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‘It’s been killing us’: Canucks suffer yet another multi-goal collapse vs. Maple Leafs

TORONTO — Once rare, the multi-goal collapse has become routine for the Vancouver Canucks.

Their early two-goal lead Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs felt like a prank, a setup. You’re looking for the hidden camera to record getting punked again by a Canuck team that hasn’t had much problem building leads, but has proved incapable of keeping them.

Understand please, this is the National Hockey League and teams do score goals and overcome deficits. It has been years since you could hook, hold and obstruct your way to victory. 

But six times in just 15 games, over the course of one month plus a day, the Canucks have snatched defeat from a two- or three-goal lead.

From these six games, they have salvaged two loser points. 

Whenever the reckoning comes — and it doesn’t feel far off — the 10 points the Canucks have squandered in the first month of the season will be a root cause. The Maple Leafs scored three times in a little over eight minutes early in the second period to eradicate a 2-0 deficit as the Canucks lost 3-2 to fall to 4-8-3.

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“We stopped playing,” Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau said of the decisive spell. “I mean, it happens every game. There’s a 10-minute lull or a 10-minute something. The game before, it was the first 10 minutes in Montreal, the game before that was in Ottawa but we recovered. Tonight, the middle 10 minutes, I don’t know. They get the momentum and we sort of stopped playing.”

Bo Horvat’s deflection and J.T. Miller’s power-play laser through traffic gave the Canucks a two-goal lead before the game was 13 minutes old. But nobody who has watched the Canucks the last month would have felt confident about that lead, and it’s impossible to envision the players felt confident about it.

When Auston Matthews was left open on the back half of the ice on a Toronto power play and slung a shot past Vancouver goalie Spencer Martin to cut the lead in half just 1:46 into the middle period, it felt like a prelude.

Pierre Engvall tied it at 6:27, scoring into an open net at the end of one of those chaotic, prolonged shifts from which Vancouver so rarely escapes. And one-time Canuck defenceman Jordie Benn scored the winner at 10:01, flipping the puck past Martin after a shot deflected wide of the net and caromed perfectly back to the Maple Leaf from the end boards.

Just like that, two more points evaporated.

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“I think it’s frustrating because you take a breath out there,” Canuck defenceman Ethan Bear said, “maybe don’t make a hard play, and in this league it comes back down and a lot of times it ends up in the back your net. In Carolina, I really learned that: you have to be consistent in the same way. Sometimes it’s not fun and it’s not flashy, but it does get the job done. I think we just get away from making the simple play sometimes and it comes back to haunt us. 

“You’ve got to be predictable. I’ve seen it work.”

Bear was acquired two weeks ago from the Carolina Hurricanes, a 100-point team that is the template for fast, direct, simple hockey that takes away time and space from opponents.

Good teams like the Hurricanes might not lose six games all season after building multi-goal leads.

“Is it hard to believe?” Bear said when asked about Vancouver’s six blown games, four of which preceded his arrival. “Not really. I see why. Honestly, it’s just details, little details. Little habits like stopping on pucks and, honestly, just communicating a little more in our own zone. I know it’s tough to be robotic, but playing a simple, predictable game is what works in this league. When we’re on the same page, we’re a good team. We have a really good lineup, and I think it’s just a matter of time. We’ve got to keep working at it.”

It will take more than hard work Sunday in Boston, where the Canucks face what seems like an almost unwinnable game against the Bruins in the second half of a weekend back-to-back.

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The Maple Leafs lost Friday night at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but against the rested Canucks, still looked the fresher team Saturday in the middle period and first half of the third. Certainly, Toronto was the faster team.

But Martin was excellent in goal for Vancouver, playing ahead of struggling starter Thatcher Demko, and the Canucks had three power plays in the final 21 minutes to try to tie the game.

Brock Boeser, who remains goal-less for the season, hit the crossbar on one power play. On another, Toronto goalie Erik Kallgren stopped Quinn Hughes’ unseen shot with the butt of his goal stick. Conor Garland shot high on a partial breakaway and Maple Leaf Mitch Marner blocked Hughes’ shot in the final minute when Boudreau had Boeser on the ice instead of rookie Andrei Kuzmenko, whose seven goals this season earned him only 9:27 of ice time on Saturday.

“It’s still a blown lead,” Horvat said. “At what point are we going to learn from it and fix it? I mean, I’m sick of talking about it all the time because I’ve run out of words to say about it. I think we felt good about our first period and then we go out and do that in the second. It’s frustrating and it’s been killing us.”

• Miller, on for both even-strength Toronto goals, attempted 11 shots but had six blocked. His linemate. . . Defenceman Luke Schenn registered 12 hits. . . Vancouver’s defence pairing of Tyler Myers and Oliver Ekman-Larsson was outshot 13-6 and had an expected-goals-for of 28.4 per cent.

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