For the first time since 2011, the Vancouver Canucks are in the second round of the playoffs after dispatching the defending Stanley Cup champions, St. Louis Blues in six games. For a team that was given slim to no chance of making the playoffs this season, they are surprising everyone with their speed, skill, and moxie as they prepare to face the challenge of the Vegas Golden Knights.
Historically, the Canucks have not done well against the new expansion team from Sin City, but as we have found out recently, 2020 is full of surprises. They could actually find a way to rise above and knock off the Golden Knights. After all, stranger things have happened.
So with all that said, let’s take a closer look at the first semi-final series the Canucks have participated in since they faced off against the Nashville Predators almost a decade ago.
Canucks – Golden Knights Matchup Overview
The Canucks played the Golden Knights twice during the regular season with both teams coming away with victories. Both games were played in December of last year and both were high scoring games. So if that’s any indication, we are in for a high octane series.
The first round went to the Golden Knights as they came away with a 6-3 win on the backs of Max Pacioretty and Shea Theodore who had seven points between them. The Canucks countered with Brock Boeser who had a goal and an assist.
The second round went to the Canucks as they prevailed 5-4 in overtime on a goal by Chris Tanev. Elias Pettersson had two goals in the victory and Boeser added another two assists to his total as well. The Golden Knights countered with Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, who had two points apiece in the loss.
Overall, the Canucks went 1-1 against the Golden Knights and couldn’t seem to keep the puck out of their net. On the bright side, they did score eight goals themselves, and the Lotto Line had four goals and eight points. Oh yes, and Boeser and Pettersson had seven of those eight. So, I don’t think we have to worry about their confidence against this team.
The regular season standings favoured the Golden Knights as they won the Pacific Division with 86 points and a plus-16 goal differential in 71 games. The Canucks, meanwhile, were eight points back with 78 points and a plus-11 goal differential in 69 games. In the postseason so far the Golden Knights have scored 30 goals over eight games while only being defeated once. So they are probably riding pretty high right now after eliminating the Chicago Blackhawks in five games and going undefeated in the round-robin. They are also not dealing with any significant injuries to their lineup.
The Canucks have scored 34 goals in 10 games and have been defeated three times. So both teams have continued the trend where they were neck and neck in goals scored. As for injuries, they are hoping to get Tyler Toffoli back for Game 1, but Tyler Myers is still out with a slightly separated shoulder suffered in Game 2 of the Blues series.
Goaltending will most likely be on the side of the Canucks with Jacob Markstrom getting better with every game he’s played in the postseason. However, you can’t forget about projected Golden Knights’ starter Robin Lehner either, as he’s only lost once since coming over in a trade with the Blackhawks. He also had a solid season overall with a 2.89 goals against average (GAA) and a .920 save percentage (SV%).
Additionally, Lehner is only a season removed from posting a paltry 2.13 GAA and a .930 SV% with the New York Islanders while being nominated for the Vezina Trophy as well. Amidst some controversy, it appears he has taken the crease from long-time starter Marc Andre Fleury.
Canucks & Golden Knights’ Stars Have Shone in the Postseason
The Canucks have Boeser, Pettersson, Toffoli (hopefully), Bo Horvat, and J.T. Miller while the Golden Knights have Marchessault, Pacioretty, Smith, Mark Stone, and Paul Statsny. All of them can score and all of them can take over a game at a moment’s notice. So we should be in for a great series overall.
The Canucks have been led by their stars not only during the regular season but in the postseason as well. Pettersson is second only to Nathan MacKinnon with four goals and 13 points while Miller and Horvat have been consistent threats with a combined 11 goals and 18 points between them. Rookie defenceman Quinn Hughes has also been otherworldly with ten points of his own. Suffice it to say, the stars have shone brightly for the Canucks so far.
As for the Golden Knights, they are led by former Ottawa Senator Mark Stone with four goals and eight points so far. Smith and Marchessault were particularly dangerous against the Blackhawks with a combined three goals and 11 points. Statsny and Pacioretty haven’t been as noticeable yet with only four points combined, but with the talent they possess, they should not be taken lightly especially with how much success Pacioretty had in the season series against the Canucks.
Overall, both teams have been powered by their stars this postseason. If that continues, we will be in for one heck of a ride.
Matchups To Watch
Quinn Hughes vs Shea Theodore
At 20-years-old Hughes has impressed everyone in the NHL with his elite skating, hockey IQ, and overall maturity. After a season that saw him produce 53 points in 68 games, he already has ten points in ten postseason games. He is currently six points back of MacKinnon for the league lead and just continues to get better with every game. If you didn’t know any better, you would think that he was a veteran in the prime of his career, not a rookie with just 83 games of NHL experience.
The postseason has brought out the best in Hughes as he’s been a factor in almost every game so far. He’s averaging almost 24 minutes of ice time, leads all Canucks’ defencemen in Corsi-for percentage with a 52.07 rating, and continues to run their lethal power play. In fact, seven of his ten points have come with the man advantage.
The Golden Knights counter with Aldergrove native Shea Theodore. Ever since he was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks for expansion draft considerations, he has become their de facto number one defenceman. Over the past three seasons, he has produced 31 goals and 81 points, and just like Hughes, continues to get better with every game. He has driven their attack from the blue line and will be counted upon to produce in this series as well.
Theodore has proven to be a playoff performer too, as he’s scored 10 goals and 33 points in 55 games. He already has four goals and seven points in these playoffs and could be a problem for the Canucks when he jumps up into the play.
Battle of the Special Teams
The Canucks’ power play has been a considerable factor in the postseason with 11 goals already. Of the remaining teams, they rank only behind the Colorado Avalanche with a 26.2 percent success rate. If they are going to have success against the Golden Knights, that is going to have to continue.
The Golden Knights power play is right behind the Canucks at 19.1 percent, so it could be another battle of the power plays in this series. In the season series, both teams scored two goals, so the penalty killing could end up being the deciding factor when all is said and done.
Prediction – Canucks In Seven
This series is going to be a battle right to the very end. Though I think the Canucks have the horses to win it in seven games. Some may say that they are horribly outmatched in this series, but when you look closer, they have a really good chance of surprising everyone and coming out on top.
The Canucks will have some problems with the speed of their bottom-six, but if Jake Virtanen, Adam Gaudette, and Tyler Motte can continue the success they had in the past two games, they should be alright.
This series will ultimately come down to which stars can shine the brightest. If Pettersson, Horvat, and Hughes continue to produce and the power play is as lethal as it was in the first round, the Canucks will win this series.
However, if the Golden Knights are able to control the transition game and Stone, Smith and Theodore take over the series, I don’t like their chances. After all, they feast on turnovers and counterattack with a lot of speed, just like the Canucks do when they are on their game. Basically, whichever team controls the transition game will win this series.
In the end, it’s great to be writing about Canucks hockey in the second round of the playoffs again. This should be a fun series to watch and win or lose, this postseason should be considered a massive success. The exciting thing is, this team’s ascent has only just begun.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, editor, part-time journalist, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.