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Canucks’ impressive performance does little to change their bleak environment

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After players Conor Garland and Tyler Motte trudged away from the Zoom room following yet another loss for the Vancouver Canucks, there was a slight delay before Travis Green appeared as the final guest in the post-game media conference.

Normally, the delay would have been nothing. But under these dire circumstances, in which it feels any game could be his last as the National Hockey League team’s coach, it was natural to wonder if Green would appear. Or was he already heading for the arena exit in Columbus, looking for a cab while the Canucks headed to the airport and Sunday’s game in Boston?

Green did show up. On Friday, so did his team.

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But the Canucks’ performance against the Columbus Blue Jackets, impressive in every way for Vancouver except the 4-2 score, did little to change the desperately bleak environment around a team that is now, incredibly, 6-13-2.

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Yes, the players showed how much they care, dramatically outplaying the strong Blue Jackets through two periods and outshooting them 41-21 overall.

That display of will was important coming off another disillusioning loss on Wednesday — 4-1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But Friday didn’t change anything. The Canucks lost in regulation for the seventh time in eight games, lost more distance in the standings, lost more hope in what was supposed to be a playoff race for them this season. And isn’t effort and combativeness and determination the least anyone should expect from the Canucks?

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They delivered that again Friday, but nothing more.

“They played a helluva game,” Green said of his team. “I feel bad for our group tonight. That was one of our better games of the year. “Our details were sharp. I give our group a lot of credit; they played a strong game and they’re going to have to bounce back. It’s tough to lose when you play well, especially when things are going the way they are.”

The way they are.

Since opening the season with a solid 3-2-1 road trip, the Canucks have lost 12 of their last 15 games. They’ve lost five straight on the road and been outscored 27-9. They’ve scored two or fewer goals in 11 of the last 15 games, and more than four goals only once. And the Vancouver power play, which surrendered a key shorthanded goal Friday to Gustav Nyquist on a turnover by Tanner Pearson, has been blanked in 12 of 14 games.

But they did badly outshoot Columbus while losing 4-2, just like they badly outshot the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday while losing 1-0.

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Green said then that he would take that game (but not the score) from his team every night if the Canucks could offer it, and if they did they’d probably win “eight or nine” times out of 10.

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It must be eight, because the Canucks are 0-2 this week when dominating the shot clock.

“It’s hard,” Motte said. “There’s no way around it. The only way is through. No one’s going to feel sorry for us. No one’s going to help us out. Guys in that room have got to figure it out. We’ve got to find a way to get better and win hockey games. Like I said, that’s the bottom line.

“We played some good hockey at times. They capitalized on their opportunities more than we did. The bottom line, you’ve got to win games. That’s just the bottom line.”

Motte’s deflection tied the game 2-2 late in the second period before Jack Roslovic won it for Columbus with a shot from distance through traffic that Vancouver goalie Thatcher Demko never saw at 6:06 of the third period.

Blue Jacket goalie Elvis Merzlikins made 39 saves, including a stop against Garland on a partial breakaway in the third period. He also benefited from some errant shooting, like when Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat missed the target from excellent positions late in regulation time.

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After games like this and the one against Chicago, after 13 losses in the first quarter of the season, how does Green keep his team believing?

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“You worry about it, for sure,” the coach said. “This is an easier game to have them believe and not get too down; they know they played a good hockey game tonight. I thought throughout our lineup that everyone was buying in to play the right way. We had a lot of good energy on the bench. They’re going to be disappointed, though, for sure. I don’t blame them.”

The belief of the coach has never been in doubt. If Friday turns out to be Green’s final night in charge after four-and-a-half years as coach, he’ll leave having fiercely defended his players.

In his pre-game media availability, Green vociferously refuted a podcast report that his locker room was divided, players siding either with captain Horvat or veteran leader J.T. Miller.

“Players obviously will hear things that come out in the media,” Green said. “And I think with our market, sometimes you hear things that are flat out not true. And we’ve heard a lot of things lately that are going on inside our locker room that are fabricated. They’re made up. Whoever is saying them are lies. We’ve got a close group in there.

“There was something about Horvat and Miller yesterday, which is ridiculous. These two guys sit in the room (next to each other). They’re good friends. They get along, they care for each other. There’s zero rift at all between anyone of our team. They’re a close-knit team. They want to win. They don’t like losing.”

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But they’ve just done it too often.



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World Cup 2022 live updates: Croatia vs. Canada

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The second week of the 2022 FIFA World Cup is in full swing on FS1 with Croatia vs. Canada underway. Here are the top plays!



