The year 2020 was full of many surprising phenomenons — and the Vancouver Canucks returning to the Stanley Cup playoffs was one of them.
Heading into the 2019-20 season, only the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres had longer playoff droughts than the Canucks. And, you could argue, if it wasn’t for the shutdown, there’s a good chance that the Canucks could have missed the playoffs entirely.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the reality for this Canucks team, and they went on a run that gave fans a plethora of memorable moments in the summertime.
Those moments are reflected on this list of the Top 20 moments for the Vancouver Canucks in 2020.
1. Canucks, Blackhawks entertain in wild back-and-forth affair
Even if the rivalry isn’t what it used to be, that doesn’t mean the Canucks and Blackhawks still can’t put on a show.
The two teams gave the fans their money’s worth at Rogers Arena on January 2nd during a crazy contest in which neither team could hold onto a lead.
Vancouver went up 1-0 and 2-1 before blowing their lead and going down 4-2. Then, they mounted the comeback by scoring three straight and taking a 5-4 lead before surrendering the lead again on a Patrick Kane marker. Celly-star Adam Gaudette eventually buried the winner in a 7-5 Canucks win.
2. Hughes nets OT-winner, first career two-goal game
Quinn Hughes improved month-by-month during his first NHL season, and it’s a shame that he didn’t get a chance to smash some of the franchise and all-time rookie defenceman scoring records.
Nonetheless, one of Hughes’s best performances of the season occurred on February 1st against the New York Islanders. On a day where the Canucks were outplayed and out-possessed, Hughes finished two goals, including the overtime winner.
This game was also the Canucks 14th win in 17 games dating back to December 19th. They would go on a 6-9-2 slide before the NHL shut down on March 12th.
3. Markstrom shines on Sedin Night
As the Canucks honoured the two most remarkable players in their 50-year history, Markstrom put on the best regular-season performance by any goaltender in team history.
The Sedins’ jersey retirement night was an incredible moment for the Swedish legends and the franchise, with players such as Kevin Bieksa, Roberto Luongo and Ryan Kesler returning to town for the twins’ special night.
Having them honoured stands as a moment on its own, but Markstrom made the night even more memorable with a 49-save shutout performance.
The Canucks won 3-0 despite being outshot 49-19, as Markstrom made a myriad of miraculous saves on the night. His 49-save shutout was the most saves in a shutout victory by any goaltender in club history.
4. Tyler Toffoli joins the Canucks
With the Canucks slipping in the standings and Brock Boeser out with an injury, Jim Benning made a bold move to improve the roster by trading for Tyler Toffoli from the Los Angeles Kings.
The price was seen as steep, with Benning surrendering budding prospect Tyler Madden, along with a 2020 second-round pick and Tim Schaller. The Canucks also traded a conditional 2022 fourth-round pick, but they recently retained that pick since the condition was that Toffoli had to re-sign in Vancouver.
Toffoli was electric for the Canucks right from the get-go, sliding in seamlessly on the top line with JT Miller and Elias Pettersson.
5. Canucks thump league-leading Bruins
There’s always jubilation in Vancouver when the Canucks beat Boston, but this victory was on another level.
The Canucks didn’t just beat the league-leading Boston Bruins — they annihilated them in a 9-3 victory.
Toffoli scored twice and added a helper in his second career game with the Canucks. Troy Stecher and Miller also had three points each, seven players had multi-point games, and only four Canucks were held without a point in the victory.
6. Canucks season halted in Glendale
The sporting world was dramatically halted on Wednesday, March 11th.
That was the night when NBA player Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus, and the NBA subsequently put their season on pause that evening. Kyle Bhawan and I were recording Silky N’ Filthy for the Nucks Misconduct that evening as the news broke. Little did we know how long the layoff would actually be.
There were two NHL games being played at the time, and the Canucks were in Glendale waiting to play the Arizona Coyotes on March 12th. Of course, that game never happened, and the next time the Canucks played a hockey game that mattered was more than four and a half months later in the Edmonton bubble.
7. Canucks win first play-in contest, but Ferland’s comeback fails for a third time
After dropping Game 1 of the play-in against Minnesota, the Canucks found their mojo during a 4-3 Game 2 win. Despite being outshot, the Canucks kept most of the shots to the outside, and the final score was somewhat deceiving as Vancouver held a 4-1 lead until late in the third period.
