VANCOUVER – Two weeks into his Calder Trophy season four years ago, Elias Pettersson was thrown violently to the ice in Florida by defenceman Mike Matheson, who had been embarrassed by the rookie Vancouver Canuck earlier in the shift.
Pettersson suffered a concussion, Matheson a two-game suspension and the incident set off an inferno of debate about the culture of both the Canucks and the National Hockey League.
But even then, as a 19-year-old with the physique of a 2-iron, Pettersson was tougher than he seemed. Tougher mentally and physically. Four years later for Pettersson and two teams later for Matheson, the Canucks’ elite two-way centre victimized the Montreal Canadiens’ defenceman in overtime to give Vancouver an inexplicable 7-6 victory in front of fans who have rarely been so entertained.
Pettersson may or may not have caused Matheson to blow a tire and lose the puck by touching the defenceman’s leg with his stick, but there was little doubt about the significance of the goal it caused – for the Canucks and Pettersson.
Stronger in every sense than he was four years ago, Pettersson skated the puck to the net from a sharp angle as Matheson retreated and tucked a forehand deke through the pads of Montreal goalie Sam Montembeault.
Asked after the game if he realized in the moment whom he had just pilfered and embarrassed, Pettersson looked a long time at the questioner before deadpanning: “I’m going to say, ‘No comment.’” He knew.
This was Pettersson’s revenge.
At least that’s the storyline we’re going with in a game that could have spawned an alternate universe. For the first time since 1973, the Canucks rallied from a four-goal deficit to win. After the Canadiens scored four times in the first period, the Canucks eventually blew a 5-4 lead late in the third, trailed 6-5, then tied it on Andrei Kuzmenko’s power-play goal with Vancouver relief netminder Collin Delia on the bench for an extra attacker.
And then Pettersson won it 13 seconds into overtime.
“If they had called a penalty there, I would have been upset,” he said. “I didn’t touch his skates. I saw that I had an open lane (to the net). And I saw their goalie had one knee down at the post and it looked like if I made a long move, I might be able to get it through.”
Later, in his press scrum, Pettersson told reporters: “I don’t know if it was relief to score a goal or whatever, but just, overall, the emotion all game, to be down four and come back, be down one again and then tie it at the end, it was a game that had a lot of emotions and I’m glad we came up on top tonight.”
A game with 13 goals deserves that many clauses in one sentence.
“Man, we got the two points; that’s all I can say,” Canuck captain Bo Horvat said. “At the end of the day, I don’t care how we did it, we got it done. Obviously, it was not pretty. We made it pretty hard on ourselves but we showed a lot of resilience tonight. And Dells stepping in (for starting goalie Spencer Martin) and playing as well as he did … it was a fun one. It was a Monday Night Football game.”
Maybe the Canucks would be good at football. They appear to have some flaws as a hockey team.
Unable to figure how to defend leads and win, now they don’t even know how to lose properly. Canuck teams don’t come back from 4-0 late in the second period. They don’t score seven goals in the final 23½ minutes.
They don’t finish a four-game homestand at 2-2 when they led for less than seven minutes in more than four hours of hockey.
“That’s just the rollercoaster of emotions — kind of how you do not want to play the game, really,” Canuck veteran J.T. Miller said. “You want to play even-keel. But when you give up four that quickly, it was kind of a shell shock because … we had been absolutely dominant. Shots were 9-0 (at the start). A couple breakdowns and we’ve just got to get out of that habit of giving them up bang, bang, bang, bang. You’re not going to come back from 4-0 every day. But we talked about getting two in the second (period). But we had so many guys step up. Petey’s line was awesome; Petey was dominant.”
After Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win against Arizona, when the Canucks chased the mighty Coyotes all game, Pettersson’s line was reconfigured by desperate coach Bruce Boudreau. Brock Boeser, who went from being a healthy scratch to outed on the trade block to goal-scoring hero in one eventful Saturday, was deployed Monday alongside Pettersson and winger Ilya Mikheyev.
Mikheyev scored twice on perfect passes from Pettersson, who finished with three points, giving him 32 in 26 games this season.
Horvat, Conor Garland and Jack Studnicka, with the Canucks’ first go-ahead goal at 8:49 of the third period, also scored for Vancouver.
It was impossible to foresee when the score was 4-0 that Studnicka and Delia would become key figures in a Canuck victory. But most of their season has been a surprise. The Canucks are Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates.
