Holtby solid as Canucks defeat Senators
Tanner Pearson scores winner; Ottawa goalie Matt Murray leaves with injury
Tanner Pearson admits that he and his Vancouver Canucks teammates are keeping a close eye on the standings these days.
The Canucks still linger near the bottom of the all-Canadian North Division, but Vancouver's 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators Saturday kept the playoff race tight.
"Every game is a must win. You want to give yourself the best chance possible," Pearson said. "Obviously we have games in hand, which could be the key for us. We've got to keep pushing, take it one game at a time and keep on staying in the win column."
The Canucks sit eight points behind the Montreal Canadiens, who hold the fourth and final playoff spot, but Vancouver has played five fewer games. The Calgary Flames are sandwiched in between, with four more points than the Canucks and having played six more games.
Pearson helped Vancouver (19-19-3) stay in the race Saturday night, scoring the game winner 13:45 into the third.
Bo Horvat streaked into the Sens' end and slipped a pass to Pearson at the top of the slot. The left-winger took a few strides, then ripped a shot over the stick of Ottawa goalie Marcus Hogberg.
Nate Schmidt and Brock Boeser had already registered goals for the Canucks. J.T. Miller added an empty-net strike with 54 seconds left on the game clock and had an assist on Boeser's second-period power play goal. Horvat notched a pair of helpers.
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Vancouver's victory came after the Senators (17-27-4) blanked the Canucks 3-0 on Thursday.
Coach Travis Green liked a lot of what the Canucks did on Saturday, but saw room for improvement, too.
"Our game was solid in a lot of areas. I thought our five-on-five game was a lot better," he said. "I just thought we almost shot ourselves in the foot a little bit tonight. We have to play a little bit smarter at certain times. We can't take that many penalties. And then we kill off a penalty and turn over a puck, that we just can't do. And that's a little bit of youth in our group."
Goalie Braden Holtby put in another solid performance for Vancouver, stopping 26-of-28 shots.
He was tested midway through the second when defenceman Tyler Myers was called for slashing Alex Formenton on a breakaway.
The Sens left-winger was awarded a penalty shot but Holtby calmly tracked Formenton as he weaved in and turned the wrist shot away with his right pad.
Three of Holtby's seven wins this season have come since the Canucks returned from a COVID-19 outbreak.
The 31-year-old goaltender is looking freer and more confident than he did earlier this season, Green said.
"It's great to see," the coach said. "He's a great person, a great teammate. He's had a great career so far, he's still relatively young. And it's awesome to see. I'm happy for him."
Holtby called Saturday's victory a "gutsy effort."
"I thought it was one of those games that can go against you pretty quick if there's some saves at the other end, momentum goes that way," he said. "I think our guys did a great job of hanging in there and making plays when they needed to."
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Evgenii Dadanov had a goal and an assist for Ottawa, and Colin White also scored.
It was an odd night for the Sens' netminders. Ottawa made a change in net 4:27 into the middle frame Saturday after goalie Matt Murray got tangled up with Vancouver's Jake Virtanen in the crease.
Murray got his stick caught in the legs of the right-winger and hauled him down, prompting a tripping call. The goalie suffered an injury on the play and shook his leg before heading to the locker room.
Murray stopped 12-of-13 shots and Hogberg had 18 saves after replacing him in net.
Sens coach D.J. Smith said Anton Forsberg was set to start between the pipes against the Canucks, with Murray acting as backup. But Forsberg suffered a lower-body injury in warmups and did not take the ice.
It was an unfortunate situation, Smith said.
"Things happen in the NHL and you got to adjust," he said. "But I thought we played good enough probably to get a point. We just played a little too wide open when the game was tied and it cost us."
With Hogberg in net, Ottawa was without a backup netminder. Smith said forward Artem Anisimov — who's on the taxi squad — would have been the next man up.
"We had Arty dressed and ready to go. We didn't have anyone left," the coach said.
People may have assumed goalie coach Zac Bierk would have been tapped after his time in the NHL but Smith said that wasn't the case.
"[Bierk] had three hip surgeries, he's got a bad ear from shot in the head as a player, so he's not an option," Smith said. "So we really didn't have anyone left. I know (Sens general manager) Pierre Dorian played some net at the Christmas skate a couple years ago. We were mulling that over. It's a tough situation but Arty had the gear on and was ready to go in."
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Hogberg said he felt good after the game.
"My legs wasn't tired at all," he said. "I felt pretty smooth out there, and felt strong."
Vancouver was quick to capitalize on Murray's tripping penalty.
Quinn Hughes sliced a crisp pass to Boeser and he rifled it in from the right faceoff dot, beating Hogberg stick side to give the Canucks a 2-1 lead 4:46 into the second period.
Boeser leads the Canucks in scoring this season with 37 points (17 goals, 20 assists).
"We knew coming into this game that [the power play] needed to be difference makers because that was a key part of last game. To get one right away was huge," Boeser said.
Vancouver was 1 for 4 with the man advantage Saturday. The Canucks got two minutes of five-on-three hockey in the third after Artem Zub and Erik Brannstrom were called for a high stick and cross-checking, respectively. The home side recorded just one shot on goal during the ensuing power play.
The Sens failed to capitalize on six power plays, including a four-minute double minor Virtanen picked up midway through the second for a high stick that left Sens rookie Tim Stutzle with a bloody nose.
The two sides will meet again in Ottawa on Monday.