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Breaking down the frantic final seconds of the Canucks’ Game 6 win

How did the Vancouver Canucks win Game 6 to eliminate the Nashville Predators? Let’s break it down.

The first-round series between the Vancouver Canucks and Nashville Predators was one of the lowest-event playoff series we’ve seen in years. 

You have to go back to the 2001 Stanley Cup Playoffs to find a team that averaged fewer than the Canucks’ 20.2 shots per game in the playoffs — it was the Carolina Hurricanes and they lost in six games to the New Jersey Devils — but the Predators barely had any more shots than the Canucks, averaging 25.0 shots per game.

Despite the low-event hockey, so many wild events happened in this series. From the Canucks scoring two goals in 12 seconds to take Game 1, to Brock Boeser’s improbable hat trick for a last-minute comeback in Game 4, to the controversy of Roman Josi’s game-tying goal in Game 5, there was no shortage of drama.

Game 6 was the emblematic of the entire series. It was low-event, with neither team cracking 30 shots and both teams combining for just a single goal. But it also brought the drama, with a frantic final minute that included a controversial penalty, an animal carcass, rookie goaltender heroics, and a balls-first shot block.

It was a lot.

It’s also well worth a closer look, which means it’s time to break it all down in a series we at Pass it to Bulis call Breakdowning.

Pius Suter finally gets one to go

Before we get to those frantic final seconds, we need to back it up to see how we got there. Let’s go all the way back to the opening goal a whole minute earlier.

As always, we’ll start with a roll call.

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It’s an unusual line on the ice for the Canucks. J.T. Miller was out on the previous shift with Elias Lindholm and Dakota Joshua as faceoff insurance for a defensive zone draw but got stuck on the ice. Playing a hunch, head coach Rick Tocchet sent out Elias Pettersson in Miller’s place with Brock Boeser and Pius Suter.

Filip Hronek and Nikita Zadorov are the defence pairing but they don’t really figure into the goal apart from the two of them combining to move the puck up ice in the first place. 

The Predators have a bit of a mashed-up forward line too. The Predators started the shift with the second line of Juuso Pärssinen, Colton Sissons, and Anthony Beauvillier on the ice but Pärssinen broke his stick and quickly changed for fourth-liner Kiefer Sherwood.

On defence, the Predators have the second pairing of Alexandre Carrier and the hard-hitting Jeremy Lauzon on the ice, with Lauzon pinning Pettersson to the boards. Lauzon led not just the Predators but the entire NHL in hits during the regular season and he’s been looking to play the body on the Canucks’ stars all series — THIS IS FORESHADOWING.

There’s also a guy in a “SMASHVILLE” jersey with the number 98 on it, which is a thing you can do, I guess. The Predators entered the NHL in 1998, so that’s what that’s about.

In any case, Sissons has the puck down low along the boards and has a pretty easy to play to make behind the net to Carrier that ought to give the Predators the opportunity for a pretty clean breakout with Sherwood coming low in support. The Predators are in good shape.

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The Predators are no longer in good shape.

For some reason — perhaps because of Boeser’s forechecking pressure — instead of making the easy play behind the net, Sissons turns back and looks to clear the puck up the boards, which is a weird choice because there are people on those boards. He knows that. He was just there.

Carrier has a full-blown existential crisis, believing that he can no longer be perceived by those he loves.

It doesn’t really matter right now because the Predators have the puck, but Suter is wide-open in front of the net. THIS IS FORESHADOWING.

Meanwhile, there’s a guy standing up in front of other fans, blocking their view, so that he can film the action on his phone. Don’t be that guy. 

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Thanks partly to Boeser getting a piece of Sissons’ stick as he tries to move the puck, Pettersson picks off the pass on the boards and now the Predators are in trouble. 

Lauzon had opened up off the boards thinking Sissons might make a short pass to him for the breakout but now has to close quickly on Pettersson. But all Pettersson has to do is slide a pass through to Suter, who is extremely open.

Also, Boeser has a clear path to the net after Sissons’ turnover and he happens to be the series’ leading scorer. A quick bang-bang passing play and Boeser could have a grade-A chance.