“It’s funny, I feel like every game, it’s so live or die,” Miller said. “It’s 82 games. We’ve won a lot of games in the last 15 or 20 (but), it’s a process. It’s not going to be pretty every night. I’m just proud of the group. We had a lot of different guys step up tonight, which is awesome.”
The Canucks have lost seven games this season after leading by two or three goals. But now they’ve won one when they trailed by four.
Leafs may have lucked out with timing of Auston Matthews and Matt Murray injuries – The Globe and Mail
Not that it is ever good to have key players injured, but the Maple Leafs may have caught a break with Auston Matthews and Matt Murray.
With the NHL’s all-star weekend just ahead, both will have more time to nurse what ails them while also possibly missing less action.
Matthews suffered a knee sprain in an overtime victory against the New York Rangers on Jan. 25 and the team’s star centre is expected to be sidelined at least three weeks. It will cause him to miss Saturday’s all-star spectacle in Sunrise, Fla.
Murray, who had already surrendered the starting job in Toronto’s net to Ilya Samsonov, is now plagued by an ankle affliction and it is anybody’s guess when he will return.
The 28-year-old, whose acquisition was seen as risky owing to his history of injuries, has already missed more than a month with an adductor strain. He has not played 40 games in a season since 2018-19.
“There’s something there that’s going to require time for sure,” Sheldon Keefe, the Maple Leafs’ head coach, said. “We won’t quite know, really, until we come back from the break.”
Toronto has a contest against Boston at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday before its eight-day recess begins. Its next game after that will be at Columbus on Feb. 10.
Despite a lengthy list of injuries, the Maple Leafs have done well over the first two-thirds of the season. They are 31-12-8, second in the NHL’s Atlantic Division and a shoe-in to reach the playoffs even if 11 points behind the Bruins.
Boston is an almost incomprehensible 38-7-5 but arrives in town with three consecutive losses. A win will boost the Maple Leafs’ faint hopes of catching up.
“You want to go into the break feeling good,” Keefe said Monday after a team meeting and an optional workout for players at the Ford Performance Centre. “We expect a tough game for sure.
“Our job is to keep pace and apply pressure a little more, just like the teams behind us are trying to do to us. It is a great way to go into the all-star break. There is a lot of excitement.”
After an uninspired effort in a loss to Ottawa on Friday, Toronto rebounded to dismantle the Washington Capitals 5-1 on Sunday.
John Tavares recorded two assists in the 1,000th game of his NHL career, Morgan Rielly scored for the first time this campaign and Samsonov recorded 23 saves as he ran his record on home ice to 15-1-1.
“We played today more for John,” Samsonov said after improving his record to 17-5-2 overall. He did not realize Tavares was about to reach a milestone until a pre-game ceremony.
“One thousand games,” Samonov said, pausing, “That’s amazing.”
Rielly, who is respected as an offensively skilled defenceman, had gone without a goal in 35 previous games this season. In the best year of his career, he had 20 goals.
“Mostly, I just feel relief,” Rielly said. “We wanted to respond after a bad game against Ottawa. We weren’t very proud of ourselves when we went home from here on Friday.”
Joseph Woll, who is 12-1 with a .928 save percentage for the Toronto Marlies, has been called up from the American Hockey League as Samsonov’s backup.
With any luck at all, Woll will not be pressed to play thanks to the upcoming prolonged break.
But first the Bruins come to town.
“Every game against Boston is special,” Alexander Kerfoot, the Maple Leafs’ forward, said.
William Nylander had an assist on Sunday and on Monday was named the league’s second star of the week. He leads Toronto with 28 goals and is tied with Mitch Marner for the team lead with 59 points.
“We are just trying to carve our way back to Boston,” Nylander said. “We have to keeping winning games and see what happens.
“The Bruins are on an incredible pace and will be hard to catch but we are going to try our best to do that.”
Cult figure Bobby Hull was a hockey wild man in a bygone NHL era – The Globe and Mail
Before Bobby Hull showed up, the NHL was long on workmanlike effort and short on rock ’n’ roll erraticism. Now that he’s gone, it’s returned to its former state.
But for a while there, Hull played hockey the way Led Zeppelin played arenas – the most interesting stories didn’t happen in public view, and few of them were the sort you’d want to hear in decent company.
