The Western Conference’s best story hit a bump in the road earlier this week but has a chance Thursday to get back in groove in Tampa, Fla.
Following a 5-2 defeat in to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, the Vancouver Canucks and new head coach Bruce Boudreau will face the Tampa Bay Lightning, who open a two-game homestand.
On Dec. 4 before Boudreau was hired to replace the fired Travis Green, the Canucks were 8-15-2 and slotted next-to-last in the West — only ahead of the Arizona Coyotes.
Just 10 games into Boudreau’s tenure, the rejuvenated Canucks have reeled off an 8-1-1 mark and are six points out of a wild-card spot.
However, they lost for the first time in regulation under Boudreau at Florida after having a layoff due to attendance restrictions in Canadian cities because of COVID-19.
The red-hot Panthers ran their overall point streak to seven games (6-0-1) and improved to 19-3-0 on home ice in the three-goal win, taking control with a trio of second-period goals for a 5-1 lead.
Vancouver got markers from Jason Dickinson and Juho Lammikko, but Florida breached goalie Thatcher Demko five times on 26 shots.
Demko had been a major source for the team’s success: He owned a 7-0-0 mark with a 1.40 goals-against average and a .955 save percentage with Boudreau behind the bench.
The new coach said he consulted with goalie coach Ian Clark about whether to replace Demko before the third period.
“I talked with Ian about it, extensively, but the one thing I didn’t want to see happen was that they score 6-7-8 and Demko loses a bit of his confidence,” Boudreau said. “He wanted to stay in. We went and asked him.”
Vancouver’s Brock Boeser returned after missing three games in the protocol, but J.T. Miller had his nine-game point streak end.
“It’s never fun when you lose,” Boudreau said. “This was bringing us back to earth a bit.”
On Tuesday in Buffalo, Nikita Kucherov helped the Lightning get some payback for one of their worst defeats this season — a 5-1 road loss to the Sabres on Oct. 25.
Kucherov notched his fourth career hat trick and first since 2017 as the Lightning routed the depleted Sabres 6-1, breezing to victory with five straight tallies to open the second meeting.
The right wing had failed to score since returning to the lineup Thursday following a 32-game absence, but he looked like his old self in Buffalo.
“I don’t forget how good he is. I know how good he is — we see it every day,” said team captain Steven Stamkos, who produced at least three points for the fourth time this season.
“You give him time and space, that’s what he’s going to do. That’s why he’s one of the best in the world.”
Kucherov’s hat trick tied him for fourth with Tyler Johnson for the most in franchise history. Stamkos leads with nine followed by Martin St. Louis (eight) and Vincent Lecavalier (six).
Ondrej Palat left the game in the second period, but head coach Jon Cooper said the move was more preventative than any kind of emergency.
“(Palat’s) working through something,” Cooper said. “So we just thought that anytime we can give him some rest we’ll give him some rest, and that’s what we did tonight.”
–Field Level Media