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It’s not to be. Sherwood, only on the ice because of a broken stick, makes a heads-up play to poke the puck off Suter’s stick just before he can make the pass to Boeser.

At this point, Suter has had a nightmare game despite playing quite well. He’s had three high-danger chances and been unable to finish any of them, leading to an out-of-character burst of emotion on the bench, snapping his stick over the boards.

Now he’s the most open he’s been all series and still somehow got the puck poked off his stick from behind. Really, who would blame him for packing up his hockey gear and taking up Finnish baseball?

Cell phone guy is still filming. Hope you got some good footage, pal.

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The puck goes into the corner and both Pettersson and Suter chase after it, with Sissons shadowing Suter.

Lauzon, as is his mandate, looks to throw a big hit on Pettersson to take him out of the play. I don’t know why I imagine him saying, “Here comes the thunder” as he goes to throw a hit but I do. 

I mean, “Here Comes the Thunder” is a bro-country song that was used in NASCAR commercials, so it’s pretty fitting for Nashville. 

Also, I’m beginning to have some serious questions about cell phone guy in the crowd. His cell phone isn’t even pointing at the puck. He’s going to miss Lauzon’s big hit on Pettersson!

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Never mind.

Pettersson smartly stops up and hops up, allowing Lauzon to zip right past him, slamming into the boards instead of his body. 

It’s very embarrassing.

Also, how am I just noticing the human highlighters in the crowd behind Juuse Saros’s net? I know the Predators have worn some pretty ugly shades of yellow in their time but bright neon is literally beyond the pale.

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Sissons made a pretty significant mistake turning back into traffic earlier but here’s where he actually makes a crucial error that costs the Predators the goal. 

Pettersson, after slipping Lauzon’s check, gets to the puck first and pokes it down the boards. An alert Boeser heads to where the puck is going, while Carrier, not trusting that he can cut off the puck in time by taking the short route, cuts in front of the net to at least get in between Boeser and the net.

Carrier heading to check Boeser is going to leave the front of the net open, however. Covering for him is the responsibility of Sissons, the centre on his line and the man supporting the defence down low.

The blue path is where Suter goes: right to the slot, where he’s gone all series, with little to show for it.

The red path is where Sissons goes, chasing the puck and not taking his check, Suter, in front.

Meanwhile, cell phone guy has finally stopped filming on his phone, just in time to miss the goal. Good job, buddy. 

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Boeser gets to the puck and spins off Carrier to make a brilliant backhand pass into the slot.

“I’m pretty sure he saw me,” said Suter after the game. “Obviously, with a minute-forty left, you don’t want to just throw it in front of the net.”

Honestly, with Suter on the ice, maybe you do just want to throw it in front of the net, because he always seems to find himself there.

Two key things to notice here: one is that Beauvillier, the former Canuck, recognizes the danger — if a little too late — and tries to disrupt Suter by reaching around his right side. As Suter pivots to receive the pass, however, his body protects the puck from Beauvillier’s stick.

If Beauvillier had waited a beat and reached in on the left side, he could have lifted Suter’s stick and not only saved a goal but also started a rush the other way.

The other thing to notice is just how close Juuse Saros came to blocking the centring feed from Boeser. Let’s get another angle:

The puck misses Saros’s stick by about an inch, if that. But because Saros is reaching out with his stick, he’s a fraction of a second too late to push off the post to get to Suter’s shot.

If Saros reaches out an inch further, he blocks the pass. If he doesn’t reach at all, he’s probably able to get from post-to-post in time to rob Suter and probably send him spiraling into a deep depression after failing to score on his fourth high-danger chances of the game.

Because Saros reaches but not quite far enough, it’s a goal.

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The Canucks celebrate, experiencing a few of the official emotions of the Stanley Cup Playoffs: joy, elation, and delight.

But spare a moment for poor cell phone guy, who is experiencing another official emotion of the Stanley Cup Playoffs: anguish.

After all, he stopped filming, so he missed the goal.