Unfortunately, Micheal Ferland was forced to leave the game after battling post-concussion syndrome to join Vancouver in the play-in. He was a physical factor in Game 1, but played less than three minutes in Game 2 before exiting. Ferland went home shortly thereafter, and he’s currently doubtful to re-join the Canucks prior to the start of the 2020-21 season.
8. Tanev’s OT winner officially pushes Canucks to postseason birth
All hail the toothless wonder.
After Petterson, Boeser and Markstrom led the Canucks to a 3-0 victory in Game 3, the Canucks had a chance to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2015 with a victory. They didn’t make it easy on themselves in this contest, but they battled back from 1-0, 3-1 and 4-3 deficits to force overtime.
In Alex Burrows fashion, it only took 11 seconds for Chris Tanev to put home the overtime winner.
9. Horvat dazzles in Games 1 & 2 against St. Louis
With Pettersson, Miller, Boeser, Hughes and Markstrom often dominating highlight reels for the Canucks, it’s easy to forget about the Captain sometimes.
However, all eyes were on the Rodney, Ontario native during the first two games of the playoffs.
Horvat scored twice, including that dazzling goal above, during a 5-2 Canucks win in Game 1. Troy Stecher’s game-winner in that contest was also a memorable moment, as he scored shortly after the passing of his father, Peter.
In Game 2, Horvat once again dominated the highlight reel with another wowzer of a goal.
Then, he led his team to an overtime victory and a 2-0 series lead after an amazing stretch pass from Hughes.
10. Canucks avoid three-game losing streak in comeback victory
The defending Stanley Cup Champion Blues weren’t going to go away quietly. They battled back to tie the series at 2-2, and led 3-1 in Game 5 in the second period.
However, the Canucks offence broke through in the second period, with goals from Miller, Jake Virtanen and Tyler Motte leading the Canucks to a 4-3 come-from-behind victory.
When the St. Louis Blues put in Allen prior to Game 3, he held the Canucks to four goals over eight periods of hockey (including overtime in Game 3), before giving up three goals in less than seven minutes in the second period.
11. Motte the unlikely hero as Canucks defeat defending champs
Fresh off of a two-goal game in Game 5, Motte continued his run as the Canucks unsung playoff hero in Game 6.
He scored the Canucks final two goals in a dominant 6-2 victory, on a night where Craig Berube’s decision to turn back to Jordan Binnington backfired mightily.
The unlikely hero of the 2019 playoffs gave up four goals on 18 shots before the midway mark of the second period, and he was subsequently pulled with his team trailing 4-0,
There was no comeback in the making for St. Louis in this contest. Instead, the Canucks claimed their first playoff series victory since knocking off San Jose in the 2011 Western Conference Final.
12. Toffoli torches Golden Knights in his return to the line-up
After a disappointing Game 1 loss to Vegas, Toffoli returned to the fold after missing all but Game 1 of the play-in against Minnesota.
He made an impact immediately, scoring on his first shift just 1:29 into the game.
Toffoli was also a difference-maker on the power play, and his strong work down low helped Horvat score the second goal of the game. Toffoli finished with three points on the night, and the Canucks tied their series with Vegas at 1-1.
13. Pettersson, Demko keep Canucks playoff hopes alive
It was clear by the time Game 5 rolled around that the Canucks were obviously outmatched against a stronger, faster, and deeper Golden Knights team. However, a turning point in the series (and in the Canucks season, for that matter) made this match-up incredibly interesting.
The barrage of games in short order took a toll on Markstrom’s body, and he was forced to sit out Game 5 due to injury. That opened the door for Thatcher Demko to make his first playoff start, and he did not disappoint.
Despite being outshot 42-17, the Canucks were able to hang onto a 2-1 win after a third period tally by Pettersson. Against all odds, the Canucks had life against the heavily-favoured Golden Knights.
14. Demko posts 48-save shutout to force Game 7
Just when you thought Demko was going to cave under the onslaught of shots from Vegas, the San Diego native cranked up his battle level once again.
Saves, saves, saves! Thatcher Demko forces Game 7 with his first playoff shutout pic.twitter.com/DyzwmvZa2I— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) September 4, 2020
Virtanen scored 2:50 into the contest and markers from Hughes, Miller and Horvat sealed a 4-0 victory. However, Demko was clearly the hero of the contest.
