After yet another blown lead, Canucks’ problem isn’t scoring goals – it’s winning

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VANCOUVER – Talking a couple of weeks ago about the Vancouver Canucks disastrous penalty killing, winger J.T. Miller said it took a lot of mental strength to keep going out for shorthanded shifts.

Were this not the National Hockey League, we could imagine the discussion at the bench among players being something like: “You go out there.” “You out of your mind? I’m not going out there. You go.” “I went last time, somebody else’s turn.” “Let’s get the new guy to go. Hey, new guy, want to kill a penalty?”

It’s like, knowing there are sharks in the water, who wants to go swimming? And by the way, let’s smear you in bacon grease first and give you a nose bleed.

But nothing is mentally tougher for the Canucks than playing with the lead. They’ve been inept at it partly because, it seems, they turn to jello mentally when they’re ahead. Besides their inability to make simple defensive plays – and get saves from goalie Thatcher Demko – the Canucks just look like a team without any appetite for or resistance to defensive pressure.

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“I don’t know what the right answer is,” centre Elias Pettersson said Monday. “We’ve got to, like, love being in those moments, and I think we do. But I don’t know, it’s been happening too many times.”

For the seventh time in 19 games, the Canucks lost after leading by at least two goals when the Vegas Golden Knights, who are far more immune to stress and expectations, scored three times on three shots in the middle of the third period to win 5-4 at Rogers Arena.

Five of those seven games were blown in regulation time, which means the Canucks have collected two points out of 14 despite leading by two or three goals.

There have been several things that defy belief during one of the most disappointing first quarters in franchise history, but Vancouver’s inability to protect multi-goal leads is almost unfathomable at this volume.

Seven games? Maybe over a full season. Maybe.

Over the opening six weeks? No, that doesn’t happen.

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The 6-10-3 Canucks have become so adept at not winning, they actually allowed two game-winning goals on Monday. In case one wasn’t enough.

After goals by William Carrier at 6:54, from a rebound scramble, and Reilly Smith at 8:57, a few seconds after a terrible giveaway by Demko, turned a 4-2 Vancouver lead into a 4-4 tie, Mark Stone appeared to put Vegas ahead at 10:08 when he shot another rebound through the goalie’s pads.

But the video challenge by the Canucks revealed that Vancouver defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s rim around hit a camera lens hood protruding through the small photo window in the glass before the puck bounced back towards the slot a few seconds ahead of Stone’s goal. The circular hood from the camera skittered across the ice looking, at least to a couple of Canucks, like a second puck.

The goal was disallowed.

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It didn’t matter because Vegas defenceman Alex Pietrangelo scored from close range at 14:14 (yes, between Demko’s pads) after stepping easily in front of Canuck Brock Boeser to convert Stone’s pass.

“Honestly, I didn’t know that was a rule that you could challenge that,” Canuck captain Bo Horvat said of the puck-out-of-play review. “Obviously, it’s the right call. The camera lens shouldn’t be there and when it hit, we all kind of stopped playing there for a second because we didn’t know what the heck was going on. Lucky to get that called back, but. . . that was our break and we should have capitalized on that.

“You’ve got to realize when you get bounces like that, when things go your way in your favour like that, you’ve got to find ways to capitalize and keep your foot on the pedal. I think we sat back a little too much and they took advantage.”

In fairness to the Canucks, they didn’t sit back much. Sure, there was the normal defensive-zone panic, but mostly they just needed a timely save from Demko, who had looked semi-impervious to that point.

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The third-period shots were 13-13, and the Canucks had a chance to earn a lot of credit by scoring three times in 4 ½ minutes earlier in the final frame to build a surprising 4-2 lead against the powerful Knights.

But after Pettersson scored on his own rebound at 6:11, shortly after Horvat and Luke Schenn had put pucks past Vegas goalie Logan Thompson, it took the Canucks only 43 seconds to start giving away their lead.

The best third-period save for Vancouver was by Pettersson, who lunged back with one leg to rob Jonathan Marchessault of an open-net goal on a two-on-one in the final minute. In the end, that didn’t matter either.

“As soon as we got up by two, it’s just like we shut it down again,” Horvat said. “We got away from our game and just kind of let them come. A team like that, obviously they’re No. 1 in our division, one the best teams in the league, for a reason. And we just took our foot off the gas there for too long.”

“I don’t know,” Pettersson said. “I mean, guys, all of us want to win. All of us are trying.”

Four goals have to be enough to win a big game on home ice. The Canucks have lost five other games while scoring at least three times. Scoring isn’t their problem; winning is.

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