On Wednesday night, the Vancouver Canucks beat the St. Louis Blues 5-2 in Game 1 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series. Although it’s a long series, winning Game 1 is the first step. The Blues are an especially strong team as the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, the best team in the Western Conference (42-19-10) and ranked second in the NHL when the regular season was suspended on March 12 because of COVID-19.
The Blues haven’t been themselves during this postseason. They’ve had third-period leads in every game and lost them all. They’ve also scored just six goals in three games. In Game 1, they disappeared during the third period and Bo Horvat’s two goals led his team to the win. Other Canucks goal scorers included J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, and Troy Stecher.
In this edition of Canucks News & Rumors, I’ll share some of the news about the game and about the organization as they move forward.
Item One: Is J.T. Miller Injured?
TSN reported before Wednesday’s game that J.T. Miller wouldn’t be playing. We know he took a puck off the hand during the Minnesota Wild series, but he soldiered on. Losing Miller would have been a blow: he led the Canucks in scoring this season with 72 points in 69 games (27 goals, 45 assists). He also averaged over 20 minutes TOI. During the postseason, the 27-year-old Miller had scored a goal and three points in four games.
When Miller didn’t take part in the warm-ups, it seemed certain that he wouldn’t play; however, when the game started, Miller was on the ice. Furthermore, not only did Miller play but he had a goal and an assist. Both points came on a very-effective Canucks’ power play, that scored on three of its six tries.
Miller’s goal came in the final minute of the third period. While the Canucks were playing keep-away, Blues goalie Jordan Binnington left the net open and Miller easily slid the puck in.
Miller now has five points in five games during the postseason. Canucks head coach Travis Green didn’t elaborate on Miller’s situation after the game, but we trust that he is “healthy-enough” and will continue to be a key top-six player.
Item Two: Troy Stecher Remembers His Dad During Goal-Scoring Celebration
In a feel-good story from the game, after Troy Stecher scored the game-winning goal, he paid tribute to his dad, who passed away on Fathers’ Day this year. Stecher pointed in the air, made a fist pump, and yelled, “Let’s goooooo!” before heading to the bench. His father Peter died, on June 21, due to complications from diabetes.
Stecher noted, “It’s been tough obviously at certain moments throughout this process but I’m thankful to be surrounded by my teammates. Obviously, I had a couple seconds there to reflect on my dad and the biggest thing is everybody showed support on the bench instantly and kind of gave me a tap and it just kind of motivated me to keep it going.”
It was the 26-year-old defenseman’s first career playoff point and broke a 2-2 third-period tie. Stecher scored five goals and 12 assists in 69 regular-season games during the 2019-20 season.
Item Three: Elias Pettersson Scores a Power-play Goal
Elias Pettersson jumped on a loose puck while he was falling to score a second-period power-play goal in the 5-2 win. It gave the Canucks the lead back, 2-1, and was payback for some of the rough treatment Pettersson’s been receiving during the postseason.
Almost every time I see either Pettersson or rookie Quinn Hughes on the ice, it seems like they’re being muscled or face-washed. But both young players are hanging in there. Pettersson now has five points in five postseason games (four on the power play). Hughes has seven points in five games. That’s payback.
Item Four: Jacob Markstrom Was on His Game After Minnesota Mistakes
In his Aug. 11, 31 Thoughts post, Elliotte Friedman noted just how “off” Jacob Markstrom was during the Canucks’ series against the Wild. Friedman noted that he’s learning more about the game from ex-NHL goalie and New York Rangers broadcaster Steve Valiquette’s “Clear Sight Analytics.”
Friedman suggested that the Wild’s Kevin Fiala’s Game 1 goal was the first “clear shot” Markstrom allowed in more than 500 such chances this season. In fact, he was the only goalie in the league who was perfect against more than 200 clear shots. Then Markstrom allowed a second clear shot goal against the Wild, two shots that he hadn’t missed all season.
Related: Vancouver Canucks All-Time Team
By the way, if you want to talk about a well-travelled goalie, check out Valiquette’s career history. He played for 19 teams, everywhere in the world.
Markstrom stopped 29 of 31 shots on Wednesday. He made an absolutely stunning left-pad save in the third period when a puck bounced off defenseman Alex Edler before sliding toward the net. Markstrom’s won four games in a row and has given up two goals or less in three of his five postseason games.
Item Five: Again, Bo Horvat Leads His Team to Victory
Horvat scored two goals in the Game 1 win. His first of the game was off a quick-release power-play shot early in the first period and then he scored a highlight-reel goal when he stickhandled around Blues defenseman Vince Dunn.
It was the 25-year-old’s third postseason multi-point game and he now has four goals and six points in five games. By the way, he is not the team leader in points. That would be Hughes.
What’s Next for the Canucks?
You have to believe that the Blues are going to come out with more intensity in Game 2 on Friday. After Game 1, Horvat noted that the Canucks were ready to match the Blues’ intensity and they did. He also reminded fans that the Blues ”won the Cup for a reason, so we were ready for it.”
However, he added that the team did “some good things” in Game 1 including some “push-back and obviously scoring those big goals late.”
It was the Canucks’ first playoff appearance since 2015. This iteration of the team is winning with a mixture of veterans and playoff rookies. Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Jake Virtanen, Tyler Motte, Hughes, Stecher, Zack MacEwen, and Markstrom all played their first official playoff game.
If history counts for anything, the Canucks have an advantage. The two teams have met three times during the playoffs (in 1995, 2003 and 2009), and each time the Canucks eliminated the Blues in the first round.