Vancouver Canucks fans are about to be treated to real playoff hockey for the first time since 2015. Fans got to experience a taste of it during this play-in series with the Wild but the real fun is only just starting to begin. The Canucks will face off against the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in the opening round beginning on Wednesday night.
After losing game one, the Canucks managed to win three consecutive hard-fought games against the Minnesota Wild to reach this position. It was the first post-season experience for this highly touted your core that Vancouver now has and it was the largest test they have faced so far in their young careers.
If there was any doubt as if to how hockey would work inside the NHL bubble, it was quickly squashed after seeing how intense the games between Minnesota and Vancouver were. The games were exciting, physical, and scrappy and by the end of the series Vancouver fans everywhere had acquired a new hatred for Ryan Hartman.
Yet the series offered more than just the opportunity to watch NHL hockey again for the first time in months. These four games were especially revealing for the Canucks and showed what the team looks like when it really comes down to it. There are plenty of positives to take away, as well as some negatives, but overall the team looked strong and now will have some momentum heading into their next series.
Here’s some things we learned. Let’s start with what we’re excited about.
1)The Canucks have a budding star who will dominate the league for years to come...and his name is not Elias Pettersson.
It was about halfway through Game Two when something changed inside Quinn Hughes and he started to take over the series. Crisp passes, quick turns to evade Wild forecheckers, and howitzers unleashed from the point became the norm from number forty-three.
Hughes completely dominated the rest of the series and was the best player on the ice for the Canucks in the crucial third and fourth games. He finished game three with three assists, and in game four he added a goal and an assists as well as played a huge 27:31 minutes on the ice.
Here's a complete look at Quinn Hughes' Game 4 performance against MIN (Aug. 7, 2020). Two parts.https://t.co/qLTcOOudRO— Kevin Wong (@CambieKev) August 11, 2020
Hughes was a dominant force and has a long, bright future ahead of him that Canucks fans should be excited for. He continues to silence doubters and it will be exciting to watch what he does against a bigger, stronger, more disciplined team in the St. Louis Blues.
2) Maybe, just maybe, management kind of knew what they were doing with some of those free agent signings
Talk to any Canucks fan and you are sure to hear them lament about the team’s salary cap situation. While Loui Eriksson’s contract is the largest and most problematic, veterans such as Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle have also been discussed plenty by fans and media alike for being overpaid relative to their production.
Well, management has stressed that the players bring experience and character, and in the round against Minnesota we may have just seen it pay off. The Canucks lost Game One with Eriksson absent from the lineup before ripping off three wins when he returned. While he had zero points, he did seem to hold his own defensively and his line managed to score some big goals.
Sutter was one of the bigger surprises during this series as he found a way to make plays and impress on the ice. A big goal in Game Four capped off what was a strong series for the veteran and Beagle did what the team brought him in to do: win face-offs, kill penalties, and block shots.
These players weren't necessary brought in to impact the regular season as much as they were the playoffs, and maybe the fan base was quick to judge without seeing the impact they could have on the postseason.
3) Bo Horvat, the team’s captain, is built for the playoffs
Bo Horvat has done a great job in his first season as the team’s captain. Horvat is one of the only young players that has playoff experience as he got to face off against the Calgary Flames in 2015, a series which the Canucks lost.
Horvat looked great as a rookie then and he’s looked great this year against Minnesota. He had the game tying goal in the third period of game four and managed to pickup four points (two goals and two assists) over the four game series.
Horvat plays a tough, physical game but can still score goals and produce offensively. He is an ideal second-line centre and he continues to improve. During this series against the Blues he will get to compete against Ryan O’Reilly, one of the best two-way centres in the league, and it will be a great test for Horvat.
Okay, enough of the warm fuzzy feelings. Here are two causes for concern.
1) Jacob Markstrom, perhaps the team’s best player during the regular season, looked...shaky
There were points this season where Markstrom put the team on his back and dragged them across the finish line. A 49 save shutout against the Chicago Blackhawks on the night that the Sedin’s had their jersey retirement ceremony was one of the highlights of the season.
However, against Minnesota Markstrom looked far from his best. While he did have a great performance in Game Three with a twenty-seven save shutout, he allowed few weak goals throughout the series, including one in Game One and followed by a couple more in Game Four.
In particular, Markstrom’s blocker side was shaky in Game Four, with three of the four Wild goals being scored from almost the same part of the ice.
Nico Sturm gets his first career goal sneaking one through Markstrom on the fly pic.twitter.com/lqZohsgZ4z— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) August 8, 2020
Markstrom was saved by the fact that his team managed to score five goals in that game, but he will need to be better if the team is going to beat St. Louis. It’s encouraging that the Canucks didn’t need Markstrom to be his best to beat Minnesota, but as they progress deeper into the playoffs and face tougher opponents it will be harder to overcome weak goaltending performances.
5) Tyler Myers, the defenceman the team just threw a five-year deal at, couldn’t stay out of the box...and didn’t look all that great when he was out of it.
Myers managed to rack up 18 penalty minutes during the four game series and put a lot of pressure on the Canuck’s penalty killing unit. Minnesota struggled to score at five-on-five throughout the entire series, but they were able to stay in games because of the Canucks lack of discipline.
Even when Myers was on the ice he didn’t look great, and the Canucks are going to need him to be better against a physical team like the Blues. You can be sure that St. Louis is going to try to intimidate the young, skillful core that the Canucks have and defenders like Myers will need to be able to absorb contact and continue to make plays.
Myers comes with a big contract and with COVID-19 restricting the salary cap from moving upwards over the next few seasons, his contract takes a significant portion of the cap. Myers needs to be more disciplined and more of a presence for the Canucks to beat a team like the Blues.