If you are a Vancouver Canucks fan, there’s only one word for Game 4. Nuts! Perhaps there are others, but “Nuts” will do.
The Canucks simply gave away a third-period lead during Game 4 and now are faced with the difficult challenge of playing desperate hockey if they hope to keep their surprisingly good 2019-20 season alive when they face the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinal tonight.
Vegas now holds a 3-1 lead in the series after scoring three straight third-period goals to emerge from Game 4 with a 5-3 victory. Talk about a momentum shift. Once the Golden Knights started to score in the third period, they simply couldn’t be stopped. Entering the final period behind 3-2, Vegas scored three unanswered goals (within a span of 5:37 no less) and the comeback win was theirs.
It seems as if every second game in this series against the playoff-hardened Golden Knights has been good for the Canucks. As an old teacher, the way the Canucks have played in this series reminds me of the short poem titled “There was a little girl,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The well-known ditty contains the line “When she was good, She was very good indeed, But when she was bad she was horrid.”
During Game 2, the Canucks looked quite good, actually. When they play like this, they give their fans hope for the future. However, when they’ve been bad, they truly have been horrid. Such, probably, is the experience of many young NHL teams. They can be up and down, which is what Canucks fans are viewing during these playoffs.
In this edition of Canucks News & Rumors, I want to review some of the events of this series to help Canucks fans stay more up-to-date about their team.
Item One: Quinn Hughes Has Been a Target of Abuse All Postseason Long
Obviously, opponents have spent considerable time watching the Canucks play. During the postseason, all the teams they have played have laid a beating on both youngsters — center Elias Pettersson and defenseman Quinn Hughes. The Golden Knights have focused particular attention on the rookie defenseman.
Golden Knights head coach Peter DeBoer “sort of” admitted as much when he noted:
“He’s (Hughes) getting the same attention we’re trying to give all their good players. And that’s just to take away time and space and play them hard but clean — and try to put a lot of pressure on them. When we’ve done that well, we’ve had some success. But when you rewatch video on slo-mo, you still see that he (Hughes) is able to make plays through and in traffic and skate himself out of trouble so often. He’s special player who has the ability, even with pressure and attention, to make plays.” (from “Canucks Game Day: Driven Hughes wired to help extend playoff series,” The Province, 01/09/20)
I’m biased I know, but it seems as if the officiating turns an eye to hits after plays are completed or constant face-washing. But, Hughes (and Pettersson) seems to be especially targeted by the Golden Knights. To his credit, as DeBoer notes, it’s obvious that Hughes really is a special young player. Hughes has a goal and 13 points in 14 games after a two-assist effort on Sunday night. One of those assists was an especially good play where he led the rush up the left side of the ice and slid the puck to Tyler Toffoli for his second-period, tie-breaking goal.
Item Two: Elias Pettersson Continues to Grow Stronger These Playoffs
Regardless of the eventual outcome of this series, it’s impossible not to see that Pettersson is growing stronger with each playoff game. He scored yet again in the 5-3 Game 4 loss to the Golden Knights. He likely would have scored another goal if he hadn’t been absolutely robbed by Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove save in the second period.
The 21-year-old Swede and former Calder Trophy winner now has 6 goals and 17 points in 14 postseason games. Although those are impressive numbers for a second-year player, his mental toughness is even more impressive.
That said, it seems important that Canucks fans should remember that this wasn’t supposed to be the season the team would be able to mount a long playoff run. In many ways, these Canucks remind me of the youthful Edmonton Oilers who, during the 1981 Stanley Cup playoffs, swept a highly favored Montreal Canadiens team three games to none. Long-time NHL fans know what happened to that Oilers team.
In other words, the Canucks might be facing elimination tonight, but they have proven to be a strong young team. I’m thinking that, regardless of what happens, this simply is part of the process of growing stronger.
Item Three: J.T. Miller Plays Another Strong Game
It’s so difficult now to remember that, when Canucks general manager Jim Benning traded for J.T. Miller during the second day of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft for a conditional first-round draft pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, what all the fuss was about. It might be that, when the ice chips melt, the Miller trade might simply be listed among the better Canucks trades of all time. Miller has been that good.
He’s a determined player with skills and leadership ability. In my mind, game after game it would be tough to find a better player. He led the team in scoring with 72 regular-season points, and continues to show up during the playoffs. It’s no longer a surprise to report that Miller had assists on all three Canucks goals Sunday night.
The three assists now give Miller 14 points this postseason, and that includes 5 goals. He’s found a home in Vancouver.
What’s Next for the Canucks
The Canucks need to win tonight to keep their Stanley Cup hopes alive. Yesterday, head coach Travis Green said that the Canucks would be ready for Game 5.
Specifically, he noted, “I know we’ll be ready to go next game — I’m not worried about that at all… It’s a resilient group that likes to win. Sometimes, you compete hard and just don’t win, but we’ll be ready for next game. I can tell you that.” (from “Knights 5, Canucks 3: Vegas flexes third-period scoring muscle to complete rally”, The Province, 31/008/20)
Canucks fans everywhere have to hope he’s right.