The Vancouver Canucks have struggled to win games since returning from the COVID-19 outbreak that derailed their season in late March.
However, as the Canucks (22-28-4, 48 points) head into Tuesday afternoon's home clash with the Calgary Flames (25-26-3, 53 points) for the penultimate regular-season game for both teams even though the Stanley Cup playoffs have begun, they can take pride in going down swinging in almost all of their defeats.
Case in point was Vancouver's comeback attempt in Sunday's 6-5 overtime defeat to the Flames to kick off three consecutive meetings between the long-time rivals who both failed to make the playoffs.
The Flames staked a 5-1 lead through two periods, but the Canucks roared back with a four-goal third period to force overtime before losing in the extra frame. Sure, the point gained by the Canucks may impact where they end up selecting in the coming NHL draft, but the determination they showed is commendable.
"Any team going into a situation like that, you've got to show character and some pride and not leave your goalie hanging out to dry like we had. It was a good push," forward J.T. Miller said. "We really wanted to get two points after making it pretty close. It was a good hard-fought game, and we should be proud of how we responded in the third period."
The clubs meet again in Calgary on Wednesday afternoon to conclude the campaign.
With very little at stake in terms of championship hopes, these games are becoming about integrating young players and reaching milestones. For the Canucks, there aren't many young players remaining to evaluate because their lengthy injury list has forced that already. However, Sunday's clash saw 2017 second-round draft pick Jonah Gadjovich, who scored 15 goals in 19 American Hockey League contests this season, make his NHL debut.
"It's a quick game. Guys execute and if you don't it ends up in the back of your net. I learned that the hard way," said Gadjovich, who saw five minutes of ice time and fought Connor Mackey in retribution for a questionable hit. "I'm just trying to soak it all in and do my part."
The other quest is to get veteran defenseman Alex Edler his 100th career goal.
"Everyone knows it's there," coach Travis Green said. "It would be nice to see him get it."
The Flames, who are riding a three-game winning streak and have claimed six of eight meetings with the Canucks this season, also are incorporating new faces. Among them was 2017 fourth-round pick Adam Ruzicka, who saw his first NHL action on Sunday.
"It was a great feeling being out there," said Ruzicka, who played nearly 10 minutes. "We got the win, which is positive, and it was a surreal feeling to get the first done and I hope there's many more to come."
Assessed head coach Darryl Sutter: "Early, he was a little tentative and then he won a couple of face-offs and got banging around a little bit and his game got better."
The Flames aren't likely done giving players their opportunity. Forwards Matthew Phillips and Luke Philp could play in their first NHL games. Also, goaltender Louis Domingue may see action after No. 1 netminder Jacob Markstrom has made 15 consecutive starts.
Although Sutter is known for being a taskmaster, he didn't publicly lambast his team for blowing a four-goal lead in the third period. Although rest assured, he'll expect better in the final two outings.
"It was just special teams," Sutter said. "Our penalty killing wasn't very good in the third period and our power play wasn't good all night."
--Field Level Media
Copyright 2021 STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.