VANCOUVER — The Ottawa Senators knew what a win would mean for the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday — and the visitors were eager to play spoiler.
The Canucks came in looking to extend a six-game win streak and better their fragile playoff hopes, but it was the Senators who took two points with a 4-3 shootout win.
“We knew it was going to be kind of a playoff style game," said Senators forward Alex Formenton. "They're hungry for those points and they need it so they came out strong and it was a good back and forth game.”
Vancouver (38-28-11) took a 2-0 lead in the first period but stumbled through the second and third before dropping their first game since April 3.
Formenton had a pair of goals in regulation for the Sens (29-41-7), while Parker Kelly scored and Nikita Zaitsev contributed a pair of assists.
Former Canuck Adam Gaudette put the game away by scoring in the fifth round of the shootout with some quick stick handling and a shot under the glove of Vancouver goalie Thatcher Demko.
“That felt good. It's been a long time coming," Gaudette said. "It was a good game overall, played hard, matched their energy in a must-win for them and it was a good night."
J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser each had a goal and an assist for Vancouver, and Travis Dermott scored his first goal for the Canucks.
Ottawa’s Filip Gustavsson stopped 34 of 37 shots for his first win since Nov. 13.
Vancouver's Jaroslav Halak stopped all 14 shots he faced in the first period but suffered an upper-body injury late in the frame and was replaced by Demko to start the second.
Demko, who backstopped the Canucks to a 6-2 win over the Dallas Stars on Monday, made 15 saves in relief.
Both sides were on the tail end of back-to-backs on Tuesday, with Ottawa having dropped a 4-2 decision to the Seattle Kraken on Monday.
“We just played with way more emotion (against Vancouver)," said Senators head coach D.J. Smith. "We didn't have any legs last night for whatever reason, and we just weren't able to do it right.
"Outside of killing as many penalties as we did, five on five we had way better legs today.”
The loss leaves Vancouver four points behind the Stars, who hold the second Western Conference wild-card spot. The Canucks are also five points back of the L.A. Kings, who hold third place in the Pacific Division, a spot that also comes with a post-season berth.
Taking a single point on Tuesday hasn't changed anything for the Canucks, said head coach Bruce Boudreau.
"We were going to be allowed one mulligan somewhere along the road," he said, noting that his team has responded well to adversity in the past.
"That’s the kind of mentality we need. This is a group that’s fought for four-and-a-half months, almost five months now. And they’re not going to quit now.”
Vancouver tied the score at 3-3 midway through the third when Boeser sent a pass to Dermott from behind the net and the defenceman fired in a shot from the top of the crease.
The tally marked Dermott's first point in a Canucks jersey, coming in his 13th game with the team. The Toronto Maple Leafs dealt the blueliner to Vancouver for a third-round draft pick at the trade deadline in March.
The Senators took the lead 3:49 into the third when Formenton collected a loose puck along the boards and sprinted in for a breakaway, sending a wrist shot into the top corner to make it 3-2 with his second goal of the game.
“It was really nice to get the two in. It was even better for us to pull off that win," he said. "I think we had a bit of a slow start in the first there on the (penalty kill), a couple of chances that we wanted back, but we finished strong with the last two periods."
Kelly put away the equalizer 2:17 into the period with a shot from the hash marks that hit the crossbar and bounced off Demko's back.
Vancouver outshot the visitors 16-8 in the second period but it was Ottawa that found the back of the net.
Boudreau said he got nervous when his side couldn't get a puck past Gustavsson.
“They were not backing up. I thought ‘OK, the third period’s going to be a tough period,'" he said. "They got two goals but give our team credit, they didn’t quit. And in the last 10 minutes I thought we had all the chances.”
Tim Stutzle fired a shot from inside the blue line and Nikita Zaitsev tipped it from the high slot before Formenton directed it in past Demko, cutting the Sens' deficit to a single goal at the 4:04 mark.
Demko led his team onto the ice for the second period and took over in Vancouver's net.
Halak could be seen shaking his blocker hand after a skirmish in front of the crease in the final minutes of the opening frame. The Slovak netminder finished out the period but was not on the Canucks bench for the remainder of the game.
Boudreau said it's unlikely that Halak will travel with the team for its upcoming two-game road trip.
Defenceman Brad Hunt helped boost Vancouver's lead to 2-0 midway through the first. Stationed below the goal line, he dished a pass to Boeser, who sniped a one-timer past Gustavsson for his 21st goal of the year.
Many fans had yet to settle into their seats when Vancouver opened the scoring on an early power play after Dylan Gambrell was sent to the box for tripping.
The Canucks were quick to capitalize, with Miller sending a blast past Gustavsson from the top of the faceoff circle 1:55 into the game.
The goal — coming on Vancouver's first shot of the night — was Miller's 30th of the season.
The Canucks kick off the road trip on Thursday when they face the Wild in Minnesota. The Senators will take on the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Friday.
Notes: Miller joined Bo Horvat as the lone Canucks to hit the 30-goal mark this year. It's the first time since 2010-11 that Vancouver has had more than one player reach the milestone. … Defenceman Travis Hamonic played against the Canucks for the first time since Vancouver dealt him to Ottawa for a third-round draft pick at the trade deadline in March. … Vancouver defenceman Quinn Hughes played his 200th regular-season NHL game.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2022.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press