This week we passed the 3 month mark from the day the NHL hit pause on the 2019-20 season, and since it’s become clear that the regular season is over and that we’ll be jumping right into the 24 team COVID Cup Playoffs.
In recognition of the completion of the Canucks’ regular season, let’s take a look back at 5 games that defined the strange season that was 2019-20.
October 17: Canucks 4, Blues 3 (SO)
Entering this early season match-up, the Canucks sat 3-2-0, having won 3 games in a row but had yet to face a true contender yet.
There’s maybe no tougher scenario than taking on the defending champs in their building, and the Canucks played one of their more resilient games of the season in this mid-October battle.
After the first period, Vancouver trailed 1-0. Early in the 2nd, Micheal Ferland scored his first (and still only) goal as a Canuck to tie the game. Then, the Blues looked like they were going to roll the Canucks, scoring 2 goals in 47 seconds to take a 3-1 lead less than 4 minutes into the 2nd period.
However, the Canucks showed they had some pushback in them for the first time this season, an early sign that this year’s team is different than the lackluster squads of the rebuild.
J.T. Miller scored his fourth goal in his first six games as a Canuck in the back half of the second period, and the big dogs took advantage of a 3rd period two-man advantage to tie the game on a Bo Horvat goal with a little under 8 minutes to go in regulation.
Late in the 3rd and into overtime, Thatcher Demko held down the fort, finishing the game with 34 saves on 37 shots. This start gave fans hope that he could challenge Marky for the starting role this year.
After overtime didn’t produce a winner, the Canucks won the game in a shootout, with an absolute beauty from Josh Leivo to win the game in the sixth round.
Even more impressive was Demko’s perfection on six shootout shots against. This was just all-around a statement game that the Canucks were no longer a team to take lightly this season.
November 30: Canucks 5, Oilers 2
The Canucks had had a pretty miserable stretch of play coming into this late November game against a divisional rival.
Vancouver was on a 3-7-2 slump in the 12 games prior to this one, and it looked as if the season was about to go completely off the rails, not unlike the last two seasons have after strong starts.
It didn’t help that the game before this one, the Canucks gave up 6 goals in the 3rd period to lose an absolutely wild 8-6 barn-burner in Pittsburgh.
Instead, the Canucks came out strong, with special teams playing a big role in the 1st period. Tyler Graovac scored a shorty and Tanner Pearson added a power-play goal to put Vancouver up 2-0.
Of course, Connor McDavid would have something to say about that, as he scored and set up ex-Canuck Zack Kassian early in the 2nd to tie the score at 2-apiece. But, that’s all McJesus and the Oilers would materialize in this game.
The Canucks would add 3 more goals and take a 5-2 lead with 18 minutes left in the game, which they would hold onto. That included a massive goal from Loui Eriksson. What a time for what was his first of the year.
This was also Pearson’s best game of the season statistically, as he finished with 2 goals and 2 assists, and Horvat also added 3 helpers. As always, Markstrom came up big with 28 saves on 30 shots.
Again, this game showed that this year’s Canucks could come up big when they needed to, this time in a must-win road game against a division rival.
December 19: Canucks 5, Golden Knights 4 (OT)
This was another big win against a division rival, at another juncture which the season felt like it was about to fall off the rails.
The Canucks entered this game with an extremely mediocre record of 16-15-4. They were losers of 3 straight games in regulation, including an ugly 6-3 loss in Vegas to the Knights, in what was one of the team’s worst performances of the season.
To make matters more dire, the Knights totally had the Canucks number since entering the league, with Vancouver being 1-7-1 all-time against Vegas. Everything seemed to be pointing toward a disastrous result.
However, there was fight in this team yet again. The Canucks lead 3-1 after the first period, which included a Petey snipe late in the period to put Vancouver up by two.
After egregiously blown leads against both Washington and Pittsburgh earlier in the season, it looked like a similar thing was to happen in this game.
The Knights stormed back to tie the score with two goals within 1:09 of each other midway through the second period. Early in the 3rd though, Pettersson scored again to take a 4-3 lead, which quickly evaporated again after a Mark Stone tying goal with less than five to play.
It had the feeling of an experienced contender exposing the youthful Canucks yet again in crunch time. That wasn’t what happened, as a toothless, stay-at-home Canucks defenseman had different ideas.
Chris Tanev caught a pass from Horvat and swept in, beating Marc-Andre Fleury to win the game in overtime. There were great things to come too, as this win sparked a 7-game winning streak and a 14-3-0 surge that would temporarily catapult the Canucks into 1st in the Pacific Division
You can easily pinpoint this win as the turning point of the season.
February 12: Canucks 3, Blackhawks 0
Yes, this was Sedin Night, one of the most emotional nights in Canucks regular season history. However, it was also significant due to the play of the man between the pipes.
Jacob Markstrom delivered the greatest regular season goaltending performance in Canucks history, with a whopping 49 saves on all 49 shots.
It seemed to be Marky’s ode to the two Swedish icons who wore 22 and 33, which are now in the rafters for all to respect for the rest of Vancouver hockey history.
Vancouver was thoroughly dominated in this game, but as he has done so many times this year, Markstrom single-handedly made the win possible. I mean, the shots finished 49-20 in favor of Chicago.
The Markstrom show overshadowed Brandon Sutter’s best game stats-wise of the season. The likeable centerman finished with a goal and two assists, including the empty-netter to salt away the victory.
This game emphasized Markstrom’s MVP-like impact on this team and showed the hockey world that he patches some glaring defensive holes for the Canucks himself.
February 22: Canucks 9, Bruins 3
Ever since 2011, every game against the Bruins has carried just a little extra importance even though few players remain from the infamous Cup final series.
This one felt like the most important regular season win for the Canucks since the early 2010s, a pure statement game against the President’s Trophy winners no less. The 9 goals scored in the game were the most Vancouver had scored in a single game since 1996.
After an early 1-1 tie, the Canucks broke the game open with five consecutive tallies, and added three more in garbage time to finish at 9-3 after the Bruins cut the deficit to 6-3.
In his second game as a Canuck, Tyler Toffoli tallied 2 goals and an assist, fitting right in on a line with Pettersson and Miller.
Additionally, Quinn Hughes had one of his signature games of the season, with two beautiful setups to finish with 2 assists. What was more striking though was how he was able to control the game so well against the physical, contending Bruins in a playoff-style atmosphere.
Although the Canucks struggled between this game and the pause in mid-March, this game gives me hope that they’ll be able to compete against the best of the best in the playoffs. Add in the fact that we won’t know what to expect with every team coming off of an unexpected break, and maybe the 2020 Canucks can make some history, COVID-Cup style.
We shall see.