Heading into the final game of the season, there wasn’t much on the line for the Canucks aside from pride. All that hung in the balance on a team level for the Canucks was whether they would finish above or below the Anaheim Ducks. After the Ducks won their final game of the season on Friday, a regulation loss for the Canucks would have meant finishing below the Ducks and getting a 1% higher chance at winning the draft lottery.
That was it on a team level. There was definitely something to play for on the individual level, however.
Elias Pettersson is aiming to the Canucks’ first winner of the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year since Pavel Bure in 1992. Earlier in the season, he was the runaway favourite for the award, but a late-season pseudo-slump that brought him to below a point-per-game on the season might have some reconsidering their vote.
Of course, in order to reconsider a vote for Pettersson to win the Calder, you need to have another realistic option on the ballot. On Saturday, Pettersson faced his primary competition for the Calder: St. Louis Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington.
Binnington has been absolutely absurd for the Blues. In 29 starts, he’s 23-5-1, with a .927 save percentage that is good for fourth in the NHL. It’s barely an exaggeration to say that he single-handedly saved the Blues season.
Before Binnington made his first start of the season, the Blues were literally in last place in the Western Conference and just one point out of last place in the NHL. After this, their final game of the season, they were in first place in the Central Division. It’s a crazy run that has made the Blues not just a playoff team, but a Cup contender, and it was almost entirely on the back of Binnington, a 25-year-old rookie.
That’s an award-worthy performance, but hidden in that description are a couple reasons why Binnington might not get past Pettersson for the Calder.
First is the number of games he’s played. Binnington has started 29 games and appeared in 31. No rookie has ever won the Calder while appearing in so few games. As far as I can tell, the fewest games played by a Calder winner in the modern era was 42 by Tom Barrasso in 1984.
The other is Binnington’s age. At 25, Binnington would be the oldest Calder winner in 18 years, though the last one was another goaltender, Evgeni Nabokov. Technically, Binnington would be two weeks older than Nabokov. You’d have to go all the way back to Sergei Makarov in 1990, before the changed the age limit for the Calder, to find a Calder winner older than Binnington.
This was the one chance for the two Calder candidates to go head-to-head this season and neither disappointed: Pettersson beat Binnington with a power play one-timer, then Binnington stoned Pettersson in the shootout. Both made their final arguments for the Calder when I watched this game.
- The Blues certainly had plenty to play for in this game. A win vaulted them over the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators for first place in the Central, but their hold on first is tenuous: the Jets and Predators each have one game left tonight and each can pass the Blues if they win. Still, the Blues did what they could to get home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
- With that much at stake, the Blues came out firing on all cylinders, which is far better than the one cylinder I was firing on, specifically a Pringles can. They opened the scoring with a pretty passing play, as Vladimir Tarasenko found a wide open Brayden Schenn, who fired five-hole on Thatcher Demko. Schenn was wide open because Tanner Pearson and Troy Stecher got their wires crossed, both covering Ryan O’Reilly as he cut across the blue line instead of one taking Schenn on the far side.
- That goal was the worst Demko looked all game, and it was pretty forgivable given the pre-shot movement. Demko stood tall the rest of the game, and also butterflied wide. He made 34 saves on 36 shots, enough to bring his season save percentage up to a very respectable .913. He had some luck along the way, with shots that he didn’t read particularly well finding a piece of his equipment rather than the back of the net, but it’s still a strong performance for him to build on heading into the off-season.
- Bo Horvat became only the second player to take 2000+ faceoffs in a single season since 2007-08. The other player was the one Horvat faced the most in the faceoff circle i this game: Ryan O’Reilly. Horvat won 11 of 19 faceoffs against O’Reilly and 15 of 27 overall, bringing him up to 2018 faceoffs for the season, just one short of the current year.
- Horvat was also the only Canuck to play all 82 games this season, with Loui Eriksson the only other player to come close. Eriksson played 81 and would have played 82 if he hadn’t been a healthy scratch for one game. Serendipitously, the only player on the Blues to play all 82 games was O’Reilly. I feel like we could find more Horvat/O’Reilly parallels if we kept digging.
- No one scored during the second period, but Brock Boeser headed a puck at one point, which was almost as good. Anytime anyone does this, I flash back to Daniel Sedin heading a puck for a zone entry back in 2011.
