VANCOUVER — Another messy defensive performance proved costly for the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday.
The Canucks tried to claw their way back after surrendering four first-period goals to the Tampa Bay Lightning, but couldn't make up the deficit and ultimately fell 5-2.
“In our d zone, we made a lot of mistakes right off the bat. And before you knew it, they've got four on you," said Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau. "That's the kind of team you can't make mistakes — and they were relatively crazy mistakes or are easy mistakes, you know, giving pucks away — against a team like that. And when you're down four, it's pretty difficult to catch up.”
The trouble started with a milestone goal for Lightning captain Steven Stamkos just 4:40 into the game.
Alex Killorn sliced a pass across the low slot and Stamkos tapped it in backdoor for the 500th regular-season goal of his NHL career.
“It's very special," Stamkos said. "I've had quite a few chances the last couple of games and it was nice to get it out of the way kind of early in the game."
Tampa's bench emptied, with players mobbing the veteran centre in the corner as the crowd cheered. It was a reaction Stamkos wasn't expecting.
"That's pretty amazing," he said. "That's something as a player that sticks with you for a long time when you're on the road and you get that type of reception. So, just want to say to the fans that were here tonight, 'Thank you and I appreciate that and very classy move.'"
Stamkos scored twice more Wednesday, completing his hat trick into an empty net with 1:22 left on the game clock.
The Canucks (18-23-3) replied with third-period power-play goals from Andrei Kuzmenko and Quinn Hughes. J.T. Miller had two assists.
Brian Elliott stopped 37-of-39 shots for Tampa, who stretched their win streak to five games.
The result marked the second time in a week that the Lightning beat the Canucks, following a 5-4 decision in Tampa on Jan. 12.
Tampa coach Jon Cooper wasn't overly impressed with his team's performance, however.
"We got that four-goal lead and then we just sat back for two periods," he said. "We'll need better out of us than we did tonight for tomorrow because we can't just sit on these leads like we did. But worked out for us tonight and let's move on."
Hughes cut the Lightning's lead to 4-2 after Stamkos was called for tripping midway through the third.
The defenceman muscled his way to the front of the net and forced a backhanded shot up and over Elliott for his fourth goal of the season at the 9:10 mark.
Hughes is on a five-game point streak with three goals and six assists.
Vancouver's defensive group has been making a concentrated effort to get on the scoresheet, he said.
“We obviously don't get enough goals from the back end," Hughes said. "It is what it is, but we're trying to push and get shots in and find ourselves in spots where we can score. I think that's the main thing. … It's just all about having forwards that back us up and trying to have good reads and not be stupid about it.”
The Canucks finally beat the Tampa goalie on their 32nd shot of the night 6:35 into the final frame.
With Erik Cernak in the box for interference, Hughes unleashed a rocket from inside the blue line. Kuzmenko, stationed in front of the net, tipped it in for his 18th goal of the season.
The home side was 2 for 4 with the man advantage while the Lightning went 0 for 1.
Vancouver paid tribute to former Canuck Wayne "Gino" Odjick, who died Sunday at 52. Players wore jerseys with Odjick's name and No. 29 on the back for warm-up, and nine of the legendary enforcer's Vancouver teammates joined scout Ron Delorme for a moment of silence and ceremonial puck drop. Cheers of "Gino! Gino! Gino!" echoed through the rink several times and highlights of Odjick's career played on the big screen throughout the game.
Stamkos extended his point streak to six games. He has four goals and six assists across the stretch. Canucks captain Bo Horvat notched an assist and has 10 points (four goals, six assists) in nine outings.
Canucks: host the Colorado Avalanche on Friday.
Lightning: continue a season-long, five-game road swing Thursday against the Oilers in Edmonton.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2023.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press