VANCOUVER – Jake Virtanen went from thinking he might be heading back to junior to helping lead the Vancouver Canucks to victory.
The rookie forward scored his first NHL goal about 36 hours after learning he would be sticking with the Canucks as Vancouver downed the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Monday.
The Canucks announced Sunday that Virtanen and fellow 19-year-old Jared McCann would remain with club beyond the nine-game mark, triggering the first year of their entry-level contracts.
But before giving the players the good news, head coach Willie Desjardins pretended to criticize both Virtanen and McCann during a video session in front of the rest of the team.
“Going from getting ripped on video (Sunday) to getting the news to getting my first goal, it was pretty special,” said Virtanen. “It was really exciting. To get that one off my shoulders is good.”
With the Canucks already leading 2-1 in the third period, Virtanen took the puck hard to the net on a 2-on-1 and beat Flyers goalie Steve Mason on a backhand at 8:28 before Matt Bartkowski added his second of the season into an empty net with under a minute remaining.
“We had some fun with (Virtanen and McCann) the other day,” said Canucks goalie Ryan Miller, who finished with 27 saves. “It was nice to see them step up and take it in stride and go out there and compete hard.”
Desjardins said just because Virtanen and McCann, who leads the Canucks with five goals, are staying in the NHL doesn’t mean there can be any dip in their play.
“If I were those guys I think I would feel a little bit more relaxed, but at the same time, in this league every shift there’s pressure,” said the coach. “If you have a bad shift we’re in trouble.”
Bo Horvat, with a goal and an assist, and Jannik Hansen also scored as Vancouver (6-2-4) won its second straight game on home ice after dropping its first five.