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The Western Conference’s best story hit a hurdle earlier this week, but has a chance on Thursday to pick up the pace in Tampa, Fla.
Following a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, the Vancouver Canucks and new head coach Bruce Boudreau face the Tampa Bay Lightning, which will open a two-game home game.
On December 4, before Boudreau was hired to replace the fired Travis Green, the Canucks were 8-15-2 and placed second to last in the West – only ahead of the Arizona Coyotes.
Just 10 games away from Boudreau’s tenure, the rejuvenated Canucks are 8-1-1 and are six points from a wildcard.
However, they first lost in settlement under Boudreau in Florida after being laid off due to attendance restrictions in Canadian cities due to COVID-19.
The fiery Panthers extended their overall point streak to seven games (6-0-1) and improved to 19-3-0 at home in the three-goal win, taking control with a trio of goals in the second period for a 5-1 lead.
Vancouver got scorers from Jason Dickinson and Juho Lammikko, but Florida slammed goalie Thatcher Demko five times on 26 shots.
Demko had been an important source of the team’s success: he was 7-0-0 with a 1.40 goals-against average and .955 save percentage with Boudreau behind the bench.
The new coach said he consulted with goaltending coach Ian Clark on whether he should replace Demko before the third period.
“I’ve talked about it a lot with Ian, but the only thing I didn’t want to happen was they score 6-7-8 and Demko is losing his confidence a bit,” Boudreau said. “He wanted to stay. We went to ask him.
Vancouver’s Brock Boeser returned after missing three protocol games, but JT Miller ended his nine-game streak with one point.
“It’s never fun to lose,” said Boudreau. “It brought us back to earth a bit. “
On Tuesday in Buffalo, Nikita Kucherov helped the Lightning get revenge for one of their worst losses this season – a 5-1 road loss to the Sabers on October 25.
Kucherov scored his fourth career hat trick and his first since 2017 as the Lightning routed the exhausted Sabers 6-1, rushing to victory with five straight goals to open the second meeting.
The right-winger hadn’t managed to score since returning to the lineup Thursday after a 32-game absence, but he looked like his old self in Buffalo.
“I don’t forget how good he is. I know how good he is – we see him every day, ”said team captain Steven Stamkos, who produced at least three points for the fourth time this season.
“You give him time and space, that’s what he’s going to do. That’s why he’s one of the best in the world.
Kucherov’s hat trick tied him for fourth with Tyler Johnson for most in franchise history. Stamkos leads with nine followed by Martin St. Louis (eight) and Vincent Lecavalier (six).
Ondrej Palat left the game in the second period, but head coach Jon Cooper said the move was more preventative than any type of emergency.
“(Palat) is working on something,” Cooper said. “So we just thought that whenever we can give it a rest, we’ll give it a rest, and that’s what we did tonight.”
–Field level media