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Canada's Tajon Buchanan pursues greatness and wants to go to new heights in first World Cup | 2022 FIFA World Cup

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Tajon Buchanan opens up with the “FIFA Live Now” crew to express taking Canada to new heights with his talents. Buchanan takes us through his journey from playing at Syracuse, getting drafted to Club Brugge KV and starting in his first World Cup. 



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Croatia coach sends Canada a stern message ahead of World Cup showdown

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DOHA, Qatar — Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic sent Canada a message Saturday at the World Cup. And he didn’t need the F-word to deliver it.

Dalic offered up a stern statement when asked about John Herdman’s emotional words after Canada’s 1-0 loss to Belgium on Wednesday.

Asked in a pitchside interview what he had said to his team in a post-game huddle, the Canada coach replied: “I told them they belong here and we’re going to go and eff— Croatia. That’s as simple as it gets.”

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While Herdman delivered the last line with a smile, Dalic clearly did not see the humour.

When a Canadian reporter at Saturday’s pre-game news conference asked Dalic for his team’s response to Herdman’s heat, the Croatia coach lectured his opposition ahead of Sunday’s showdown at Khlalifa International Stadium.

Dalic used the world “respect” 12 times in his answer.

“The Croatian team deserves respect from everyone. We respect everyone, equally so,” he said through an interpreter. “We expect our opposing teams to respect us. We are worthy of their respect. The Canadians must also have respect for us. This way of putting words together is not a sign of respect. We are the (2018 World Cup runners-up), not Brazil, Spain or other countries.”

“I shall not focus or comment on any other people’s comments,” he added. “We will be prepared (Sunday), we will be fit and we will demonstrate respect for Canada and for everyone else. We expect respect just as we exercise this view”

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Croatian forward Ivan Perisic then backed up his coach, saying simply: “I second the head coach and I cannot wait for the match to begin.”

Sunday may prove otherwise but it seems, motivationally speaking, Canada has taken a knife to a gunfight.

Both the 41st-ranked Canadians and No. 12 Croatia need to get points out of the match. Belgium tops Group F with three points while Croatia and Morocco both have one point after their scoreless draw.

Canada needs to secure at least a point if it hopes to have any chance of reaching the knockout round. A loss Sunday and the Canadians can finish with no more than three points while Croatia ups its total to four. And no matter what happens in Sunday’s match between No. 2 Belgium and No. 22 Morocco, one of those teams will have at least four points.

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With only two teams advancing out of the group, that would render Canada’s final group game next Thursday with Morocco meaningless in terms of tournament progression.

“At the end of the day, both teams really have to win this game,” said Herdman.

Croatian reporters didn’t bother engaging Zlatko on Herdman’s inflammatory words. They had already done so, with tabloids back home having a field day.

In contrast, three of the first four questions in Herdman’s availability were about his post-game hot take. Another came later.

The Canada coach, who had already addressed the issue on Thursday, tried to laugh off the reaction he had sparked in the Croatia camp.

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He insisted he was on task “and loving the experience.” And he rejected the assertion that his words were just another motivational tool.

“We’ve been waiting 36 years to get here. I’ve used all my motivation tactics in the 20-odd games it took to get here,” he said in self-deprecating fashion.

But he maintained his words to his players in the post-game huddle after Belgium were simply “to remind them that there’s another task ahead.”

And he was quick to compliment Croatia, calling it a “top top top top football team.”

“(A) hell of a test. Hell of a test for this team,” he added. “But we’re excited.”

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Herdman called Sunday’s match a “defining moment for Canada in this World Cup. It’s one of those do-or-die games now that we have to perform in to stay at a World Cup.”

Dalic, meanwhile, called Canada “a tough team full of self-confidence.”

The two sides have never met before.

The Croatian roster features the likes of Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Perisic (Tottenham), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan), Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea) and Mario Pasalic (Atalanta). Only six of its 26-man roster play at home in Croatia, with four of those at Dinamo Zagreb.

Despite that talent, Croatia had its hands full with No. 22 Morocco in its tournament opener, playing to a scoreless draw in a game that saw each team put just two shots on target.

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Croatia goes into Sunday’s match riding a seven-game unbeaten streak (5-0-2) dating back to a 3-0 loss to Austria in June in UEFA Nations League play. Croatia avenged that defeat with a 3-1 decision over the Austrians in September.

Croatia has outscored the opposition 9-3 over that run, which includes a win and tie against No. 4 France.

“With all due respect to Croatia, they have a very very good team. It’s going to be tough for us,” said Canadian midfielder Stephen Eustaquio. “But it’s going to be tough for them as well.”

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