In his second straight playoff start, Demko stopped 48 shots in the shutout and at this point, he was clearly getting into the heads of the Golden Knights players.
“The Vancouver series, against Demko, probably rattled our confidence a bit in that area,” says Pete DeBoer of his club’s lack of finish in the Western Conference Final.— Thomas Drance (@ThomasDrance) September 15, 2020
15. Despite Demko’s heroics, Canucks bow out to Vegas in Game 7
The Demko magic finally came to an end, but not until the 54th minute of Game 7.
Shea Theodore finally ended Vegas’s futility against the Canucks netminder with the game-winning goal, and the Vegas Golden Knights advanced to the Conference Final after a 3-0 win.
Of course, this massive save off of Boeser by Robin Lehner was just as spectacular as any of the myriad of saves by Demko in the series.
OH MY GOD LEHNER! #VegasBorn pic.twitter.com/nhH3IFGd9l— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@TheReplayGuy) September 5, 2020
16. The Oliver Ekman-Larsson Saga
Prior to the free agency window opening, there was about a two-week period where it seemed more and more likely that Arizona Coyotes defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson was going to become a Vancouver Canuck.
After Arizona made it clear to their captain that they wanted to clear his contract for cap space, Ekman-Larsson and his agent Kevin Epp requested a trade to either Vancouver or Boston. Following that announcement, Benning reportedly chased hard for the sixth-highest paid defender in hockey.
The Vancouver Canucks are hard at it this morning. It’s believed the Canucks have made another offer on Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Whether this results in a deal with Arizona TBD.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) October 9, 2020
At the end of the day, despite the barrage of rumours, Ekman-Larsson stayed put in Arizona.
My colleague @skrivsmedjan talked to Oliver Ekman Larsson today about a month that was mentally tough for the #Coyotes captain. He made one thing very clear: he never asked for a trade nor did he want to leave Arizona: https://t.co/s6WGDul3oX— Uffe Bodin (@UffeBodin) October 28, 2020
Quotes translated from Swedish. pic.twitter.com/ZXM4V0C8ti
17. Canucks lose Markstrom, signaling changing of the guard in net
Although Pettersson, Hughes and Miller were absolute studs for the Canucks in 2019-20, there’s no way that the Canucks would have made the playoffs without Markstrom’s heroics.
However, an impending cap crunch couple with Demko’s emergence made it plausible that Markstrom wouldn’t re-sign in Vancouver.
Surely enough, Markstrom ended up signing with the rival Calgary Flames on a six-year, $36 million dollar deal. Benning ended up signing former Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby to a two-year, $8.6 million contract.
18. The Calgary Canucks
Markstrom wasn’t the only member of the Canucks to join the Calgary
Chris Tanev ended up signing with the Flames on a four-year, $18 million contract on the opening day of free agency.
The next day, third-string goaltender Louis Domingue signed with the Flames, Following by Josh Leivo later in the month.
19. Toffoli, Stecher sign extremely reasonable deals — with new teams
You could argue that the Canucks avoided overpaying for Markstrom and Tanev’s services, but that excuse isn’t valid regarding Toffoli and Stecher.
As management was seemingly distracted by the Ekman-Larsson saga, Stecher and Tanev both became afterthoughts on defence. After Tanev signed with Calgary, Stecher signed a two-year deal in Detroit worth $1.7 million per season.
Then, after yours truly argued that re-signing Toffoli was the Canucks biggest priority in the offseason, the Canucks let him walk and join the Montreal Canadiens on a four-year deal that pays him $4.25 million per season.
The Canucks now have a pretty big hole in their top six that they failed to replace in the offseason. Not only that, but Toffoli will play the Canucks nine times next season in the newly-formed North Division.
20. Canucks trade for Nate Schmidt
There might be a hole in the top-six, but the Canucks did a decent job of replacing Tanev in the top-four.
After weeks of the Ekman-Larsson saga, the Canucks traded for Nate Schmidt from the Golden Knights in exchange for a 2022 third-round pick. The move was a cap dump by Vegas prior to them signing former St. Louis Blue Alex Pietrangelo.
Schmidt has blossomed as a top-pairing defenceman in Vegas over the last three seasons, and he has four years left on his deal that pays him $5.9 million per season.
With Hughes and Schmidt in the hold, the Canucks now have two of the most effective mobile defenceman in the league patrolling their blueline.