EDMONTON – Diplomatic relations between the Vancouver Canucks and the media were further strained Wednesday when coach Travis Green refused to offer a formal apology for winning 2-1 the night before against the Vegas Golden Knights.
The defiant coach offered no “thoughts and prayers” to the Golden Knights or their families or anyone affected by the Canucks’ inferior play that preceded Vancouver extending the franchise’s biggest NHL playoff series since 2011.
Green did not even express regrets about anyone who may have been offended or frustrated that the Canucks were outshot 28-10 through two periods before winning a hugely important game because backup goalie Thatcher Demko had the night of his life in a spectacular Stanley Cup playoffs debut.
Where is Travis Green’s accountability? Has he no shame? Well, no, not over this.
Instead, after several minutes of video-conference grilling Wednesday from reporters about a performance everyone knows was not good enough outside of the goal crease, Green issued an unscripted, two-minute, seven-second answer that went mostly like this:
“I’m hoping we play a better game (Thursday). We didn’t play our best game last night. I thought the third period was our best period. But you know what? Sometimes you find ways to win hockey games, too. And that’s responding. We didn’t find a way to win a game in Game 4 and we probably played a better hockey game. Our group is resilient. They didn’t quit. They hung in there, they took some shots, and then we found a way to win a hockey game.
“A pessimistic person can say we didn’t respond. An optimistic person can say that, you know what, we responded in a way that we found a way to win a hockey game.
“Especially in playoff hockey, when you find a way to win a game that you probably shouldn’t have, it’s not just luck. It’s compete, it’s buying in as a group, it’s blocking a shot. Obviously, your goalie is part of that, a big part of that. Demmer was great last night. I expect our team to play a better game tomorrow.
“We weren’t quite skating the way that we could and we weren’t great with the puck. And when those two are in our game, it’s usually a recipe for playing in your own zone. But, man, we came out in the third and found a way to get a big win. You could say the biggest win of the playoffs so far. It kept us alive, and now we get the chance again to play tomorrow and force a Game 7.
“Again, I say it a lot: I’ve got a lot of belief in our group. They’ll be ready to go tomorrow one way or another. I’m not going to guarantee that they’re going to play an unbelievable game, but they’re going to be there to win it.”
It might have been Green’s best two minutes since he opened a 2018 press scrum in Pittsburgh, two days after Elias Pettersson was injured as a rookie by Florida Panther Mike Matheson’s body-slam, with an eloquent oratory about team-building and identity, priorities and awareness.
The Canucks were poor and grossly outplayed in the first two periods on Tuesday night, unable to make a pass or get the puck out over their blue line except by flipping it back to the Golden Knights in the neutral zone.
At one point, shots were 22-6 for Vegas, and by then they could have led by three or four goals were it not for Demko, the 24-year-old thrown into the playoff blast furnace when starting goalie Jacob Markstrom was unable to play due to an undisclosed injury.
Demko made 42 saves. The next best Canuck was winger Brock Boeser, who had only one point and five shots in the first four games against Vegas but on Tuesday scored a timely tying goal 24 seconds after the Knights finally dented Demko, then shot the puck that Pettersson deflected for a third-period winner.
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You can make a long list of takeaways from any game. But in order of importance, here are the top three from Tuesday:
1. When least expected, the Canucks found a way to win and avoid elimination.
2. Thatcher Demko was spectacular.
3. The Knights could have scored a bundle and the Canucks will need to play much better on Thursday if they want to take Vegas to Game 7 the next night.
Everything else except Markstrom’s health is hardly worth mentioning. And although the Canucks are revealing nothing about Markstrom’s condition, Green can’t gamble that someone may or may not be healthy the next time the season is on the line, which means Demko will be starting Thursday, too.
“Our first two periods weren’t our best; I don’t think that was any secret,” Canucks defenceman Tyler Myers assured reporters after following Green to the microphone. “Demmer did a great job of making some big saves for us to keep us in it. Basically, after two periods we said we’re not playing our best and it’s still a tie hockey game. We talked about: ‘We just need 20 minutes. We’ve got to step it up. We’ve got to raise our level for 20 minutes.’ And I thought we did.”
The Golden Knights don’t need to raise their level on Thursday. They just need to score. It comes in handy.
“I think we played a pretty good game last night,” Vegas winger Reilly Smith said. “We did probably enough to win. Sometimes it doesn’t happen the way we want it to. We’ve won three games; we just need one more. We just still have the same mindset: We’re going to come to tomorrow’s game to try to step on their necks and end this.”
He didn’t apologize, either.