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SCOREBOARD

Depth scoring lifts Canucks to win over struggling Canadiens

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VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks biggest stars were conspicuously absent from the scoresheet Thursday.

It didn't matter.

The Canucks got the offence they needed from a defensive defenceman and some depth forwards as they cruised to a 4-1 win over the struggling Montreal Canadiens.

For coach Rick Tocchet, the way Vancouver defended was almost impressive as how they scored.

“We didn’t give them much. That’s a fast team, they’re an up-and-coming team," Tocchet said. "I thought our third and fourth line did a nice job. Obviously (Nikita Zadorov) getting a couple big goals for us. But I don’t think we gave them much of the high dangers.”

Zadorov scored twice for the Canucks (44-18-8), while Conor Garland and Nils Aman each added a goal and Ilya Mikheyev contributed a pair of assists.

Juraj Slafkovsky replied for the Canadiens (25-32-12), who dropped their fourth game in a row.

Canucks goalie Casey DeSmith made 16 saves and improved to 10-5-6 on the season while Sam Montembeault stopped 21-of-25 shots for the Canadiens.

Scoring early has become a trend for the Canucks recently. Closing out games has been more of a challenge.

The team surrendered leads to Colorado and Washington en route to losses last week before holding on for a 3-2 victory over Buffalo on Tuesday.

Vancouver took a 3-0 lead late in the second period Thursday, only to see Montreal score 57 seconds later.

Cole Caufield sent a wrist shot flying from inside the blue line and Slafkovsky tipped it in for his 15th of the campaign at the 19:07 mark. The goal drew competing chants of "Go Habs Go!" and "Go Canucks Go!" from the split crowd.

The Canucks didn't panic. Instead, they allowed the Habs just three shots across the third period.

"Obviously, they got one back late in the second and I don't think we broke, I think we had our confidence," Zadorov said. "It’s a young team. We're learning still. There's still time to learn before playoffs and I think we've been doing a good job.

"The game against Colorado was a good example how not to protect the lead so I think we’ve been doing a good job since.”

Montreal had ample opportunity to get on the board earlier in the second, with three power plays across the period. Caufield came within inches of striking on the man advantage midway through the frame when he rang a shot off the post.

The Canucks and Habs both went 0 for 3 on the power play Thursday.

Trevor Letowski, Montreal's assistant coach, said his group simply didn't create enough offensively.

“They just kind of smothered us," he said. "We didn't get a lot of sustained offensive zone shifts. We got a couple of decent looks from the interior but not nearly enough to score goals and win. It was just a game where we didn't have a lot of answers offensively, but our guys played hard, we competed, but just couldn't generate enough.”

With Thursday's result, Vancouver remains atop the Western Conference standings, three points up on the Winnipeg Jets, Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars.

“It's definitely something to build on," DeSmith said of the victory. "After a couple of tough losses here at home, it was good to string a couple of wins together. It's getting down to playoff mode and I think the low-scoring games we're gonna have to get used to be in them.”

INS AND OUTS

Tanner Pearson returned to Montreal's lineup after being healthy scratched on Tuesday. He slotted in for Joshua Roy, who suffered an upper-body injury in the Canadiens' overtime loss to the Oilers and is expected to be out four to six weeks. Noah Juulsen replaced Ian Cole on Vancouver's blue line. Tocchet said earlier Thursday that Cole is "banged up" and could use some time to get healthy.

ANOTHER CUP

A championship trophy was in the building Thursday night. Montreal Alouettes wide receiver Tyson Philpot, defensive end Brock Gowanlock and receivers coach Mike Lionello — who all hail from B.C. — brought the Grey Cup to the game and received cheers when they hoisted it on the big screen, all clad in Canucks jerseys. The Als won the CFL's top prize in dramatic fashion in November after Philpot reeled in a touchdown pass with 15 seconds left on the clock.

UP NEXT

Canucks: Host the Calgary Flames on Saturday.

Canadiens: Continue a five-game road swing Sunday against the Kraken in Seattle.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2024.