It’s not about them. It’s about us.
The sign of a maturing team is the ability to consistently take care of its own business because that will lead to victory on a more regular basis, no matter the competition.
On Tuesday, the Vancouver Canucks didn’t want to talk about another litmus test against the high-octane Tampa Bay Lightning. They paid respect to NHL scoring leader Nikita Kucherov and power play sniper Steven Stamkos, but that was about it.
“A measuring stick? We’re not doing that,” Canucks centre J.T. Miller stressed about facing his former team. “Just taking it day by day. It’s about us. When we do that we can play with anybody.”
And that’s exactly what they did in an impressive 4-1 victory to stretch their win streak to three games and mark the first win over the Lightning at Rogers Arena since Dec. 16, 2016.
“It was a solid win,” said Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet. “We were a little rusty early, but settled in and the penalty kill was great. All four lines and six defence contributed and it was a good team effort.”
Florida Panthers at Vancouver Canucks
7 p.m., Rogers Arena. TV: Sportsnet Pacific; Radio: AM650
After surrendering an early lead, the Canucks methodically gathered their game. Andrei Kuzmenko finally found the net on the power play and Brock Boeser erupted for a three-goal outing. He now has 21 goals and is tied with Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the league lead.
The Canucks weren’t taking a cocky approach to facing the two-time Stanley Cup champion Lightning and were rightly cautious.
“You can’t fall asleep against that team,” warned Miller. “They have some guys who will kill you. If we get a lead, we can’t be feeling comfortable because they’ll keep coming.”
The Canucks extended their record to 16-0-0 when leading after two periods and that said something because they denied the league’s third-ranked power play on all three occasions.
Here’s what else we learned as a calm and cool Thatcher Demko made 28 saves — including five off Stamkos — and the Canucks now look forward to hosting the Florida Panthers on Thursday when Roberto Luongo will join the Ring of Honour:
Boeser continues to light lamp
Boeser has scored in every conceivable manner in his remarkable season of relief and redemption.
The hot-shot winger nearly converted a second period power play chance form the bumper position before doing what he has done on a regular basis.
He has willingly gone to the hard areas to establish position to either set a screen, deflect a shot or bury a rebound. And he still has that rocket of a shot when the opportunity arises. So, he’s now double trouble for the opposition.
Boeser got into position to backhand a Miller rebound home in the second stanza before later unloading a one-timer to the short stick side in the high slot off a Quinn Hughes pass. Another multi-goal outing speaks to doing the work and seeing the results.
“He’s just a smart guy and knows the spots to go at,” said Tocchet. “And he has sharpened up his defensive game and still wants to get better, but it’s night and day from last year.”
The Canucks wanted Boeser to raise his level of fitness in the off-season with a new trainer and regimen. Added strength has allowed him to be more effective on the forecheck and backcheck and also establish and maintain position down low.
Health is also wealth. Boeser hasn’t been slowed by nagging injuries or picking up a freak one like he did in a training camp scrimmage last year. Add it all up and you get a productive player who’s skating more freely and is in a good place mentally.
Those trade rumours that persisted last season, and especially at the trade deadline, seem like a distant memory. He has been money and worth every penny of his US$6.65 million cap hit.
Zadorov is in Kuzmenko’s corner
Sometimes, it takes a friend and countryman to ride to the emotional rescue.
With Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet displaying lingering and utter disgust with Kuzmenko’s inability to execute on the forecheck — and also not getting to the net more regularly to find loose pucks like he did Saturday with two whacks in one crease scramble — there were encouraging signs in the first period.
Not only did Kuzmenko look like Alex Ovechkin by taking a cross-ice, power play feed from Hughes and wiring a one-timer short side for his first goal in five games and just second in the last 16, he then checked a box for Tocchet.
He hustled back on the backcheck to negate a Stamkos chance in the slot.
In the second period, he got into position to deflect a power play point shot for a scoring chance, created havoc in the crease and feathered a fancy back pass to the point.
When Nikita Zadorov arrived in a trade, he said he could help Kuzmenko on and off the ice because it’s just his second season in the NHL after eight in the KHL. On Tuesday morning, he went one step further.
“He’s good. You’ve just got to leave the guy alone sometimes,” stressed Zadorov. “He’s working super hard and I can tell you that Tocchet really likes him. And Kuzy wants the best from himself. It takes time.
“He’s not young (27) but young for this league. Everything was going for him last year, but it really wasn’t playoff hockey. He just has to shoot more. In this league, 70 per cent is confidence.”
OVERTIME — Sometimes it’s the little things. Defenceman Noah Juulsen is playing with poise and confidence. He’s quickly finding outlet options and his long feed to Phil DiGiuseppe led to a scoring chance off the rush. Juulsen also drew a penalty behind the Canucks net while aggressively triggering the transition.
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