Vancouver Canucks head coach John Tortorella has discussion with referees Vaughan Rody, left, and Steve Kozari.
Photograph by: Ric Ernst, PNG
VANCOUVER — This was the game. This was the potential turning point of the Vancouver Canucks' autumn.
It was right there: a late 2-1 lead, earned the hard way, in a physical, edgy game against a Pacific Division rival. The night had turned when Los Angeles King Jordan Nolan launched himself at Canuck captain Henrik Sedin, and Vancouver responded with something more potent than their usual hard work: raw emotion.
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By will, Vancouver seized the game, had taken the lead when Sedin scored on a power play at 6:59 of the third period and pumped his fists and yelled, although no one in Rogers Arena could hear him above the roar. The Canucks had the two points in their hands, and a life raft big and beautiful enough to float them from this storm threatening to imperil their National Hockey League season. The Canucks were dominant, inspired.
And then, out of nothing, they surrendered a weak tying goal to Mike Richards with 2:54 remaining in the third period and an equally sloppy winner to Anze Kopitar 48 seconds into overtime, and the Canucks lost again and fell further behind the Kings.
It isn't quite like that Robert Redford film “All Is Lost.” It only seems that way.
Instead of an encouraging win, something to build hope and confidence, the 3-2 loss extended the Canucks' slump to 1-4-3.
And instead of being the game that lifts the Canucks, it is the one so far this season that will test them the most, challenge their nerve and confidence and their coach.
John Tortorella has been remarkably supportive of his players.
From the day he was hired, Tortorella's news conferences were going to be can't-miss theatre for hockey writers the same way NASCAR races on super speedways are can't-miss viewing for gear-heads: Because a big, fiery wreck is possible at every turn or question.
And so it has become with Tortorella's press scrums, but not for the reasons envisioned by anyone who witnessed his often churlish, ill-tempered contempt for the media when he worked in New York.
With the Canucks, Tortorella has been more compassionate than combustible when talking about his team. He has been mostly honest, thoughtful and patient, and always compelling.
The Canucks haven't won enough games, of course. And, as Tortorella said, people will kick the crap out of him if they miss the playoffs.
But there was Tortorella Monday morning, his team about to end its worst homestand since the great, nine-game losing streak at Rogers Arena in 2008, still not blowing up. He was the calm one, the confident one.
His earnestness and insight are even more impressive because of the Canucks' struggles. Who knew he would be their Little Miss Sunshine?
“You're not going to talk me into saying that this is a lousy hockey club that's played lousy because it hasn't,” Tortorella vowed. “We have not gotten the results we wanted. But as I've said all along, I'm going to coach the team the way it's playing. If we're playing like crap, we're going to handle it like we're playing like crap. But if we're playing well, we're going to stay with them. And I am staying with the team. I am going to support them, and we're going to get through this.
He added: “I can't sit here and tell you: 'OK, this is what we're going to do to score goals.' We need someone to score some goals. We need to continue to create the offence, and something good has to happen for us offensively.
“I think it's a confidence thing. I am not giving up on the team and making all these hinky adjustments (because) then what happens if that doesn't work? Do I make another adjustment? I believe the way we're playing is the proper way to play and we're going to stay with it and work through it together.”
And then, against the Kings, the Canucks managed to get past one on the scoreboard for just the third time in eight games. But they lost anyway, surrendering easy goals.
Defenceman Alex Edler, who had played wonderfully, came across the ice to hit Dwight King, leaving the puck and Jeff Carter alone to set up Mike Richards unchecked at the top of the crease.
In overtime, it was Kevin Bieksa who fanned on the puck and turned away from it, allowing Slava Voynov to feed Anze Kopitar alone in front of Roberto Luongo, who went 0-for-2 on the most critical shots he faced.
Richards' tying goal came soon after Kings' goalie Ben Scrivens made stunning point-blank saves on David Booth and Ryan Kesler. Vancouver outshot Los Angeles 39-22, including 28-9 in the final 41 minutes.
“It's a crazy game when it comes to results,” Tortorella said in the morning. “You've got to be really careful coaching the results. I'm going to coach the team on how we're playing. Our team has played well, but we haven't gotten the results. We've got to find a way to try to get those now.”
Against the Kings, they thought they had found the way. Maybe they have but we just don't know it yet.
“I'm very excited about some of things that happened tonight,” Tortorella said after the game. “You may call me crazy, but I am. We just have to keep banging away … and keep working at this.”
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