- During the second intermission, John Shannon had a baffling segment, asserting that Jay Bouwmeester is still elite (he isn’t), Brandon Sutter will make a big difference for the Canucks next season (he likely won’t), and Loui Eriksson has been reinvented by the acquisition of Tanner Pearson (hang on, what?). Eriksson, by the way, played 8:48 in this game and was benched in the third period, as the Canucks were crushed by shot differential when he was on the ice at 5-on-5.
- The Canucks tied the game early in the third period on a fantastic individual effort by Tanner Pearson on the power play. Pearson took the puck in the defensive zone and started picking up speed, before making a quick shift at the Blues’ blue line to split the defensive pair of Joel Edmundson and Alex Pietrangelo. In alone, he made a quick move to the backhand and tucked the puck between Binnington’s wickets.
- It was a superb goal, but it should be noted that Pearson seriously struggled at even strength. Shot attempts were 22-2 for the Blues with Pearson on the ice at 5-on-5 and scoring chances were 9-1. Basically, when Pearson was on the ice, the Canucks were trapped in the defensive zone like Weird Al in the drive-thru.
- John Shorthouse’s call on Pearson’s goal was perfect, as he paid tribute to Bob Cole, who called the final game of his legendary career on Saturday. “What a move! What a goal! Oh baby!” called out Shorthouse, echoing Cole’s call (if slightly reversed) of Mario Lemieux’s famous goal against the Minnesota North Stars. Shorthouse paid homage to Cole a couple times during the broadcast, but that was easily the best.
- Brogan Rafferty looked a lot stronger in his second game than in his first, particularly on one shift in the third period. He made a fantastic feed to Boeser that should have been a sure goal, but Binnington robbed him. Then he set up Boeser again across the ice for a chance from the left faceoff circle. He followed that up with two smart passes to Quinn Hughes for shot attempts. It was a superb sequence that suggests Rafferty might have some untapped offensive potential. He definitely has better vision than you might expect from someone legally blind in his right eye. But, to be fair, all the players he was passing to were on his left.
- Rafferty followed that up with a great defensive play. Facing a 3-on-1 after Jay Beagle failed to cover for a Ben Hutton pinch, Rafferty played it perfectly, staying central, then going to one knee to block a cross-ice pass after his stick was lifted by Vince Dunn as he drove the centre lane. He couldn’t have played it any better.
- The Blues regained the lead on the power play thanks to a laser from Tarasenko, which seems unfair. Having a laser on the ice seems like an unfair competitive advantage, if you ask me. Tarasenko stepped into the left faceoff circle and ripped a wrist shot top shelf where Dr. Evil keeps the plans for his sophisticated heat beam.
- Luke Schenn likely earned himself some new fans, or at least deepened the appreciation of those fans he already had, when he came sprinting in to defend Pettersson from a trio of Blues players that were getting in his face. They took offence after Pettersson poked at a puck covered by Binnington, while Schenn took offence at their offence. He came sliding in like Marlon Webb. While I have no way of knowing whether he said, “Good evening,” I have to assume he did.
- Appropriately, the final Canucks goal of the season came off the stick of Elias Pettersson. On a late power play, Edler sent a pass to Pettersson in the Petterzone that was right in his wheelhouse, and he drilled it past Binnington’s blocker to tie the game and send it to overtime. Pettersson scored the first goal of the season and he bookended it with the last.
- Hughes, Pettersson, and Boeser were once again tons of fun to watch in 3-on-3 overtime, even if they weren’t able to create shots out of their possession. At the very least, overtimes are going to be exciting for Canucks fans for years to come.
- Demko stopped all three shots he faced on an overtime power play for the Blues, but couldn’t stop either of the shots he faced in the shootout. O’Reilly scored on a backhand after some nifty stickhandling, then David Perron got Demko moving backwards by coming in with speed and snapped the puck five-hole. Neither Pettersson nor Boeser could beat Binnington and the Blues got their all-important win.
- That’s it. That’s all. Another Canucks season is in the books and another season of I Watched This Game articles with it. Thank you for reading all season (or part of the season, or one game’s worth, or whatever; you have an equivalent ratio of my thanks to the ratio of IWTGs you read this season). It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster, with some amazing highs and some dreadful lows, but it’s always been interesting. Stay tuned for the playoffs, the draft, free agency, summer prospect camp, and, before you know it, training camp for the 2019-20 season.