VANCOUVER - Michael DiPietro had another shot at living out his childhood dream on Sunday.
With three Vancouver Canucks goalies in COVID-19 protocol, the 22-year-old netminder made his second NHL start, nearly three years after the first.
"I definitely wasn’t as nervous as last time but the nerves were still there," DiPietro said after the undermanned Canucks dropped a 3-1 decision to the St. Louis Blues.
"I just tried to stretch, keep my mind as calm as possible leading up to the game, kind of shake away the butterflies as early as I could. It’s a childhood dream any time you get to play hockey for a living, especially in the NHL.”
In his first NHL game on Feb. 11, 2019, DiPietro was torched as the San Jose Sharks routed the Canucks 7-2.
The goalie fared better Sunday, stopping 14 shots as he became the fourth man to take the crease for Vancouver this season.
All-star Thatcher Demko, backup Jaroslav Halak and taxi squad netminder Spencer Martin are all in the NHL's COVID-19 protocol alongside forwards Bo Horvat, Conor Garland and J.T. Miller. Assistant coaches Scott Walker and Kyle Gustafson were added to the list on Sunday.
Arturs Silovs of the AHL's Abbotsford Canucks also tested positive for the virus, forcing Vancouver to sign University of B.C. goalie Rylan Toth to an amateur tryout agreement so he could act as DiPietro's backup.
“Things happen quickly. Just when you think you know what’s going to happen, things change," DiPietro said.
Vancouver outshot St. Louis 39-17 on Sunday but struggled to beat Blues goalie Ville Husso, who stopped 38 shots and has a .963 save percentage in his last five games.
“When somebody plays well, it always give the teammates positive emotions, but especially when a goalie is making these performances, like almost every night and we're very really happy for him," said St. Louis right-winger Vladimir Tarasenko. "He's a great guy and he works so hard to get success and he's getting it right now and it's fun to see."
Justin Faulk had a goal and an assist for the Blues, while Brayden Schenn and Jordan Kyrou both scored in the second period and Tarasenko registered a pair of assists.
"Our goalie was really good tonight and we scored a couple timely goals and that was the difference in the hockey game," said head coach Craig Berube. "Our penalty kill did a good job killing things off, got a power-play goal again. The special teams came through and our goalie came through."
Tanner Pearson had the lone goal for the Canucks (18-19-4).
Vancouver needs to shoot more, said head coach Bruce Boudreau.
“Right now we’re having a hard time scoring," he said. "We have a couple of breakaways here and there, we have a couple of great looks. And the one time we do score, two guys jump on the ice.
"I’m really happy with the way they worked and the way they cared. Just I expect to win every time we go on the ice so I’m unhappy with that result.”
Down 3-1 with less than 90 seconds on the game clock, Vancouver pulled DiPietro in favour of an extra attacker.
Tarasenko nearly potted an empty-net strike, but was swarmed by a trio of Canucks intent on not giving up another goal.
Kyrou cushioned St. Louis' lead 16:43 into the second period, sending a rocket of a shot through traffic. The puck appeared to ping off the shaft of DiPietro's stick and in.
Faulk and Tarasenko both assisted on the play. Tarasenko has points in his last nine games, with six goals and nine assists across the stretch.
He also figured in the power-play goal that put the Blues up 2-1 early in the second period after the Canucks were called for too many men.
Tarasenko sliced a pass to Schenn, who was stationed at the back door. Schenn poked it in for his ninth goal of the year.
St. Louis was 1 for 3 on the power play Sunday while Vancouver went scoreless on four opportunities with the man advantage.
Faulk drew St. Louis even ahead of the first intermission. Oskar Sundqvist blasted a pass to Faulk at the front of the net and the defenceman deflected it from between his legs, sending the puck careening into the crossbar and in at the 18:33 mark.
Two Blues had just stepped out of the box when the Canucks put away the first goal of the game 16:30 into the first period.
Vancouver's Matthew Highmore got tangled up with both Ivan Barbashev and Torey Krug in St. Louis territory. Barbashev was called for roughing and Krug for removing Highmore's helmet.
Vancouver managed five shots on the ensuing five-on-three power play, but Husso turned them all away. As the penalties expired, Pearson picked up Alex Chiasson's rebound at the side of the net and rifled it over the goalie.
Elias Pettersson registered an assist on the play, marking the 100th of his NHL career.
Sunday marked a major milestone for Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau, who coached his 1,000th NHL game.
Hired by Vancouver on Dec. 5, the 67-year-old former NHL centre has worked behind the bench for the Washington Capitals, Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild. In 2008, he won the Jack Adams Award as the league’s top coach after guiding the floundering Caps through a bounceback campaign.
Boudreau's wife Crystal and two of their children were in the crowd Sunday as the milestone was marked with a video tribute before puck drop. Several of the coach's former players — including Marcus Foligno, Alex Ovechkin and Kevin Bieksa — and colleagues like Stan Bowman delivered congratulatory messages.
Boudreau admitted to getting a bit emotional on the bench.
“You never know how you leave (players) when you get fired," the coach said. "You don’t know if it’s the players don’t want to play for you, what have you. But when you see those players saying those things, it gets to you a little bit.”
The Blues are set to face the Flames in Calgary on Monday. The Canucks wrap a three-game homestand when they host the Oilers on Tuesday.
NOTES: Pavel Buchnevich didn't make the trip to Vancouver with his Blues teammates. The left-winger was returned from COVID protocol to play in St. Louis' 5-0 win over the Kraken in Seattle on Friday, but could not cross the border into Canada because he had tested positive for the virus in the last 10 days. … Sunday marked the first time the two teams have played since Jan. 27, 2020 when the Canucks beat the Blues 3-1 in Vancouver.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 23, 2022.