Travis Green knew it wasn’t going to be easy because the incentive had to come from his players and not him.
The motivational message for the Vancouver Canucks in their home-ice finale against a club sharpening its game for the postseason wasn’t scribbled on a whiteboard. It wasn’t going to come in a pep talk from the coach. It had to come from the players.
“These are tough games,” Green admitted of facing the San Jose Sharks. “There are a lot of guys who have a lot to play for and we have to see how players react in these games and what their compete level is. We want players who are competitive.
“The biggest thing with teams out of the playoffs is to make sure the mindset is right.”
You could probably count them on one hand Tuesday. And the one who stood out the most was Tanner Pearson.
Here’s what we learned as Markus Granlund got the winner as the Canucks ended a six-game losing streak to the Sharks in a 4-2 triumph at Rogers Arena:
PEARSON FINALLY FINDING HIS FORM
The Canucks weren’t quite sure what they were getting at the trade deadline when Erik Gudbranson was shipped to the Pittsburgh Penguins for the under-achieving Pearson. His best days were in the SoCal rear-view mirror in Los Angeles on ‘That ’70s Line’ with Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli when he had a 24-goal season.
He had nine goals in 44 games this season with the Penguins and now has seven in 17 games with the Canucks. Pearson has five goals in his last seven games and, more importantly, Green is seeing a guy whose foot speed has improved with a willingness to get to the net.
He did just that on the opening goal.
When Bo Horvat out-legged Brent Burns and then fed a back pass from the end boards into the high slot, it was Pearson who was where he was supposed to be to snap a shot far side on goalie Martin Jones. He was also stopped in tight on another bold foray to the crease, was double-shifted and even killed a penalty when Granlund was banished for slashing in the second period.
He then made it 2-2 in the third period when he got to the net as a Loui Eriksson backhander was stopped and he jammed a loose puck under the stopper.
For a player with two more years on his contract, Tuesday wasn’t crucial for Pearson to earn more trust. But that’s what he did with six shots, nine attempts and two hits. It didn’t go unnoticed.
QUINN-GATE DIDN’T REALLY RATE
The game within the game was played before first puck was dropped.
For two days, Green was pestered about playing Quinn Hughes on the first power-play unit — as opposed to methodically meshing with the second alignment. It was understandable.
After being teased by the fleet-footed Canucks defenceman in a pair of 3-on-3 overtime outings last week in which he dazzled, delivered and developed instant chemistry with Pettersson and Brock Boeser, it was only natural to wonder what that power play is going to look like next fall.
But why wait? Why not now?
Quinn logged 1:57 over two power plays Tuesday on the second unit because that was the plan.
If you need a refresher, Green was happy to offer how Hughes didn’t figure into the first power play alignment in his first two NHL games and how managing expectations and optics played into it all.
“The first game we had one power play and second game, the first power play was half of one and second and third, we spent the whole power play in the (offensive) zone,” said Green. “He got out on the fourth one.
“To go to Quinn and tell him we’re putting you in (Alex) Edler’s spot, he would probably feel a little bit uncomfortable. There’s going to come a day where I hope he runs the power play. I’m as excited as our fans, but it’s my job to see how high expectations are for him. And there are locker room dynamics. He’s only played two games in the NHL.”
And now three.
DEMKO LEARNS THE HARD WAY
Thatcher Demko knew shots at the NHL level would come quicker and with more velocity.
He didn’t expect one to deflect from the point, change direction and find the net. And he didn’t expect another fanned effort in the slot to find an open teammate for the second goal.
On the first Sharks goal, it was a Brendan Dillon point shot that deflected off Kevin Lebanc, who got position on Pettersson, to erase a 1-0 deficit. Joe Pavelski then benefited from a Tomas Hertl whiff on a shot in the slot and the puck trickled over to the wide-open Sharks captain.
To his credit, Demko recovered and reacted well when Pavelski tried to finish off a cross-ice feed from Logan Couture.
ROUSSEL HAS ACL SURGERY, LONG REHAB
Antoine Roussel suffered a right-knee injury after being dropped in the second period March 13 by a head shot from New York Rangers winger Brendan Lemieux, who was assessed a match penalty for targeting the head.
The left winger was spotted on crutches Tuesday morning at Rogers Arena and was sporting a supportive brace after having anterior cruciate ligament surgery last week in Colorado. Normal time for a full recovery is six months, but it can stretch from seven to nine to protect against further injury. Even at six months, Roussel would miss training camp and the preseason.
OVERTIME — Year-end award winners determined by electronic fan voting are Jacob Markstrom (most valuable and Three Star Award), Edler (top defenceman), Pettersson (most exciting) and Roussel (unsung hero).
Vancouver Canucks vs. Nashville Predators
5 p.m., Bridgestone Arena, TV: Sportsnet Pacific; Radio: Sportsnet 650 AM