Of course, nothing compares to the raw emotion shown by president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford and general manager Patrik Allvin after the goal.

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The goal gave the Canucks the 1-0 lead, so let’s get to how they defended it.

33.9 seconds to win the series

With about a minute left, Pius Suter, out to defend the one-goal lead he gave the Canucks, iced the puck. It wasn’t the worst thing to do in that situation, as it at least relieved the pressure for a moment, but it did give the Predators an offensive zone faceoff with exactly one minute remaining in the game.

Roll call!

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On the ice, thrown by a Predators fan at probably the weirdest possible point of the game, is a dead catfish.

Picking up said catfish is an arena employee, who maybe should be wearing gloves while handling that animal carcass. Just a thought.

For real, though, before we get to the final seconds, let’s take a look at the crucial moment that made those final seconds so chaotic.

Let’s be clear: this is a crosscheck by the letter of the law. You could argue that Gustav Nyquist went down very easily but it’s not particularly pleasant to have the shaft of someone’s stick driven into your lower back. 

The issue is the complete lack of consistency on the part of the officials, who let plenty of similar crosschecks go uncalled all game.

In particular, we’re supposed to believe that the Predators, desperate to win with their playoff lives on the line, played a spotlessly clean game, as the Canucks didn’t get a single power play all game.

The Predators had just one game in the entire regular season where they didn’t give their opponents a single power play. 

With all that in mind, Tocchet’s reaction is pretty understandable.

That gave the Predators a power play with just 33.9 seconds left. With Saros pulled for the extra attacker, they were able to go 6-on-4 to push for the game-tying goal.

Now, let’s actually take roll call.

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Of the six Predators on the ice, just one is a defenceman and it’s Roman Josi, who is practically a rover. 

It’s a veteran-heavy six for the Predators. 33-year-old Josi, 34-year-old Gustav Nyquist, 32-year-old Jason Zucker, 33-year-old Ryan O’Reilly, 30-year-old Colton Sissons, and, the young buck, 29-year-old Filip Forsberg.

The Canucks have similarly sent out the old guns: 35-year-old Ian Cole, 34-year-old Tyler Myers, 30-year-old J.T. Miller, and 29-year-old Teddy Bluegers. The only exception is in net: 23-year-old Arturs Silovs. 

Both teams are banking on veteran savvy and presence of mind in a high-pressure situation. The Canucks are also hoping for a faceoff win. 

Miller saw his penalty-killing time significantly decrease over the course of the season. In fact, prior to Game 6, Miller had played just 2:14 on the penalty kill in the series, eighth among Canucks forwards.

With Lindholm in the penalty box, however, Tocchet turned to his best faceoff man. Miller finished the regular season with a 56.3% faceoff percentage and was slightly better in the first round at 58.5%. As the helpful TNT graphic shows, Miller was 15-for-20 in this game heading into this faceoff, compared to 10-for-26 for O’Reilly.

If Miller can win the faceoff and the Canucks can get a clear, that’s pretty much game over — they don’t have to worry about icing the puck anymore because they’re on the penalty kill.

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Technically, Miller does win the faceoff — that’s how it’s recorded on the stat sheet — but it’s more accurate to call it a scramble draw. 

Miller tried to sweep the puck into the corner with his patent-pending forehand faceoff technique but O’Reilly ties up his stick. This forces Miller to pull the puck back on his backhand instead, where it hits Blueger’s skate and sits inside the faceoff circle.

Both Myers and Blueger reach for the puck.

The arrows show the paths of the Predators off the faceoff: Sissons, O’Reilly, and Zucker all aggressively push past their checks, seemingly anticipating that Miller will win the faceoff a lot more cleanly than he does. That leaves them on the wrong side of the puck, with both Myers and Blueger having a clear play to get to the puck and clear it out.   

Forsberg, however, sees the scrambled draw and swoops across the top of the faceoff circle, hoping to cut off the clearing attempt and immediately get a great scoring chance.

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Forsberg completely overskates the play because Myers does something unexpected, which, at this point, is paradoxically completely expected.

