The heat is on Pettersson as Canucks head to Nashville

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It’s been a weird series.

The Vancouver Canucks and Nashville Predators are tied after two games as their playoff series heads to Tennessee. The Canucks have been the better team in both games, yet they’ve only held a lead for 10:49.

Shots on goal are 40-39 in favour of the Preds, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

While Game 1 was close, Game 2 shouldn’t have been. The Canucks directed a whopping 84 shots in the direction of Nashville goalie Juuse Saros, but 66 of them never hit the net. Nashville blocked 33 shots, and an additional 33 shots missed the net.

Analytics website gave Vancouver 76.6% on their “deserve to win o’meter.”

The most infamous miss came from Elias Pettersson, who has struggled mightily through two games.

The Canucks star struggled down the stretch, and that has extended into the postseason. His stat line through two games shows zeros across the board, save for two shots on goal and a -4 rating.

His minus was well-earned on the third Predators goal on Tuesday night, when Pettersson passed the puck to nobody, resulting in a Nashville zone entry and a turnover.

Pettersson owned it after the game.

“I put us in a bad spot with my mistake on their third goal, can’t happen. If I score in the first period, it’s a 1-1 game, different outlook,” he said.

“I’m always my biggest critic, and I take a lot of blame for this one.”

The Canucks’ offensive struggles aren’t all Pettersson’s fault, but he is relied upon more than most on the team. Pettersson must share the blame for the team’s power play struggles, as Vancouver is 0-for-6 with the man advantage so far in the series.

We’ll see what the lines look like at practice in Nashville tomorrow morning, but needless to say, it didn’t click at five-on-five with Nils Höglander and Ilya Mikheyev in Game 2, nor did it work with Höglander and Sam Lafferty in Game 1.

Höglander had no shots on goal before being benched, playing just 8:33 last game. His ice time was limited to 10:23 in Game 1.

Head coach Rick Tocchet has tried a few things to get Pettersson going, including giving him spot duty with J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser. So far, it hasn’t worked.

The good news is there’s a lot of this series left to be played, and momentum can shift in an instant. Imagine how the conversation changes if Pettersson hits the empty net in Game 2, rather than missing it. Suddenly Pettersson is on the board and their power play has life.

The Canucks were staying positive when speaking to the media after Tuesday’s game, despite the frustrating loss. They controlled play, but didn’t get the bounces. They’ll need to figure out a way to create their own luck in Nashville.

The Predators weren’t a particularly stingy defensive team this season. Since January 1, their penalty kill ranked 22nd in the NHL. They gave up the 10th-most shots on goal during that span, and gave up the 13th-fewest goals against.

That’s not the profile of a team that should stifle the Canucks’ offence for a long period of time.

There should be ways to get into better shooting positions and really test Saros.