Canucks 5 Blackhawks 2: Markstrom delivers, new dynamic duo, pass-happy Boeser


Chicago Blackhawks' Ryan Hartman, bottom, is checked into Jacob Markstrom by Erik Gudbranson.

Chicago Blackhawks' Ryan Hartman, bottom, is checked into Jacob Markstrom by Erik Gudbranson.

Photograph by: DARRYL DYCK, The Province

Travis Green did what any calculating coach does after a three-day Christmas break.

The Vancouver Canucks bench boss dropped traditional practice F-bombs — Anders Nilsson was the recipient of the ripe ritual Wednesday — and the affect of singling out one of his stoppers to grab the collective attention wouldn’t take long to assess.

As much as Green hasn’t pointed an accusatory post-game finger at Jacob Markstrom or Nilsson — and believes his goaltenders don’t have to steal games for the National Hockey League club — it’s never been more evident that it has to occur.

And there wasn’t a better stage than Thursday at Rogers Arena for Markstrom to prove he’s more than just the anointed starter.

Chicago stalwart Corey Crawford has been placed on injury reserve for the second time this month with an undisclosed upper-body injury and the Blackhawks will miss his experience and .929 saves percentage that ranked second among starters.

It meant Anton Forsberg, 25, who took a 1-4-3 record into his 22nd league start and gave up three goals in 15 minutes against the Washington Capitals on Dec. 6, has to carry the load. Minor-league journeyman Jeff Glass, 32, has yet to play an NHL game and Jean-Francois Berube is injured.

It meant Markstrom could make his mark in the crease matchup. Then again, Forsberg took a .909 saves percentage into the duel and it’s better than Markstrom (.905) and Nilsson (.906).

Here’s what we learned as the Canucks earned a 5-2 victory to end a four-game losing streak:

Markstrom measures up

It wasn’t going to be easy.

Say what you want of the Hawks’ confusing 29th-ranked power play with all that firepower — and those quick cross-ice feeds — but despite sloppiness and giveaways, they did connect. A quick Patrick Kane dish and Nick Schmaltz found the short side on Markstrom from the hash marks.

That was it until a late Ryan Hartman goal.

That said something because Markstrom’s head had to be on a swivel because the Hawks are still adept at those blind, quick passes from anywhere that find scorers in prime shooting areas.

And to his credit, Markstrom didn’t get rattled. His calmer and more poised play — and being more on top of his crease — has eliminated shots that beat him between the arm and body. Simply put, he tracked pucks better and stayed more stoic.

Whether by design to unnerve Markstrom, the Hawks also crashed the net and Hartman ran into the stopper. Markstrom reacted by foiling him with a poke-check when the winger drove in with a one-handed, power-play effort.

Gagner, Vanek a dynamic duo

Veterans will tell you it’s a long season. The grind gets the best of everybody, but guys who have been around as long as Sam Gagner and Thomas Vanek have get it.

The linemates not only combined for eight points — Gagner scoring twice and adding a helper, while Vanek scoring twice and setting up three goals — they gave the Canucks a needed dimension of being threat to score on nearly every shift.

Gagner deflected a shot home and was the beneficiary of a great corner feed from Vanek for his second goal.

Vanek got into position in the slot when Gagner fed him from behind the net in the second period with what would prove the winning goal.

What does this mean?

Centre Bo Horvat was spotted in a walking boot Thursday and with no timeline for his return from a foot fracture suffered Dec. 5 — and Sven Baertschi suffering a fractured jaw four days later — the Canucks appear to have found the right mix to help bring along Brock Boeser, who had a goal and three assists.

Now a pass-happy Boeser 

Boeser had one shot attempt through two periods, but that’s not what you’ll remember.

The red-hot rookie winger wants to grow the playmaking element of his dynamic game and he didn’t disappoint. Driving hard down the right wall early in the first period, he stopped quickly, spun and fed a sweet back pass to Ben Hutton in the high slot.

The defenceman then spotted an open Vanek and it took an acrobatic Forsberg paddle save to stop the sequence. Boeser then showed his positional smarts by getting to the far post in the second period and put a Gagner feed off the iron.

And he was almost too pass-happy before starting the sequence on the club’s second goal before setting up the fourth with a feed to Vanek from behind the net.

What does this mean?

Boeser is going to be harder to defend because he naturally draws attention, but quick dishes are going to allow the team’s leading scorer to bolt to open areas for return passes to unleash that shot.

In what is shaping up as a great Calder Trophy race, the fact Boeser has scored nearly one-fifth of the club’s 102 goals helps the rookie’s pursuit of the prize.



Los Angeles Kings vs. Vancouver Canucks

7 p.m., Rogers Arena, CBC, SNET 650 AM

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Chicago Blackhawks' Ryan Hartman, bottom, is checked into Jacob Markstrom by Erik Gudbranson.

Chicago Blackhawks' Ryan Hartman, bottom, is checked into Jacob Markstrom by Erik Gudbranson.

Photograph by: DARRYL DYCK, The Province

Chicago Blackhawks' Ryan Hartman, bottom, is checked into Jacob Markstrom by Erik Gudbranson.
Alex Edler (23), of Sweden, blocks a shot in front of goalie Jacob Markstrom, right, of Sweden, as Chicago Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews, back, watches during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday December 28, 2017.
Thomas Vanek, Sam Gagner, Ben Hutton and Troy Stecher celebrate Gagner's second goal against the Blackhawks.
Brock Boeser scored a goal and had three assists against the Blackhawks.
Sam Gagner, second right, celebrates his first of two goals against the Blackhawks.
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