Instead of trying to clear the puck or let Blueger clear it, Myers pokes the puck away from the slot, sending it out to Miller. It needs some help getting there, as Blueger gives it a kick, but the puck gets to Miller, with a clear path to the other end of the ice, whether he wants to bank it off the near boards, fire it up the middle, or even skate it up a few strides before chipping it off the far boards.

Surely, this game is over.

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Oops.

Zucker didn’t get the memo that the game was over and got his stick on Miller’s to disrupt the clearing attempt. Instead of the puck firing the length of the ice, it dribbles out to Nyquist instead.

So, with the puck staying in the zone, let’s reset about 14 seconds later after some passing around the zone and a couple of shot attempts.

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Myers and Miller were on the wall in a puck battle against three Predators and couldn’t come away with the puck in the outnumbered situation, which is pretty understandable.

The puck comes up to Josi at the point and Blueger rushes out to take away his shooting lane. That leaves Josi with a pass to Forsberg at the top of the left faceoff circle, where he has three options: shoot it himself, pass it to Zucker in the slot, or try to hit Sissons at the backdoor.

Forsberg goes with Sissons: it’s a bumper play, something the Canucks loved on the power play last season with Bo Horvat in the bumper but didn’t use quite as much this season without a reliable shooter in the middle. 

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Cole takes a great path to Forsberg, not only taking away his shooting lane but also disrupting the passing lane to Zucker with a good stick. 

That forces Forsberg to saucer the pass to Zucker instead of laying it flat into his wheelhouse. As a result, the pass goes a little astray and Zucker has to take the puck on the backhand to control it instead of one-timing it, making for an easier save for Silovs.

This shot also shows how tough it is to defend a 6-on-4. There are always going to be at least two guys open — you just have to hope they don’t get involved in the play. Sissons is heading to the net and Myers is chasing him but Myers eventually makes the right decision and just lets Sissons go so that he can stay with one of the other two guys open behind him, in this case, O’Reilly.

The weirdest part of this moment, which you can’t hear in a screenshot, is that the Predators in-arena announcer is still wrapping up his standard, incredibly drawn-out power play announcement: “YEEEOWR NASHVILLLLLLLLE PREDATORS ARRRRRRRE ON! THE! POWER PLAY!”

The announcement finishes just as Zucker shoots, with over 24 seconds already gone in the power play and just 10 seconds left in the game, suggesting he maybe could’ve sped it up a bit. The crowd is supposed to finish the last part but it lacked a little gusto given the fans were a little more focused on the final seconds of the Predators’ playoffs.

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Silovs makes the save on Zucker’s shot but, with Sissons screening, he can’t swallow it completely and spills out a rebound. The three Canucks away from the puck have visions of the series going back to Vancouver for Game 7 and start to collapse back toward the net in full scramble mode.

Meanwhile, the Kool-Aid Man burst through the ice, just to add some extra chaos. I don’t know what to say, man, sometimes a photoshop gets away from me.

In any case, it’s a 2-on-1 down low: Sissons and O’Reilly versus Myers, with Nyquist waiting in the weeds. 

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Myers smartly leaves the rebound for Silovs to deal with and focuses on getting a piece of O’Reilly. That leads to the first time in this sequence that he saves a goal.

Silovs slides across to his right, expecting Sissons to try to chip the rebound over his right pad. Instead, Sissons chops it back against the grain, trying to slide it under his left pad. Silovs reacts in time to get his pad down but the rebound spits out to his left side.

Thanks to Myers, O’Reilly can’t score. O’Reilly likely would have gotten to the rebound if not for Myers clamping down on his stick and putting his hip into him to bump him off the puck.

The impact from Myers sends O’Reilly’s stick swinging just over the puck but the danger isn’t over yet, as the puck goes right to Gustav Nyquist, who can’t shake the feeling that his future is balls.

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“It got me right in the balls,” said Myers to Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre.  

Myers sees the shot coming and tries to perform an old-school two-pad stack to make the save but the puck instead makes a beeline right to his twig and berries or, as they like to say in hockey, “midsection.”

