After the Canucks missed the playoffs from 2016-19, most viewed the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs as a building block for a young Vancouver team that features 21-year-old forward and reigning Calder Trophy winner Elias Pettersson along with 20-year-old defenseman and 2020 Calder finalist Quinn Hughes.
But as the St. Louis Blues found out, the future may be now for the Canucks.
Vancouver, which knocked off the Minnesota Wild, 3-1, in a qualifying series, shocked the reigning Stanley Cup champion Blues in their best-of-seven first round series 4-2, including a decisive 6-2 victory in Game 6 on Friday night.
Next up for the fifth-seeded Canucks is a second-round matchup with the top-seeded Vegas Golden Knights starting Sunday night at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
“Obviously, they’re the No. 1 ranked team on this side, so we’ll have our hands full, but we’ll be ready to go,” Vancouver coach Travis Green said.
Vegas eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks in its first-round matchup, 4-1, and will be well-rested, having not played since Tuesday. The Canucks face a quick turnaround after playing late Friday night.
“You’re never going to complain about time off in the playoffs because you know once it starts, this is going to come really quickly,” Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer said. “We’ve got some bumps and bruises. I think everybody does. We took a couple of days off and kind of reset after we beat Chicago.”
Even if that means sitting around the Western hub bubble in Edmonton for five days.
“Even on the worst day in here, there’s all the hockey you can watch and all the beer you can drink, so it’s not a bad day,” DeBoer said.
The Golden Knights are 7-1-0 since arriving in Edmonton and have never lost to Vancouver in regulation in their brief history, going 8-0-2. But the teams split their two meetings five days apart in mid-December with Vegas, behind two goals and two assists by Max Pacioretty, winning the first game, 6-3, in Las Vegas. The Canucks rebounded to win the second contest in overtime on a Chris Tanev goal, 5-4, in Vancouver.
Pettersson scored a combined three goals in those two games and enters the weekend tied with Nathan MacKinnon of Colorado for the NHL lead in playoff points with 13 (four goals, nine assists). Hughes has 10 points (one goal, nine assists) to become just the fourth rookie defenseman in NHL history to record 10 postseason points in 10 games or fewer, joining Gary Suter, Al MacInnis and Ray Bourque.
“Vancouver has a ton of skill off the rush and a lot of speed,” DeBoer said.
The Canucks also showed they could play a little defense, holding the Blues scoreless for a span of 80:45 from early in the second period in Game 5 until the middle of the third period in Game 6 with goaltender Jacob Markstrom stopping 45 consecutive shots.
“(The Blues) won the Stanley Cup, (and) they almost had the same team back, so what our guys did, I’m proud of them,” Green said. “They came into this series expecting to win. They believed they could win, they were confident, and it was nice to get the job done.”
“It’s huge,” center Bo Horvat said of Vancouver advancing to the second round for the first time since 2011. “We’re not here just to get experience, we’re here to win, and I think we have the group here to do it. Obviously, there’s a long road still ahead.”
–Field Level Media