The Vancouver Canucks know their margin of error has been whittled away.
If the Canucks want to make the playoffs, they can’t afford another loss like the 1-0 defeat it suffered to the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday.
“We need to buckle down. Every two points matters to us right now, every point for that matter. We’ve got to find a way to win those,” forward Tanner Pearson said after the game.
“We’ve been pretty good at coming back in the third period as of late. We had some confidence going into that one that we could do it. We just couldn’t get that one.”
Alex Nedeljkovic made 43 saves and the Detroit Red Wings snapped a six-game winless drought with the victory. The shutout was Nedeljkovic’s second of the season and the fifth of his career.
The visiting goalie was good, but the Canucks got off to an ugly start, said head coach Bruce Boudreau.
“That first period might have been our worst period all year, including the games where we gave up five goals. We must have gave the puck away 25 times,” he said. “That gave them the confidence to play. If you step on them early, they probably say ‘Oh, here we go again.’ But we didn’t. We gave them a chance to play the game.”
Pius Suter scored the game’s lone goal midway through the second period, with help from Vladislav Namesnikov.
Thatcher Demko stopped 34 shots for the Canucks (30-25-7).
The win gives Detroit (25-29-7) the sweep of the season series after the Red Wings beat the Canucks 3-1 back on Oct. 16.
“It’s big. It’s one that we can look back on as the year goes on now and kind of tell ourselves that we can play in these low-scoring kind of games,” Nedeljkovic said.
“We can play good defence and I think we did play some really good defence tonight. We gave up some chances, but, they got some high-end players over there so they’re going to get their chances and tonight pucks were hitting me. It’s just good. We’re gonna take it and run with it.
Star centre Elias Pettersson returned to the Canucks lineup after missing two games with an undisclosed upper-body injury.
“At the halfway point, I think we started playing good and created plenty of chances to score,” he said. “We’ve just got to bury them. It’s one of those days when you just have to tip your hat to the other goalie. We’ve got to find a way to put the puck in the net.”
Vancouver pushed in the third, outshooting the visiting side 14-4 across the period and pulling Demko with 2:23 left on the game clock.
Despite the extra attacker, the Canucks failed to find the equalizer.
Vancouver nearly tied things up ahead of the second intermission when Conor Garland found himself alone deep in Detroit territory. He put a backhanded shot on net but couldn’t get it up and over Nedeljkovic’s pad.
The Red Wings opened the scoring 8:09 into the second moments after killing off their first penalty of the night.
Canucks captain Bo Horvat had a pass picked off in front of the Detroit net and Namestnikov streaked up the ice before slicing a pass to Suter. Suter attempted to send the puck back to his teammate but instead hit the stick of a diving Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes, sending the puck deflecting through Demko’s legs.
The goal was Suter’s 12th of the season.
Vancouver went 0 for 3 with the man advantage on Thursday and Detroit was scoreless on its lone power play.
Demko was forced to make some big saves to keep the score knotted at 0-0 through the first.
The most spectacular stop came with about 30 seconds left in the period when rookie Lucas Raymond sent a wrist shot flying toward the net. Demko dived sideways and knocked the puck out of the air with his glove.
The Red Wings were coming off a 7-5 loss to the Oilers in Edmonton, and head coach Jeff Blashill said he saw similarities between the two games.
“Obviously we got down against Edmonton but I thought we did a really good job at being relentless, hounding the puck on the forecheck. Certainly, we still had mistakes and we still had breakdowns,” he said.
“[Nedeljkovic] was excellent. I thought Demko was excellent. Both goalies faced a lot of real chances and they both did an outstanding job. But we’ve talked about being relentless, we’ve talked about working, and I thought we did a great job of that.”
The Canucks will close out their seven-game homestand this weekend with back-to-back games against the Calgary Flames and Buffalo Sabres.
Boudreau said the matchups will be key for his team’s playoff dreams.
“The margin for error is so small with our group,” he said. “We have bounced back, we have been resilient. But this weekend, because of the road trip we’re going on, it’s a pretty vital weekend if we want to continue to hunt these guys down.”
The Red Wings wrap up a four-game homestand against the Seattle Kraken on Saturday.
Star centre Elias Pettersson returned to the Canucks lineup after missing Tuesday’s game with an undisclosed upper-body injury ... J.T. Miller saw his 13-game point streak snapped. The Vancouver forward notched 27 points (eight goals, 19 assists) across the stretch, dating back to Feb. 12 ... Red Wings defenceman Nick Leddy was a healthy scratch ... Former Canucks defenceman Troy Stecher played his first game as a visitor to Rogers Arena. The native of Richmond, B.C., signed with the Red Wings as a free agent in 2020.