EDMONTON — The Vancouver Canucks were down 3-1 with goalie Jacob Markstrom getting pounded by vulcanized rubber when they flipped the script on the St. Louis Blues Wednesday and scored three unanswered goals for a 4-3 win in NHL playoff action.
The Canucks lead the best-of-seven opening-round series 3-2 and can send the defending Stanley Cup champions packing from the post-season with a win Friday night.
In another Hollywood script twist, it was Vancouver fourth-line grinder Tyler Motte setting the pace, scoring two goals on the breakaway, including the game winner.
“(Markstrom) made like four or five great saves. I thought that was the turning point for our team,” said Vancouver winger Jake Virtanen, who recorded his first career playoff goal.
“We had a lot of energy on the bench. It gave us some momentum and we just took over the second period.”
Motte, asked about his two goals, said, “You need production up and down the lineup, especially in the playoffs. Every game is going to be a battle, so for us to be able to contribute in that way tonight, it was important for us.”
J.T. Miller also scored for Vancouver, his fourth of the series, and Markstrom made 36 saves for the win.
Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn, and Zach Sanford replied for the Blues.
Goaltender Jake Allen stopped 26 shots and took his first loss in three starts in the series.
It was a tale of two games.
The Blues were up 3-1 midway through the second period, blasting away at Markstrom and compelling him to make some acrobatic saves, when the game turned on a dime and the Canucks rallied.
Miller cut the lead to 3-2 with a goal that was all sandpaper. He won a puck battle behind the net, came around the front and whacked away as Blues jostled and shoved him until the puck found its way under Allen and over the goal line.
Vancouver tied it when Virtanen, standing on the goal line to Allen’s right, fired a severely sharp-angle shot that bounced off Allen’s arm and in. As the seconds ticked down in the period, Motte jumped on a loose puck in the neutral zone, raced in and fired a shot low blocker side for a lead they would not relinquish
Markstrom made some more point-blank saves in the third period to hold off a furious Blues charge.
Schenn said they got away from playing heavy ground-and-pound Blues hockey.
“We’ve got to tighten up defensively. That’s how we play. That’s the way we win hockey games,” said Schenn.
“Their goalie is playing really well. We’re throwing a lot of pucks at him, and he’s making a lot of saves, but we’ll find ways to score goals. We’ll look at it and make some adjustments for Game 6.”
Motte got Vancouver on the scoresheet while shorthanded in the first period when Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo broke his stick attempting a shot at the Canucks blue line. Motte jumped on the puck and raced in on Allen with a stick-less Pietrangelo eventually chasing him down, but Motte simply turned him inside out and fired a shot stick-side high and in.
After Motte’s icebreaker, it was three straight goals for St. Louis, including O’Reilly’s fourth of the series in the dying seconds of the first period.
O’Reilly showed off sweet hands and slick skating, going wide around defenceman Alex Edler, swooping around the net and banking the puck in off Markstrom’s skate while defenceman Jordie Benn got caught standing and watching.
It was a tough game for Edler. The defenceman got injured in the waning moments of the second period when Blue Jordan Kyrou fell down and his leg flew up and his skate caught Edler on the right ear. Edler grabbed the side of his head, skated right off the ice and down the tunnel.
The Blues were without prolific scoring winger Vladimir Tarasenko, who has gone back to St. Louis to have his shoulder reassessed by medical staff. The Russian winger played only 10 games in the regular season before dislocating his left shoulder and undergoing surgery in October.
The game was a microcosm of a seesaw series. The Blues allowed nine goals in dropping the first two games, but then tightened up, won puck battles and delivered some glass-rattling hits to win the next two by 3-2 and 3-1 scores.
Markstrom has been the difference.
He carried the Canucks during the regular season before going down with a knee injury in February, often facing a shooting gallery of pucks on a squad that allowed more than 33 shots a game on average (28th in the NHL).
This is the first playoff series for the 30-year-old Swede. Against St. Louis, he has seen 193 shots in five games, including two overtimes, which averages out to almost 39 shots a game.