“The Lotto Line hit the jackpot tonight,” they were shouting on the streets on Saturday night.
And they weren’t wrong.
Rick Tocchet dug into his bag of tricks on Saturday night in New Jersey and pulled out an old — though unfamiliar to him — favourite for the Vancouver Canucks: lining up J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser.
And what a selection by the coach. They were the key to victory, helping out on five of the Canucks’ six goals as Vancouver knocked off the Devils 6-4 in Newark.
The last time the trio spent much time at all together was the 2021-22 season — they only played together for 11 minutes last season — but even that wasn’t anything like the 2019-20 season, Miller’s first in Vancouver and the season they were pretty much an exclusive trio.
They nearly had a goal in the first, Boeser putting the puck in the net but Miller was caught on video disrupting Nico Daws’ efforts in the New Jersey crease.
But it didn’t matter, as the Canucks kept swarming the net. It took them a period to break through — they outshot New Jersey 17-5 in the first — but once the second started, there was no stopping the Lotto Line.
Pettersson scored on his first shift of the period, then Miller scored on each of their next two shifts.
It was a tour de force performance by the Canucks’ three best forwards, which was good given how the Canucks nearly blew the game in the third period.
Yet again, Andrei Kuzmenko was back in the lineup.
And yet again, the task was clear: just be more effective away from the puck.
“If you’re depended on to be a middle-drive guy, you have to be a middle-drive guy. You can’t do it once in a while. It’s crucial,” the coach said before the game.
He couched it as saying it applied to the whole team but the question was centred on Kuzmenko and it was clear he was thinking of specific things about what he was seeing Kuzmenko not doing. “Coming back in the slot, obviously nobody’s perfect, but you’ve got to stop in the slot and protect.”
Whether he did it consistently, we’ll see, but in terms of puck possession, Kuzmenko was oustanding.
When he was on the ice — he skated on a second line with Ilya Mikheyev and Pius Suter — the Canucks outshot the Devils by 16.
How far he’s come
Kuzmenko led a very nice rush late in the second period, but it doesn’t happen without a fabulous pass by Noah Juulsen.
Juulsen is not generally known for his puck skills, but his game has shown so much progress this season, that’s the sign of a player who is brimming with confidence.
Tocchet was full of praise for Juulsen before Christmas. Juulsen had been a scratch earlier in the season, sitting out for 11 games in a row. But he didn’t pout, the coach said. Instead he bore down, and worked with assistant coached Sergei Gonchar and Adam Foote, Tocchet said.
“He really struggled early. I gotta give him a lot of credit because he’s really worked hardwith Sergey and footy on positioning and puck decisions,” he said.
The Canucks didn’t get a goal in the first despite dominating play.
That they kept their foot down on the pedal in the second was a credit to them.
Playing the Extra
The Lotto Line got a fourth goal in the third period, a beautiful multiple pass sequence that involved Quinn Hughes jumping into the rush to be an extra option.
He laid the puck off to Boeser, who fired a perfect pass off his back hand to Pettersson, who made no mistake and buried his second goal of the game.
Cover the slot
After a lot of pre-game chatter from Tocchet about covering off the slot, it stood out that New Jersey’s two third period goals, which pulled them to 5-4, were both on plays where the Canucks’ backcheck left the top of the slot open.
Cashing the cheque
Conor Garland’s goal late in the second would stand up as the game winner and it was a classic, brilliant effort from the winger.
He got low, kept control as he swooped around behind the Devils
And at the end of the game, credit to Dakota Joshua for finding the puck and using his strength to maintain possession in the final minute with the Devils’ net empty.
He’d taken a penalty, which the Canucks killed off, then came on the ice and helped get the puck out before taking the pass from Miller who passed up a chance at a hat trick.
Joshua made a spin-around move and then fired the puck on net.
The Canucks have yet to blow a lead when leading after two periods: they’re 22-0.
That’s cool, but it’s also worth noting the worst team in the league when leading after two is the Ottawa Senators, who are 11-3.
Why no goal?
Even though Miller was pushed into the New Jersey crease in the first period, the NHL rule book is clear: you can’t prevent a goalie from playing his position.
From the NHL: “Video review determined Vancouver’s J.T. Miller had a significant presence in the crease and made contact with goaltender Nico Daws that impaired his ability to play his position prior to Brock Boeser’s goal. The decision was made in accordance with Rule 69.1, which states in part, ‘Goals should be disallowed only if: (1) an attacking player, either by his positioning or by contact, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal.’”
Suggestion for Bedard
Will Conor Bedard, who is out with a broken jaw suffered Friday night against the Devils, find a way to protect his jaw, as Tocchet did 30 years ago?
Vancouver Canucks vs. New York Rangers
4 p.m., Madison Square Garden, TV: SN Pacific TV, Radio: Sportsnet 650
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