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Simple mistakes cost Canucks in clash of conference leaders


BOSTON — The biggest game of the season was the most disappointing game of the season for the Vancouver Canucks, who haven’t had many of them. At least Brad Marchand didn’t punch anyone in the head six times.

Rolling into Boston on a 10-0-2 burn, on equal footing with the Bruins for the first time in a decade, the Canucks on Thursday conjured vibes of the franchise’s Stanley Cup Final losses here in 2011, giving themselves no chance to win due to a series of early mistakes and goals against.

Boston won 4-0, scoring two shorthanded goals in the first period, then doubling the lead in the first minute of the second. The Bruins pulled even with the Canucks atop the National Hockey League standings.

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It was Vancouver’s first regulation loss since Jan. 4, and only its third since Dec. 5. But it came at an inopportune time, on a big stage against a formidable opponent who has been living in the heads of Canucks fans for 13 years.

“A lot of eyes were on us tonight,” Canucks coach Rick Tocchet said. The Bruins “didn’t play well their last game (and) their coach kind of called them out. They showed up, and we just, we made some stupid mistakes. You’re in big games, you’ve got to make sure that you don’t make mistakes and you… have to have effort. I thought some guys played well. I mean, I thought some guys tried. Unfortunately, we had half the guys, they weren’t there.”

The absentees included most of the top half of the lineup.

The Canucks’ first-unit power play, constructed entirely of players selected for last weekend’s All-Star Game in Toronto, yielded shorthanded goals to Marchand (yes, still playing and still crushing the Canucks) at 32 seconds, and Danton Heinen at 15:37 of the first period.

On the first goal, a slack regroup by Vancouver forwards gave Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko few options besides the bad one he chose when he rimmed the puck around the boards to Bruins centre Charlie Coyle, who fired toward the net where Marchand scored on a rebound.

On the second goal, J.T. Miller and Quinn Hughes conspired to turn over the puck at the Boston blue line, which allowed Heinen to speed away from Canucks forward Elias Pettersson, skate through his weak check and beat Demko under the bar.

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Pettersson and linemate Elias Lindholm, the newest Canuck who scored twice in his debut during Tuesday’s 3-2 win against Carolina Hurricanes, finished the game minus-four.

By the end of the night, the Canucks’ top-six forwards had combined for five shots, three of them by Ilya Mikheyev, and only Pius Suter (16:52) and Brock Boeser (15:31) eclipsed 15 minutes of playing time.

“Listen… we need a couple of guys here, let’s go,” Tocchet said. “I mean, come on. They weren’t good tonight, some guys, and they haven’t been good, frankly. These are big-time games. Marchand and (Bruins all-star David) Pastrnak, you know, are great players and they showed up. We’ve got to have that kind of thing. Listen, it’s our first loss in I don’t know how many games, 13 or 14, so I can’t get too critical. But these are big games and you’d like to see a little bit better from some guys. The shorthanded goals really is something you cannot do in big, critical games. You just can’t.

“Now, like I said, it’s the first loss in a long time. But it’s an alert-type of loss. It’s a good learning lesson. I know the guys; they’re not happy and they know that there’s a little bit of urgency after this type of loss.”

The Canucks had bad luck to go with their mistakes.

On the goal credited to Morgan Geekie that made it 3-0 just 34 seconds into the middle period, Pastrnak’s broken-stick shot hit his teammate and three Canucks, including Demko, changing directions more times than the magic bullet on the Zapruder film before settling in the Vancouver net.

On the next shift, Pettersson and Canucks defenceman Tyler Myers appeared to miscommunicate, shading towards the same player on a two-on-two and leaving Pavel Zacha with an open look from the slot that he buried at 49 seconds.

“It starts with me,” Pettersson said. “I’ve got to be better.”

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On his turnover to Coyle on the game-opening goal, just 15 seconds into a power play Canucks forward Dakota Joshua drew on a first-shift breakaway, Demko said: “I’m sure there was a better option than that. I haven’t looked at it (but) obviously I need to make a better play there. I was trying to just get it over to Huggy (Hughes) and I just put a little too much mustard on it. It’s an unfortunate play by me. I take responsibility for it.”

But the goalie who had won his previous nine starts added: “I don’t think we were terrible. I thought there were pockets of the game where we played really well. I didn’t think the difference was that big. It didn’t feel like a 4-0 game. We’ll find some things that we can fine-tune and grow on the things that I thought we did well, and just continue on this roadie.”

The Canucks play back-to-back matinee games in Detroit and Washington, starting Saturday.

After allowing just one shorthanded goal in their first 47 games, the Canucks have surrendered five in the last four.

“Obviously, we’ve got to clean it up because, you know, that’s way too many,” Tocchet said. “I don’t even think you should have that many in a year. You’ve got to be careful of that stuff.”

Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark made only 17 saves for the shutout, but his team blocked 16 shots in front of him and the Canucks missed the net on 11 other attempts.

“The puck was bouncing a little bit… but I don’t think we were nervous,” Canucks centre Teddy Blueger said. “I just think the execution was a bit poor. Giving up those goals, we were a little bit flat and probably didn’t respond as well as we should have. We just didn’t play simple enough. I think when things aren’t going your way and you’re not executing the way you want, you’ve probably got to simplify and be a little more physical. And we were trying to force plays a little bit and just creating too many turnovers and giving up too many looks.

“I mean, it was a surprise. It’s just up to us to respond the rest of the trip.”

The Canucks’ five-game excursion ends Tuesday in Chicago.

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