VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen thought he was being sent back to junior on Sunday morning before teammate Bo Horvat welcomed him to the NHL instead.
Less than 36 hours later, Virtanen scored his first NHL goal, teaming up with Horvat to lead the Canucks to a 4-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers at Rogers Arena on Monday.
Horvat set up Jannik Hansen's early goal and scored the go-ahead goal midway through the second period before Virtanen, a 19-year-old playing his ninth NHL game, scored on a nice individual move on a 2-on-1 rush 8:28 into the third period to give Vancouver a two-goal cushion.
It capped a whirlwind couple of days for Virtanen, who along with fellow 19-year-old forward Jared McCann, thought he was being sent back to junior after being lectured by coach Willie Desjardins and veteran teammates while a series of video clips highlighting their early\-season mistakes was shown during a team meeting Sunday morning. Instead it was Horvat, a 20-year-old center who went through a similar (though notably less critical) process with Desjardins one year earlier, who stood up and told both players they had made the NHL team.
It was no coincidence Virtanen had his best game the next night.
"I felt more relaxed coming to the rink today," said Virtanen, who finished with three shots and three hits. "Forty-eight hours, it was a pretty big change for me. Going from getting ripped on video yesterday, to getting the news, to getting my first one today, it was pretty special."
Defensemen Matt Bartkowski scored an empty-net goal with 54 seconds left and Ryan Miller made 27 saves for the Canucks (6-2-4), who have points in five straight games (3-0-2).
"We had some fun with them the other day," said Miller, who was one of several veterans to critique the young players Sunday. "It was nice to see them step up and take in in stride and go out there and compete hard. I'm happy for [Virtanen]. It's a nice way to score a goal."
It was an important goal for the Canucks, who have blown four third-period leads already this season. Virtanen gave them some breathing room on a 2-on-1 with Alexandre Burrows, keeping the puck, cutting into the slot and lifting a backhand under Flyers goalie Steve Mason's blocker-side arm.
"That one's pretty special, getting your first one on home ice, in front of the fans," said Virtanen, who had two assists and a team-leading 29 hits his first eight games. "It definitely gives you confidence. Each game gives you confidence. Tonight that definitely went up, especially after the goal. You get that one and then you've just got to keep on rolling."
Philadelphia is still looking for that feeling early in the season.
Claude Giroux tied the game 1-1 early in the second period and Mason made 30 saves for the Flyers (4-5-2), who have lost four straight (0-3-1) and continue to struggle offensively.
They came into the game second last in the NHL with 20 goals in 10 games, but could only get one puck past Miller. It wasn't for lack of chances, though, which had Giroux and first-year coach Dave Hakstol talking about improvements despite another loss.
"Offensively it's one of their best games we've had but we just have to find a way to put it in the net," said Giroux, who ended a four-game goal drought with a pretty individual move on a partial breakaway. "We're not happy because we lost, but we did a lot of things better."
The Flyers almost tied it shortly after Horvat scored. Giroux got out of the penalty box and set up Wayne Simmonds in the slot, but his shot hit the left post behind Miller and bounced out.
Miller only needed one tough save to kill off 1:51 of the Flyers' third power play to start the third period. Philadelphia had two shots and is 0-for-13 over the past five games and converting at 11.4 percent this season, less than half of last season's 23.4 percent success rate.
"We're not happy and these aren't easy times, but the group will stay together and keep working hard," Hakstol said. "We had a lot of good opportunities. We put more pucks to the net tonight. I thought we had a more concreted effort to get some bodies to the blue paint. There was a couple pucks that squeaked wide, a couple pucks that I don't think [Miller] saw that hit him, but that's good goaltending on his part and we just have to stay with it."
Hansen opened the scoring 1:08 into the game on a 2-on-1, taking a pass from Horvat that caught Mason sliding to his left, and then cutting back across the other way.
Horvat put the Canucks ahead during a 4-on-4 situation after offsetting minor penalties to Giroux and Daniel Sedin. Hornet skated behind the net and out the other side, holding off defenseman Mark Streit up to right hash marks before spinning and sweeping a low shot past Nick Schultz's block attempt and Mason's right pad, just inside the far post.
"It's a tough play from a goaltender's point of view," Mason said. "You don't want to get up out of your down position because it could go through your legs. Schultz is just trying to do his job and I gotta get off my post more and get more centered in the net and cover a little more ground."
Mason kept the Flyers in it while being outshot 8-1 early, denied Horvat on a breakaway just before Giroux tied it early in the second period, and got some help when forward Chris VandeVelde swept a bouncing puck off the goal in a scramble late in the period.
Philadelphia has given up 30 or more shots every game this season, and Mason knows he doesn't have a lot of room for mistakes, especially when combined with the Flyers' offensive woes.
"We're not scoring goals, so it puts that much more emphasis on keeping it at one or two goals, starting with me," Mason said. "We gotta find ways to make extra saves and keep it tight."