VANCOUVER—Look, the game was fun. The Leafs scored two and then the Canucks somehow did the same, surprising probably just about everyone in the building, and in the third period the joint was jumping. Toronto went into overtime, and Vancouver defenceman Alex Edler won it on a wrist shot. Canucks 3, Leafs 2. First time all year the Leafs lost when leading after two periods, in 33 tries.
First, a note about the beginning. In Calgary on Monday, the moment of silence for the late Ted Lindsay was utterly silent. It was perfectly solemn. That’s how it should be.
But here in Vancouver during the moment of silence someone yelled something, and someone yelled Shut Up, and someone yelled Go Leafs Go, and someone yelled Leafs Suck, and it multiplied into competing shouts from knots of disrespectful, bellowing boors.
Lindsay was a giant, and maybe the most significant player in hockey history, all told. It shouldn’t be hard to respect that for 30 seconds. There were piles of Leafs fans in Calgary, and everyone acted the way you’re supposed to. It wasn’t necessarily just one fan base or the other. It was far from everyone. But it was a disgrace.
There was also a game: It was scoreless until Mitch Marner got away short-handed on a 2-on-1 with … uh, Ron Hainsey, and Marner bobbled the puck, then controlled it as it bounced, then slipped the pass under Troy Stecher’s stick for the goal. And 34 seconds later, after Patrick Marleau had forced a turnover deep in the Vancouver zone against two of their red-jacketed-Star-Trek-security-guard defencemen, hometown kid Morgan Rielly zipped a shot short side on Jacob Markstrom. 2-0.
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It really felt like the Leafs could have ridden that brief burst to a win, but the Canucks got two quick goals in the third: the first assisted by former Leaf Luke Schenn for his first point of the season, and the second scored on a power-play rush by former Leaf Josh Leivo, who escaped Mike Babcock’s healthy scratch hell in December. The building got good and raucous after that, and it was just great. It felt like Vancouver’s playoff game for the year.
At least the Leafs avoided the shootout: only Toronto and the Dallas Stars haven’t had one yet.
Rielly was a little casual on the winner, but Frederik Andersen could have gotten it, too. Rielly wasn’t made available after the game, in his hometown.
“I mean, of course I want to save that one,” said Andersen, who made 28 saves. “I thought I took my eyes off it a little too quick, thinking about the next play, and it dipped on me a little bit, so obviously one I’ve got to stop. I thought we deserved more today, but that happens.”
“I didn’t think we started great, I thought we had a real good second, I didn’t mind our third to tell you the truth, I don’t think it tilted or anything like that,” said Babcock. “But any way you look at it we went into the period, we led 2-0 and lost in overtime. And we should find a way to win that game.”
“We were good tonight, really good,” said Canucks coach Travis Green. “We had a great game tonight.”
Freddie ready to rest: And at the morning skate, unprompted, Babcock announced for the first time that Andersen has a specific game limit; after the Dane had started 66 games in each of the past two seasons, ranking second and third in the league, Babcock seemed to indicate the team had come up with a target he will adhere to.
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“I thought Freddie had a real good night the other night,” said Babcock. “There was obviously a period of time prior to getting hurt and after he got hurt that he wasn’t Freddie-like. It looks like he’s got his game back, that’s important for us. The other thing that happened when he got hurt is he got rested, which is real important. The way we look at it is his max total can get to 56 (games) or something, that’s a real good number for him. He’s an important part of our team and he’s got to play well every night for us to have success.”
Wednesday night was Andersen’s 49th game; the Leafs have 15 games remaining, which would mean to hit 56 — if it is 56 — Andersen would have to start seven and backup Garret Sparks, who usually only handles the second nights of back-to-backs, would start eight. Babcock has stubbornly stuck with his usage of Andersen the last two years. To commit to this while fighting with Boston for home-ice advantage is fascinating.
Oh, and Andersen absolutely robbed Bo Horvat to close the second period, sprawling and flashing his glove and afterwards Horvat just stood there, stooped, stick across his knees, as everyone else slowly left the ice.
The five-foot line: With Frederik Gauthier out, the Leafs’ fourth line was the trio of Nic Petan between Trevor Moore and Tyler Ennis. Moore is listed at 5-foot-10; Ennis and Petan are listed at 5-foot-9. All three may be generous. Babcock is rotating through his fourth-liners, but this one likely aligns most closely with GM Kyle Dubas’ vision of what a fourth line should be: skilled.
“Well, I couldn’t use it too much in D-zone,” said Babcock. “Know what I mean? Everybody loves players, that’s great, but you’ve got to be able to use lines, and everyone’s got to have a role, someone’s got to penalty kill, and someone’s got to take faceoffs, so I don’t think I gave our team with that lineup as good an opportunity as I might’ve.”
Through the last couple games Petan has been winning faceoffs, and Moore has been used to kill penalties, but at even strength, all three were in the seven- to eight-minute range. Oh, and defenceman Justin Holl got in for Igor Ozhiganov, and apparently will go right back out again.
It’s important to take stock: Before the game, young Canucks star Elias Pettersson was critical of his seven-game goalless streak, saying, “I feel like, I don’t know, I don’t think I’m playing at my absolute best right now. I feel like I’m trying to do things, but it hasn’t gone my way the past couple days … Maybe I need to be a little more selfish and shoot the puck a couple times.” He had one shot on goal. Leafs winger Kasperi Kapanen said of his line with Auston Matthews and Andreas Johnsson, “These last couple games we’ve been mediocre … thank God we still have games left before the playoffs.” They were fine. And Green talked about film study of Vancouver’s awful 3-0 loss in Vegas on Sunday. “There was a lot of things we pointed to. Not a lot of good things, but there was a lot of things we pointed out.”
The takeaway: The Leafs are much better than the Canucks, but hockey games are funny things, sometimes. This was probably the game the Calgary game probably should have been. But they haven’t had much fun in Vancouver lately, and this was a blast.
Up next: Saturday night in Edmonton. Last week the Oilers came to Toronto and after a strong first period, mostly looked like a collection of sandbags surrounding four or five good players. But the Canucks have looked like that at times, too, and look what happened.
Bruce Arthur is a Toronto-based sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @bruce_arthur