VANCOUVER — After another string of ugly losses, the Vancouver Canucks knew they had to respond.
On Thursday they did, beating the defending Stanley Cup-champion Colorado Avalanche 4-2.
"We've proven that this group can do it," said J.T. Miller, who sealed the score with an empty-net strike late in the third period. "It's just about doing it on a regular basis and that being in our DNA as a team and obviously we did it tonight, so felt good."
The result snapped a three-game skid for the Canucks (17-18-3), including a 6-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday.
Coach Bruce Boudreau put his squad through the paces with a hard practice and some tough talk on Wednesday, and he liked the way they bounced back with a "detailed game."
Those details included 24 blocked shots and 29 hits.
“That's the way we have to play to win. We have to do all of those things," Boudreau said. "(We were) talking about committing to defend the other day. Well, in the third period, I thought that's exactly what they did. And they played for each other and it was really fun to watch.”
Mikko Rantanen and Samuel Girard replied for the Avs (19-15-3).
The Avs are now winless in five games (0-4-1) for the first time since a tough stretch from Oct. 26 to Nov. 5, 2019.
"Regardless of the past five games, winning or losing, you have to go out and play your best hockey, otherwise you can't expect to win and we're not holding up our end of the bargain on that right now," said Colorado coach Jared Bednar.
Colorado pulled Georgiev in favour of the extra attacker with just over two minutes on the clock.
Pettersson picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and sliced a cross-ice pass to Miller, who popped a short-range shot into the yawning net 18:24 into the third period for his 14th goal of the season.
Avs centre Darren Helm got a clear breakaway with 2:16 left in the game, but Delia swallowed up his wrist shot to preserve the home side's lead.
After sputtering through the first half of the game, the Canucks erupted with three unanswered goals in two minutes and 33 seconds in the middle frame.
Kuzmenko sparked the offence with a power-play goal 13:15 into the second, shovelling a backhanded shot in past Georgiev from the top of the crease after Toews was called for hooking.
Canucks defencemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson contributed an assist on the play, marking the 300th helper of his NHL career.
A highlight reel play set up Vancouver's second goal of the night.
Putting the puck between his owns legs, Kuzmenko sprung Pettersson for a partial breakaway. The Swedish centre drove into the Colorado zone, took the puck around the net, and got off a shot as he fell to the ice. Kuzmenko then forced the puck in past Georgiev's skate, tying the game at 2-2 with his 17th goal of the season.
The play was better than the goal, Kuzmenko said.
“Is really for me, I like it. No goal. I like the pass because as I score, I say ‘Petey, Petey, you see my pass?'" the Russian rookie said with a giant grin.
Boeser netted the go-ahead goal just 34 seconds later, sending a wrist shot past the Avs' netminder from in tight.
Georgiev responded by winding up and smashing his stick on the crossbar several times.
"Just a couple mistakes led to goals and it's just unfortunate," said Avs defenceman Cale Makar. "It's been happening a lot lately so we just have to find ways to dial those back in and not give them those chances back to back.”
Colorado took a 2-0 lead 1:49 into the second after Girard unleashed a rocket from inside the blue line that sailed through traffic and appeared to hit defenceman Luke Schenn in the low slot on its way into the net.
An Avs power-play tally opened the scoring 19:00 into the game after Canucks defenceman Tyler Myers was sent to the box for hooking.
Stationed at the top of the faceoff circle, Rantanen fired a blistering shot through traffic for his 26th goal of the season.
WHISTLES, WHISTLES EVERYWHERE
Both sides saw their special teams tested Thursday. Vancouver went 1 for 7 on the power play while Colorado was 1 for 5 with the man advantage.
Pettersson is heading to his third NHL all-star game after being named to the Pacific Division team Thursday. The 24-year-old Canucks centre leads his team in scoring and is on pace for a career-best season with 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists) in 36 games.
— Avalanche: face the Oilers in Edmonton on Saturday.
— Canucks: kick off a five-game road swing Saturday against the Jets in Winnipeg.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2023.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press