Sticking up for each other is the new Canucks’ mantra

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It’s amazing how a new coach, combined with a struggling power play and memories of past failures, can change the philosophy of a team.

To wit, the Vancouver Canucks, formerly a talented group of players that loved to draw penalties — sometimes by rather unsportsmanlike means, according to their detractors — because it could make an opponent pay on the scoreboard.

In the words of general manager Mike Gillis, from December of 2011: “There are some players who want to run around and hit guys from behind and that’s a league issue and it’s something the league is getting out of the game. If officials do their jobs, we will win games.”

But that was then, when the Canucks were coached by Alain Vigneault and had one of the best power plays in the NHL. Today, it’s John Tortorella behind the bench — a man with little trust in the officials’ ability to keep his opponents honest.

“If someone goes after the Sedins, other people have to step in,” said Tortorella in November. “That’s part of the game.”

And if that results in a penalty for the Canucks? “Guys are ready to step in, and we’d kill the penalty.”

And so we saw what happened last night in Los Angeles, when Tom Sestito challenged Jordan Nolan to a fight for taking a run at captain Henrik Sedin. When Nolan wasn’t willing to drop the gloves, Sestito started throwing punches anyway.

And what happened when Sestito’s actions led to a seven-minute Kings’ power play? Yep, you guessed it — Vancouver’s top-ranked penalty-killing unit killed it off.

Unfortunately for the Canucks, their 23rd-ranked power play went 0-for-4 and the Kings won the game, 1-0. But, per The Province, the quotes coming out of Vancouver’s dressing room were more evidence of the team’s change in “mindset,” a word Tortorella has used often since being hired in June.

“We didn’t really care about [going shorthanded],” said Henrik Sedin. “We did everything to stand up for each other and our goalie and for our teammates.

“We’ll kill those off any game.”

“A lot of guys stuck up for each other,” added Ryan Kesler, who earlier in the night had fought Kings captain Dustin Brown. Yes, the same Dustin Brown who ran over, and injured, Roberto Luongo in a previous meeting.

Will the Canucks’ new, take-things-into-their-own-hands philosophy pay off? That remains to be seen. They aren’t nearly as potent offensively as they were in 2010-11, the season they came a game away from winning the Stanley Cup, only to lose to the Boston Bruins, a team that — hey, do you think this is worth mentioning? — takes tremendous pride in its reputation for sticking up for each other.

Related: Torts: ‘Our team is not going to dive’

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.