With stars held scoreless, Canucks’ unlikely heroes keep playoff hopes alive

VANCOUVER – When you score four goals and the least surprising scorer is Alex Chiasson, and the most surprising one isn’t Luke Schenn, you know you’ve had contributions from down the lineup.

On a night when neither J.T. Miller nor Elias Pettersson cracked the scoresheet, the Vancouver Canucks needed Saturday a foursome of depth scorers to soldier their way past the San Jose Sharks, 4-2, and keep their tiny playoff chances from disappearing entirely.

Chiasson, a periodic healthy scratch this season while trying to extend his National Hockey League career on a one-year contract, scooped in a short-side shot to break a 2-2 tie at 2:07 of the third period. And Schenn, the stay-at-home defenceman whose last goal was two months ago, added a final-second empty-netter as Vancouver manufactured a win against sloppy San Jose.

The Canucks’ third straight victory came after the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars, the teams occupying the wildcard spots in the Western Conference playoff race, lost earlier Saturday.

Vancouver is four points out of Stanley Cup tournament berth with nine games remaining.

Four of Chiasson’s 10 goals this season have been in the last five games. He has played on four different lines during this productive stretch, and on Saturday got a chance to skate in the top-six due to the injury absences of Brock Boeser and Tanner Pearson. Chiasson finished with seven shots on target.

“It feels good, you know, at this time of the year to feel good about your game,” the winger, a Stanley Cup winner with the Washington Capitals in 2018, said after the game. “It’s a nice opportunity for myself to showcase what I can do, and it feels good to contribute to the success of the team.  We obviously know how important all these games are, so just a gutsy effort I thought tonight.

“Maybe the first 40 (minutes) didn’t go as well as we wanted. There were parts during the first two periods where we played really well for three or four minutes, and then the game got away from us for a couple minutes. It kind of went back and forth like that. But it seems like our third period always brings the best out of us.”

Chiasson collected the puck on a cross-ice pass from Bo Horvat, picked his spot as San Jose goalie Kaapo Kahkonen went pad-down at the near post, and got just enough on his shot to lift it post-and-in.

Canuck goal-scorers in the first two periods, when Vancouver failed to hold 1-0 and 2-1 leads, were Jason Dickinson and Conor Garland. Dickinson hadn’t scored in 20 games, Garland in 19.

Horvat’s assist was the only point generated by the team’s offensive big three of Miller, Pettersson and Horvat. Elite defenceman Quinn Hughes, back in the lineup after missing two games due to non-COVID illness, also went pointless.

“They’ve been obviously a huge part of our success,” Chiasson said. “But when you’ve got guys contributing on different nights, that’s how you win games this time of the year. Your best players are going to be your best players. But certain nights, if you can get a goal or two from some different guys, depth players, it obviously makes an impact.”

The Canucks soared back home after sweeping back-to-back road games this week in Las Vegas and Arizona, where they outscored the home teams 10-2.

When Dickinson stickhandled the puck around Kahkonen on a two-on-one just 2:03 after the opening a faceoff, a few seconds after Vancouver defenceman Kyle Burroughs blew up Shark Ryan Merkley on a turnover, it looked like the Canucks had brought their road momentum to Rogers Arena.

But Kahkonen made a handful of strong saves and when Vasily Podkolzin and Miller were assessed penalties 22 seconds apart, starting at 6:33, the Sharks tied it 1-1 during the two-man-advantage when Tomas Hertl tapped in the rebound from Timo Meier’s one-timer at 7:33.

Garland put the Canucks ahead at 4:49 of the second period, looking to pass on another two-on-one but instead shooting short-side on Kahkonen.

Again, the Canucks looked on the verge of pulling away.

Vancouver had two straight power plays and several shifts of offensive zone pressure, but couldn’t build on its lead. Which meant the Sharks were able to tie it 2-2 at 18:37 when once-a-Canuck Nick Bonino bounced a deflection past goalie Thatcher Demko about 10 seconds after Garland turned the puck over in the neutral zone.

With 20 minutes to go, and their playoff hopes flickering, the Canucks found a way to put down a Sharks team that had lost five in a row.

With three wins and nine games to go, the Canucks are trying to replicate what their coach, Bruce Boudreau, achieved with the Capitals in 2008 when Washington went 11-1 in its last 12 games to steal the final playoff spot.

“Anything is possible,” Boudreau said after the morning skate. “You never, never give up and you go as hard as you can for as long as you can. And that’s where we’re at. We’re just going to keep pushing and pushing. Whoever is in the lineup or out of the lineup, it doesn’t matter. We’re just going to go.”

The Canucks’ five-game homestand continues Tuesday against the Vegas Golden Knights, another team Vancouver is trying to catch.

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