The Vancouver Canucks move on to face the Vegas Golden Knights following a Game 6 win over the St. Louis Blues. After the Blues managed to tie the series at two games apiece, the Canucks won two in a row to the send the defending Stanley Cup champions home.
The Canucks won 6-2 in Game 6, making this the first time they have advanced to the second round since the 2011 playoffs when they beat the then-defending Stanley Cup champs, the Chicago Blackhawks. That year the club made a run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Bottom Six Stepping Up
The Canucks’ bottom-six has been lackluster for the team so far this season, but they have started to produce over the past two games. Seven of the last 10 goals scored by the Canucks have been from the bottom-six if you count Jake Virtanen as a member of that group. Tyler Motte had a spectacular Game 5, scoring two goals for the club. He broke a goalless drought for the bottom-six in the series against the Blues.
Related: Top 5 NHL Goalies of the 1950s
In Game 6, Jay Beagle scored his first goal of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs in the first period to give the Canucks a 1-0 lead. Antoine Roussel scored his second goal of the playoffs to extend the lead to two goals. Beagle later assisted on Motte’s third-period goal. Motte scored an empty netter for his fourth goal of the series. Brandon Sutter didn’t score a goal but he had three assists, adding to the point total of the bottom-six.
Beagle, Roussel, and Sutter combined occupy $10.375 million of the Canucks’ cap space. The trio is expected to provide some secondary scoring for the club. During losses in Games 3 and 4, the team’s top-six struggled to score and didn’t receive help from the bottom-six. In Game 6, all three stepped up to lead their team to a first-round win.
Brock Boeser’s Goal
Boeser finally scored a goal in the series against the Blues. He buried a one-timer past Jordan Binnington on the power play to give the Canucks a 4-0 lead. His goal led the Blues to replace Binnington with Jake Allen, who had started the previous three games. Although Boeser has four assists in the series, he is primarily known as a goal scorer, and his second-period tally will do wonders for his confidence.
Coming into the playoffs, Boeser’s confidence was at an all-time high, and it showed against his hometown team, the Minnesota Wild. He had two goals and one assist during the Qualifying Round. The forward had a fresh start as he was dealing with injuries and suffered a 12-game scoring drought that hurt his confidence during the season. Finishing off this series with a goal will have him feeling good about his game, and the Canucks will need him to perform in the next round against an elite team in the Golden Knights.
Jake Virtanen’s Night
Virtanen scored his first career playoff goal to tie Game 5 up. He came back with another strong game on Friday night, as he continually created scoring opportunities for his team. He finished the game with a team-leading Corsi For % of 57.14. Corsi for calculates all shot attempts for that player’s team, while they’re on the ice. Corsi Against calculates all shot attempts against that player’s team, while they’re on the ice.
Virtanen seemed to find confidence during Game 5. He had two points while playing with Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller. In Game 6, he was attacking the net like the power forward Canucks’ fans have hoped he would become.
This isn’t the first time the Abbotsford, B.C. native has shown promise in his play. All season long, Virtanen showed flashes of being a top-six offensive threat for the team, scoring a career-high 18 goals and posting 36 points. He’s attempting to earn his coach’s trust game by game (from ‘Virtanen found key Canucks’ confidant in loud, proud Miller,’ The Province, 08/20/2020).
“He had a strong game. For me, I go with the guys who are playing well and he deserved to play. When he’s skating, he’s a handful and when his details are sharp, he’s even more effective. Just watching the (post-season) rounds, his game is slowly getting to where it needs to be and it felt like it was a night where we could give him more if he was on.”Head coach Travis Green said post Game 5.
If Virtanen can continue to get comfortable with his game moving forward, the Canucks will be in good hands. Virtanen at his best can be a force for their offense and will provide secondary scoring to the team’s top stars.
Pettersson and Hughes Are Special
Pettersson’s two assists in Game 6 have tied him for the lead in playoff points (13) with Nathan MacKinnon. Pettersson has had a great showing so far in his first post-season appearance. He has tied Swedish legend Peter Forsberg for the most points through 10 career games by a Swede.
The 21-year-old finished with three goals and nine points against the Blues, who have one of the best shutdown centers in Ryan O’Reilly. His nine points in a single series is the third-best performance by a centerman playing for the Canucks. He also tied Mikael Samuelsson for the most points by a Canucks’ player through their first 10 playoff games with the club.
Quinn Hughes has impressed as well. The rookie defenseman now has 10 points in 10 playoff games. He is second in points for defenseman behind Miro Heiskanen, who has 13 in nine games. Hughes joins three players in Al MacInnis (13), Ray Bourque (11), and Gary Suter (10) to have double-digit points for a rookie defenseman through their first 10 career playoff games. The Canucks have two cornerstone players, and they both are playing a large role in the team’s playoff success so far.
Markstrom’s Big Pay Day
There is no doubt that Jacob Markstrom has been the Canucks’ best player this season. He finished Game 6 with an impressive 34 saves on 36 shots, giving him a .944 save percentage (SV%). Although he struggled to find his game in the Qualifying Round against the Wild, he found it against the Blues. In six games, he posted a .930 SV%. He is the main reason this club is moving forward to face the Golden Knights in the second round.
Markstrom will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason and will be the number one priority to re-sign for the club. The Canucks will likely have to pay the 30-year-old goalie a large sum to keep him around. There is speculation that although the fit is in Vancouver for Markstrom, the money he deserves is not. The club will have $17.075 million in cap space with a few key players to re-sign.
There is a consensus that the starting goaltender should be asking for $6 million to $6.5 million from Patrick Johnston. (from ‘Jacob Markstrom’s strong play buttressing his contract claim,’ The Province, 08/21/2020). Johnston heard from an NHL head scout, who believes the goalie should ask for four or five years. The Canucks will have to find a way to pay their MVP.
Canucks Take on the Golden Knights Next
The Canucks are now the last Canadian team standing and will take on the Golden Knights, who beat the Blackhawks in five games to advance to the second round. Vegas has only lost one game so far in the playoffs. The Canucks held a regular-season record of 1-1-0 against the Golden Knights, picking up an overtime win and regulation loss against their second-round opponent.
The Canucks get back Tyler Toffoli and Tyler Myers, which should boost their offense and defense. Game 1 of the second round takes place on Sunday at 7:30 P.M. PST.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.