared to tie it by jamming home a loose puck that was waved off.

Here’s what we learned as the Canucks fired 36 shots but fell to 29-24-7:


Vancouver Canucks forward JT Miller (9) checks Tampa Bay Lightning forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (41) in the first period at Rogers Arena.  Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Vancouver Canucks forward JT Miller (9) checks Tampa Bay Lightning forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (41) in the first period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports Photo by Bob Frid /USA TODAY Sports

VASILEVSKIY MIFFS MILLER

You knew JT Miller would have no trouble getting up for this one.

The former Lightning third-liner proved once again Sunday that he’s a bona fide NHL first-liner. He was made expendable in the June 2019 trade to the Canucks — Tampa Bay needed to reward restricted free agent Braden Point for his 93-point season — and Miller embraced the opportunity to play a top-six role here and it showed once again.

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He extended his career-high streak to 12 games with 24 points (8-16), but it wasn’t easy. He had five shots and seven attempts at the halfway point and finished with eight shots, 11 attempts and six hits.

He was a constantly vexed by Vasilevskiy’s ability to play big, calm and still make catlike moves from post to post.

It started with Miller getting two power play chances down low off a cross-ice feed and continued in the second period with his strong move across top of the crease. He fended off the hulking Hedman, went wide and forced Vasilevskiy to stretch and get his right toe on the effort.

And then while falling to the ice, he spun to feed Sheldon Rempal for a scoring chance. In the third period, Miller tried to go far side glove on the Lightning starter but was thwarted before redirecting a cross-ice pass home from a hustling Garland.

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It wasn’t just Miller being miffed.

Vasilevskiy also denied Tanner Pearson from the slot on a first-period power play and then Highmore’s backhand-to-forehand move across the top of the crease. And in the middle frame, Brock Boeser had a high shot snagged and got another chance on an impressive five-shot power play.


Tampa Bay Lightning's Ross Colton (79) celebrates his goal against Vancouver Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko (35) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, BC, Sunday, March 13, 2022.
Tampa Bay Lightning’s Ross Colton (79) celebrates his goal against Vancouver Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko (35) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, BC, Sunday, March 13, 2022. Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck /THE CANADIAN PRESS

LIGHTNING STRIKES QUICK

It should have been written on the locker room whiteboard.

The Lightning were 22-1-4 when scoring first, 19-1-3 when leading after one period and a 24-1-3 when up after 40 minutes. If that doesn’t get your attention, what will? Boudreau has constantly preached that player preparation is of paramount importance and whatever it takes to get ready for the game is fine with him.

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skate. Don’t skate. Just be ready to play.

The Canucks weren’t ready. Colton was denied on his first shift and the Lightning had a two-goal cushion after just five minutes in which they built a 12-1 shot advantage.

First it was the ageless Pat Maroon ending a crease scramble with a cheeky no-look pass from behind the net. It found a pinching Hedman at the side to cap a sequence in which Thatcher Demko made the original save. Colton was then left alone in the slot to take a cross-ice feed and go glove to make it 2-0.

The Lightning appeared to make it a three-goal advantage when Steven Stamkos was left alone at the faceoff dot to take a cross-ice feed and hammer a one-time slapper stick side. However, the Canucks had a successful offside challenge.


Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (88), of Russia, stops Vancouver Canucks' Matthew Highmore (15) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, BC, Sunday, March 13, 2022.
Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (88), of Russia, stops Vancouver Canucks’ Matthew Highmore (15) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, BC, Sunday, March 13, 2022. Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck /THE CANADIAN PRESS

HIGHMORE MIDDLE MAN

The loss of Pettersson meant Highmore, who has become a right-wing fixture on the fourth line, moved to the middle to center Nils Hoglander and Alex Chiasson, while his usual spot was taken by Rempal.

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NEXT GAME

tuesday

New Jersey Devils vs. Vancouver Canucks

7 pm, Roger’s Arena. TV: Sportsnet. Radio: Sportsnet 650.


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