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Canucks edge Canadiens in battle of troubled Canadian teams

MONTREAL — It was so bad, it was good.

The Vancouver Canucks finally found in the Montreal Canadiens an opponent in their own weight class, and the two teams from the bottom of the National Hockey League standings were so equally desperate and flawed on Monday that they played a wildly, morbidly entertaining game at the Bell Centre.

There were 40 turnovers, 53 scoring chances, 73 saves by goaltenders trying to rescue their teams and, most surprisingly, a 2-1 win for the Canucks that was Vancouver’s first road victory since Oct. 23.

The win ended a six-game road losing streak for the Canucks, halted the Canadiens’ winning streak at a season-long one game and nudged Vancouver two points ahead of Montreal with a record of 7-14-2.

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The only teams below them in the standings are the Ottawa Senators, New York Islanders and Arizona Coyotes. And the Senators and Islanders have had COVID-19 outbreaks, while the Coyotes are the Coyotes.

The Canucks hadn’t beaten the Canadiens in regulation time in Montreal since Jan. 16, 2007, when former Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo famously checked himself out of hospital after spending the night under observation in the ICU — he had been hit in the throat in practice by a Daniel Sedin shot — and shut out the Canadiens of his boyhood 4-0. Only Luongo.

Of course, it can be reasonably argued that the Canadiens still came out ahead on Monday after aggressively dealing with their crisis by firing general manager Marc Bergevin, moving on from three other executives and hiring New York Rangers architect Jeff Gorton to rebuild the team.

“Yeah, I actually just found out about that after the game,” Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko said when asked if he thought the Canadiens might be fired up by the organization’s seismic changes. “I’ve been hearing some crazy things coming out of the media lately about us, so I’ve been kind of been tuning it out.”

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The Canucks’ owners, of course, continue to procrastinate about when and how to replace coach Travis Green and general manager Jim Benning. But if this turns out to be one of the final wins from a dying regime, at least it was fun and memorable.

And there’s even the chance of a two-game winning streak because the Canucks visit the Senators on Wednesday to end a five-game trip that had felt more like a funeral procession.

“Yeah, it’s hard right now,” Green said. “There’s a lot of adversity, it feels like, around our group. We talked about that before the game. When things are going tough and you’re going through adversity, it shows a lot about a player and individuals and a lot about a team, how you respond. We talked about character, and times like this reveal a lot about players and teams.”

The Canucks continue to play hard for Green.

They outplayed the Columbus Blue Jackets but lost 4-2 on Friday, and had a third-period lead Sunday in Boston before their league-worst penalty killing got torched twice in a 3-2 loss to the Bruins.

But they blanked the Canadiens over the final 33 minutes after Conor Garland, on a pass from Bo Horvat and a primary turnover by Josh Anderson, broke a 1-1 tie at 6:27 of the second period. The Canucks even managed to kill a couple of late penalties. Seriously.

And Elias Pettersson produced a goal for Vancouver as the most talented third-liner in franchise history made it 1-0 on a power play eight minutes into the game with a one-time rocket from the right wing circle unseen since early last season.

Demoted during the road trip by Green, Pettersson ended a nine-game scoring famine that had seen him generate just a single assist. His ice time Monday was 13:13, which until last week would have been alarmingly low.

“I just play,” Pettersson said. “I mean, I’m going to play whatever the coach puts me, and I’m going to try to play my best at that role. So I embrace it. Just play.

“I feel everything is confidence. Of course, (it has been) a slow start for me personally. I have been having a tendency to overthink, kind of gotten away from hard work. Today, I was just thinking to work as hard as possible, and it was definitely nice to get one on the power play, too.”

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The Canadiens got their only goal at 18:39 of the first period when Ryan Poehling converted Jonathan Drouin’s excellent goalmouth feed on a three-on-two rush created when Canucks defenceman Tucker Poolman had time and space to make an outlet pass and rifled the puck into Horvat’s skate for a turnover.

Demko later made a pair of stunning saves on Drouin, then made like Ken Dryden against Ben Chiarot, stacking his pads for a retro game-saving stop with about three minutes remaining.

“I was fired up on the bench,” Pettersson said. “That was cool to see.”

“I’ve been wanting to find some more key saves in my game the last little bit here,” Demko said. “I don’t think my game’s been bad, but I think there’s always room for improvement and it seems like we’re losing by one goal every night.

“I’m right there with the group. I think we’ve been playing well. It’s just kind of weird how it’s been working the last handful of games, and in no way am I not a part of that. I take pride in being in the mix with the guys and being in the trenches with them when it’s not going well, and being on top with them when it is. I know you guys have been kind of hard on us lately, and probably deservedly so (but) I don’t think anyone in that room has given up yet.”

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Written by Sportsnet

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