I was going to draw a line from his stick to the point of impact but you can see the puck is already forming a line. But we here at PITB are nothing if not thorough, so here’s a full highlight package of Myers using his package to stop the puck.

I did add one line onto the end of where Nyquist’s shot was going, however, just to illustrate that Silovs might’ve still made the save without Myers’ sacrifice. Silovs was that dialed in.

Meanwhile, Miller and Cole crash back towards the crease, with Miller diving out like a soccer goalie trying to make the save himself. At the top of the crease, Blueger just couldn’t get to Nyquist in time. No worries: Myers’ balls saved the day.

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Let’s take a quick look at the reverse angle for another game-saving play.

Nyquist’s shot deflects off Myers’ testicular fortitude and pops up in the air, still dangerously close to the net. O’Reilly is right on it and takes a swing at the puck in mid-air, hoping to knock it in the net.

But the net-crashing Cole gets there first and bats away the puck with his glove. Call it a savvy veteran play, call it desperation, call it whatever you like: Cole got there to save a goal.

Unlike Dinosaur Jr., Myers did not feel the pain. At least, not yet.

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It’s not over yet. Cole and Miller are now piled on top of Silovs in the crease and in the net.

Myers is still on the ice, though the pain signals have yet to reach his brain on account of him being so tall.

The only Canuck still on his feet is Blueger, who can only try to take away Zucker in the slot: there’s nothing he can do about every other open Predator on the ice.

Nyquist retrieves the rebound and surveys his options. It’s entirely the wrong thing to do. If he immediately passes the puck to Roman Josi in the high slot — the only Predator in a scoring position to whom he has a passing lane — then this is probably a tie game. Josi isn’t going to miss the net with the goaltender down and out.

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Instead, Nyquist waits, carries the puck out, and keeps looking for an option but he doesn’t have any aside from Josi.

Despite two of the four Canucks on the ice being on their keisters in the crease, they still manage to take away every passing lane. Just look at Nyquist’s options to the slot, far faceoff circle, or backdoor.

Blueger plays it very well, getting his body or stick in every lane, while Myers gets back in the lay and gets his stick in the lane too. Even Cole, from the crease, could potentially pick off a pass to the backdoor. 

In the end, Nyquist ends up having to do what he should have done in the first place: pass to Josi in the high slot.

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The delay allows Blueger to get out in the shooting lane, preventing Josi from releasing a shot right away. He had to pull the puck to the side to create a shooting lane and, by that time, Silovs has scrambled back to his feet and is back in his crease, looking as big as possible.

Despite the 6-on-4 situation, the Predators have no traffic in front of the net. Instead, everyone opened up for a potential pass from Nyquist, leaving the shooting lane clear for Silovs to see the shot. Even without his stick, Silovs has a decent chance of coming up with a save.

Meanwhile, Miller has lost his stick and is in full-blown throw-my-face-in-front-of-the-puck mode.

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With Silovs big in net, Josi sends the puck sailing high and the puck comes around to Forsberg but it’s already too late. Time’s up. The Canucks have won.

But there are a couple of other things that have to be pointed out here.

One is the stickless Miller hilariously realizing that with time expiring, yet another penalty is not going to matter, so he just bear hugs Zucker in front of the net to keep him from tipping the puck or getting to a rebound. 

It’s cool, they’re old teammates from the 2012 Team USA World Junior team. They’ve hugged lots of times.

But my favourite moment from this sequence is a little more subtle. Keep an eye on Silovs here:

Silovs tracks Josi’s shot over the net and into the corner. Then, all in one motion, he slides into his post, picks up his stick, and looks up to check the clock.

He looks up to check the clock.

If that’s not a confident move from the rookie goaltender, I don’t know what is. He knows that he has enough time before Forsberg can gather the puck to check how much time is remaining and still get back in position to make the save.

He does make the save, even though it’s unnecessary. Silovs wasn’t going to let any pucks get past him.

And, in the midst of elation, Myers finally allows himself to feel the pain.