One of the great pure goal scorers in the game’s history and its most notable off-season farmer, Hull bridged the gap between the NHL’s working-class roots and its jet-set aspirations. His career was full of ‘what ifs’ – what if he’d stayed in the NHL past his early 30s?; what if he’d been allowed to play in the Summit Series? The best testament to Hull’s athletic greatness was that despite often working against his own best interests, he still managed to be remembered as great.
Hull, 84, died on Monday.
Like many of his contemporaries, Hull was the sort they grew big on the farm. Born in rural Ontario, he came up through the provincial ranks and joined the Chicago Black Hawks in 1957. He was only 18, but already fully formed as a player.
In a league full of big, tough men, Hull was bigger and tougher, but also remarkably skilled. His slap shot is still remembered as a weapon of NHL mass destruction.
Teammate Glenn Hall once said of it: “The idea was not to stop that thing, but to avoid getting killed.”
Defending Hull was a special challenge because he didn’t have to find a way around you. He could just go through you.
He remains the only hockey player who is more recognizable with a pitchfork in his hands, bailing hay, than he was in uniform on the ice. Up until the chemists got involved, Hull may have had the most imposing physique in sports history. He put it to brutal use on the ice.
He was the first player to score more than 50 goals in a campaign. He scored more points than anyone ever had in a season. He won a single Stanley Cup, giving him access to the best-ever conversation.
In a two-fisted league, Hull and his Chicago teammates played a particularly exuberant brand of hockey. It made them famous outside the game’s usual strongholds.
Like a lot of other famous people in the sixties, Hull took full advantage of the social perks.
I spent an hour with him in a hotel room a decade ago. He was releasing a book and in high spirits, clearly enjoying the attention. But there was a hook of resentment in every story he told.
“We had guys who liked to have fun. But when they dropped the puck at 7:30, we played guilty,” Hull said. I remember him titled forward, waving his hands around. They were enormous.
“We used to say to each other, ‘C’mon, guys. We were pissed up last night. So now we gotta play guilty.’ And there are a lot of guys who don’t understand that – these coaches, I mean. Don’t bother us, cause we’re the guys who know how to play. I never listened to a coach in my life.”
This sort of approach worked for Hull, until it didn’t.
When he publicly mused that he would consider leaving the NHL to join the upstart World Hockey Association for a million dollars – a ridiculous amount at the time – guess what? They gave him a million dollars. That was 1972.
Having got what he wanted, Hull found out it wasn’t what he needed. Once the biggest deal in the biggest league, Hull became the richest guy in an outfit no one cared about.
He continued to score goals in the WHA through the seventies, but his star dimmed. His turncoat status meant he wasn’t invited to join Team Canada for the Summit Series. Just like that, Hull was cut out of Canadian history.
Eventually, he’d find his way back to the national team and the NHL, but the damage had been done. Hull became a cautionary tale about valuing the wrong things.
Post-career, shorn of the protection that teams and the journalists who cover them offer to active stars, Hull went from colourful to objectionable. In the late nineties, it was reported that Hull had given an interview to an English-language Russian newspaper in which he praised Hitler and denigrated Black people.
Once back home, Hull denied it all. The paper stuck to its version of the story and the issue was left unresolved. Whatever the truth of it, Hull was pushed down to the second tier of NHL legends. He still worked the autograph circuit, but no one was anxious to have him make appearances on behalf of the game.
Hull leaned into his reputation as a hockey wild man rather than a legend of the sport. By that point, he was most familiar to contemporary fans as the father of Brett Hull. That seemed to bother him as well.
Where does Hull figure in the pantheon? As a cult figure.
The NHL’s golden age is chock-a-block with team-first guys who played the game the right way – Howe, Beliveau, Richard, Orr, et al. The hard thing is finding a guy in there that anyone had a bad word to say about.
Hull was the wild card in that pack. He played like a virtuoso and lived like a roadie. He made terrible decisions, but kept emerging from them, diminished but intact. He was hockey’s fallen star, and one who kept falling.
It doesn’t make him heroic, but it does make him interesting.
That time I met him he was going through his own book, looking at pictures of himself and pointing out the other people in them.
“He’s dead. He’s dead. He’s dead,” Hull said, quiet and contemplative for the first time that afternoon. “I hate it when I’m the only one alive in these things.”
Now he’s gone, and an era with him. If it can be said that the NHL had a wild, uncontrollable period in its adolescence, Hull embodied it. Then, like a lot of precocious teens, he never quite get over it.
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