25/04/2024

Blowers Racing

Spearheading Sports Quality

Pettersson’s five-point performance stands out in memorable night for Canucks

Pettersson’s five-point performance stands out in memorable night for Canucks

VANCOUVER — The last person Elias Pettersson spoke with at the end of his media availability Thursday night was not a reporter, but his linemate. Andrei Kuzmenko was waiting for him.

They didn’t actually speak, though. Kuzmenko, the Vancouver Canucks rookie from Russia, simply put his arms around Pettersson and gave him a bear hug. Pettersson slapped Kuzmenko on the back and exited the dressing room.

Easily the best Canuck since their tumultuous season began, Pettersson deserved a receiving line of huggers after his five-point performance in Vancouver’s nerve-jangling 8-5 win against the Anaheim Ducks at Rogers Arena.

Kuzmenko scored a third-period hat trick, and he, Pettersson and Ilya Mikheyev combined for four goals and 10 points. 

The Canucks have the ability to make their Stanley Cup-deprived fans lose their minds, so it was nice that all the patrons lost on Thursday were their hats.

There is a lot to remember. 

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This was the night Kevin Bieksa, a leader and lynchpin on the National Hockey League-leading Canuck teams a decade ago, got the rare gift of a one-day contract so he could officially retire as a player by skating out in his team’s jersey one last time and listen to a crowd’s roar that will echo within the former defenceman the rest of his life.

Kuzmenko’s first NHL hat trick came in just his 11th game on this continent. He said he scored three in six years in the Kontinental Hockey League. 

But the real masterpiece was Pettersson’s: a sublimely-skilled goal that broke a 1-1 tie halfway through the game, plus four assists, eight shots on net, a plus-four rating in what was a defensive disaster for both teams, and an expected-goals-for of 76.1 per cent.

Pettersson did a lot in his first four NHL seasons. But this may have been the former Calder Trophy-winner’s finest game yet.

“I bet you when I go over the game, almost every time he was on the ice there was an opportunity (where) he made a play or he was the recipient of a play in an offensive situation,” coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters. “I told him he was really good tonight.

“I don’t know about the production, but (that line is) going to get better. Kuzie. . . is getting better every game about both ends of the ice. I still think he’s going to get better. I think Mik is going to get more confidence in an offensive role. . . because, let’s face it, he was the third-line guy with the Leafs and wasn’t put in that role. Now he’s thrust into it. I hope we keep them together and they stay as dynamic as they were tonight.”

That line, and especially the way Pettersson is driving it, has been one of the most encouraging aspects of the Canucks’ erratic 3-6-2 start.

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“We’re getting better each game,” Pettersson, 23, said. “I haven’t played with them before this season so, I mean, the more we play, the better we’ll know each other — where we are (on the ice). Today, I think we had a lot of scoring chances on the rush. But I think we should be better at having more offensive zone time. I feel like sometimes it’s a lot of one-and-dones; we’re trying to score right away instead of having some of O-zone time.”

Kuzmenko, who scored three goals in his first 10 games, didn’t get started on his hatty until he tapped in Pettersson’s laser pass to the far post for a goal at 5:54 of the third — on a power play after Anaheim coach Dallas Eakins was penalized for the failed challenge of Dakota Joshua’s scramble goal that made it 4-2 24 seconds earlier.

Kuzmenko deflected Tyler Myers’ point shot through Anaheim goalie John Gibson to make it 6-4 at 14:48, then wired a shot past Gibson on the rush at 16:48.

“It was good night,” Kuzmenko, 26, told Sportsnet in English after the game. “We need just win. Next game, we’ll be better, better, better. Petey and Ilya, I say thank you. They help me.”

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Kuzmenko said Mikheyev, who also is Russian, told him in the second period to get to the net more, to stop drifting wide looking for passes and shots from distance.

Still, none of his goals were as impressive as Pettersson’s, as the Canucks’ best player had to turn to collect a hard, goalmouth pass from Mikheyev. At the top of the crease, with defenders converging on him, Pettersson was able to protect the puck by bracing for contact, then kick it up to his stick and find a few inches to tuck it past Gibson’s right pad.

“I wanted to shoot right away. . . but I mishandled it a little bit,” Pettersson explained. “I knew a D-man (John Klingberg) was behind me, so I just tried to protect the puck. The puck was still between my feet, so I just tried to kick it to my forehand and shoot.”

Noticing a reporter’s incredulous look, he added: “I mean, I’ve been playing hockey since I was three.”

But rarely better than on Thursday, when the Canucks needed him most.

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