The big smile on Brendan Gaunce’s face spoke volumes.
Gaunce scored two goals in a game for the first time in his NHL career as the Vancouver Canucks overcome an early deficit to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 Thursday night.
His first goal in the second period tied the game 1-1. He scored his second with just 2:58 left in the third period. It came as the Blackhawks were pressing after cutting the Canuck lead to 3-2.
“It’s great to score goals,” said Gaunce. “You gain confidence offensively.”
Gaunce has played 109 games over parts of three seasons for Vancouver, collecting five goals and six assists. The 23-year-old from Sudbury, Ont., once went 95 games without a goal. His previous two goals this season came on the road, so his last goal Thursday earned a huge cheer from the announced crowd of 18,144 at Rogers Arena.
“I couldn’t really hear,” he said. “I was pretty zoned out after I scored. It’s good to contribute.”
During the dying moments of the third Gaunce sent a puck wide of an empty Chicago net.
“I haven’t had many chances at a hat trick,” he said. “I’m going for it.”
On his first goal, Gaunce used teammate Bo Horvat as a decoy before scoring on a wrist shot.
Horvat, who has a history of being a better sniper, had no problems with the move.
“He made the right decision and made a heck of a shot,” said Horvat, who has 12 goals in 33 games this year.
“We are so happy for him. He’s worked his butt off to get to this point. He deserved to get those two goals tonight. He’s been playing great hockey. He’s getting his opportunities. To see him finally get rewarded is awesome.”
Daniel Sedin and Horvat also scored for the Canucks (21-24-6). Defenceman Troy Stecher added two assists for Vancouver, which has won five of its last eight games after going 2-11-3 in its previous 15.
Vancouver also won back-to-back games on home ice for just the second time this season.
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) February 2, 2018
The Canucks, who are tied with Edmonton for second last in the Western Conference, are .500 on the road (11-11-3) but have a losing record (10-13-3) at home.
“That’s not good enough,” said Sedin, who scored his 13th goal of the season. “On the road we have been OK. At home, that’s where you should get your wins. It hasn’t been that way.”
Gaunce said the Canucks haven’t given up on the season.
“As cliched as it is, it is our job,” he said. “Guys have a lot to play for still, regardless of where we are in the standings.
“If we make a run, you never know. There are always things to play for.”
Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat scored for Chicago (24-20-7), which saw a two-game win streak snapped. Defenceman Duncan Keith had two assists.
Chicago has not won three consecutive games since a five-game winning streak Dec. 8-17.
The Blackhawks led 1-0 after the first period on Schmaltz’s goal. The Canucks then scored three unanswered to lead 3-1 midway through the third.
“A few breakdowns in the second period cost us the game,” said DeBrincat.
Jonathan Toews said the Blackhawks gave up too many good chances.
“We need to be better defensively,” he said. “When pucks are around our net we have to make sure we are a little bit tougher and we’re not giving them easy chances around our net.”
Canuck goaltender Jacob Markstrom stopped 26 shots. Chicago’s Anton Forsberg, who was making his third straight start, stopped 17 shots.
- Defenceman Erik Gudbranson returned to the Canuck lineup after missing five games with back spasms.
- Blackhawk left winger Patrick Sharp was a healthy scratch for the third straight game.
- Vancouver’s Sam Gagner didn’t return for the second period after suffering an upper-body injury when hitting Chicago’s Tomas Jurco in the opening period.
Jim Morris, The Canadian Press