After three weeks of battling with COVID-19, the Vancouver Canucks returned to action against the Toronto Maple Leafs. They played their first game in April, losing their last game to the Winnipeg Jets 5-1 on March 24th. They finished March with a record of 8-4-1.
On Sunday, the Canucks beat the Maple Leafs 3-2 in overtime. William Nylander gave his club a 1-0 lead with his 100th career goal in the first period. Auston Matthews extended the lead with his 33rd goal of the season in the second period, but a little over a minute later Canucks’ captain Bo Horvat cut the lead in half. The Canucks tied the game in the third period thanks to rookie Nils Hoglander, who scored his eighth career goal. Horvat scored his second goal of the night in overtime to give his club the win.
Braden Holtby started in net for the Canucks and stood on his head throughout the game. He made 37 saves and posted a .949 save percentage.
Battle With COVID-19
The Canucks dealt with one of the more serious COVID-19 outbreaks in the NHL, which was driven by the P1 variant. The club had at least 21 players and four staff members, including head coach Travis Green, in COVID protocol.
The P1 variant made the situation a lot more dangerous as Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre reported a Canucks’ official described the difference between the team’s outbreak and other major outbreaks across the league. Across the league, 10 days into the earlier major outbreaks, most players had recovered enough to resume training, while in Vancouver, players were still sick, and some were getting worse 10 days into the P.1 variant outbreak. The team has two players remaining on the list in Nate Schmidt and Jake Virtanen.
19 Games in 32 Days
Although the Canucks resumed their season on Sunday, they still have a grueling schedule to finish the 2020-21 campaign. Including the matchup against the Maple Leafs on Sunday, the club is scheduled to play 19 games in 32 days, including five sets of back-to-backs. Originally, the team was set to resume their season with a back-to-back against the Edmonton Oilers on April 16th then a game against the Maple Leafs the next night. J.T. Miller, one of the few players who didn’t test positive, stepped up for his teammates two days prior to the team’s return, hoping for more time before their return to action.
“Even for me, skating a couple of times, my lungs are screaming and definitely not in game shape at all right now from sitting around and not doing much,” Miller said. “I couldn’t imagine what these guys (who have had COVID) are going to have to go through to get back and be ready to play at a high level. We’re playing two of the best players in the entire world on Friday another one of the best teams in the league on Saturday. I never thought I’d be in this scenario in my career.
“I think it’s just a little kind of crazy. I know that everybody’s got a job to do, but to expect pretty much our entire team to be ready to play on one practice and a pre-game skate is a little bit hard to comprehend. This is going to be a really tough challenge.”
Fortunately, the NHL postponed the two games for the Canucks. Although the team has returned to action, the remainder of the season will still be tough on the team, especially based on how hard the outbreak hit them.
Canucks Showed Heart
In their return to action, multiple players stepped up for the Canucks. Thatcher Demko, the team’s MVP in March, has been removed from the protocol list but hasn’t recovered enough to play. In his absence, Holtby had one of his best games of the season. He kept his team alive on Sunday, with the Maple Leafs outshooting Vancouver 39-24. The 31-year old’s performance was highlighted by an impressive save in the third period.
Along with Holtby, other players had gutsy performances for the Canucks. With Schmidt out of the lineup and Alex Edler getting ejected from Sunday’s game due to a knee-on-knee hit to Zach Hyman, which has resulted in a two-game suspension for the veteran, Green had a few defencemen logging more minutes than normal. With rookies Guillaume Brisebois and Jalen Chatfield in the lineup, Tyler Myers logged 30+ minutes, while Quinn Hughes played 24:26 minutes and Travis Hamonic played 25:13. All three players were on the protocol list as well, which makes their performance on Sunday even more impressive.
Lastly, Horvat stepped up big time for the Canucks. The captain scored the team’s first goal after the three weeks they went through. He then assisted on the game-tying goal and scored the game-winning goal. When the team needed him to lead on the ice the most, Horvat rose to the occasion, once again.
Canucks’ Playoff Odds
The Canucks will play three times next week. They take on the Maple Leafs once again before turning their focus to the Ottawa Senators for a two-game series at home.
Although the Canucks are well out of a playoff spot, 10 points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the fourth and final seed, their odds have improved. The Canucks’ playoff odds were at 6% on March 31st, but with the Canadiens and the Calgary Flames losing on Monday, their odds have improved to 18%.
The Canadiens have played five more games at this point in the season, while the Flames have played seven more with just four points. Still, the road to the playoffs is a lot harder than it originally was for the Canucks, with the 19 games in 32 days.
- April 20th– vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
- April 22nd – vs. Ottawa Senators
- April 24th – vs. Ottawa Senators
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.