After being shutout in Game 1, the Vancouver Canucks beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3 in Game 2. Tanner Pearson scored the first playoff goal for the Canucks since Luca Sbisa’s goal in a Game 6 loss to the Calgary Flames in the 2014-15 postseason. The team took a 4-1 lead, but goaltender Jacob Markstrom let in two goals late as the Wild had their goalie pulled for the extra attacker.
The Return of the Lotto Line
Tyler Toffoli was spotted in a boot and did not play in Game 2, causing head coach Travis Green to bring back the Lotto Line of J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. Boeser and Pettersson were the team’s best forwards in Game 1, and it only made sense to reunite the trio since Toffoli is out of the lineup.
The Lotto Line was one of the league’s best lines before Boeser’s injury in February. According to Harman Dayal of The Athletic, Boeser scored at an elite rate of 2.27 points per 60, while playing with Pettersson and scoring at a second-line rate of 1.59 points per 60 with Bo Horvat (from ‘Lotto Line? Jake Virtanen? These should be the Canucks’ Game 2 forward lines,’ The Athletic, 08/04/2020).
Pettersson assisted on Boeser’s first career playoff goal in the second period to give the Canucks a 3-1 lead. The trio finished Game 2 with a combined four points on the night and should continue to produce for the remainder of the series.
Injuries Give Virtanen an Opportunity
Along with Boeser, Jake Virtanen has been one of the most talked-about players on the roster but for negative reasons. The forward went to a nightclub before the NHL restart and struggled throughout training camp. Green scratched him for both the exhibition game against the Winnipeg Jets and for Game 1. Virtanen and Loui Erickson returned to the lineup in Game 2, replacing Toffoli and Adam Gaudette.
Virtanen wasn’t too noticeable, but he did make a few big plays, including hustling back to break up a potential shorthanded breakaway for the Wild. Virtanen’s return to the lineup is a big opportunity as it allows him to continue his regular-season success. He had a breakout season in the 2019-20 regular season with 18 goals and 36 points in 69 games.
Canucks’ Special Teams
After allowing two power-play goals in Game 1, the Canucks penalty kill improved in Game 2. Kevin Fiala and Jared Spurgeon each had a power-play marker in Game 1. In Game 2, the Canucks PK shutdown the Wild’s power play in all six attempts.
The team did a better job of drawing penalties in Game 2 following Game 1, where they only had one power play. The only problem with the power play in Game 2 was that the team only scored one goal on the six opportunities they had. The Canucks power play is supposed to be the game-changer in the series. Throughout the season, their power play ranked fourth across the league. With Boeser replacing Toffoli on the first power-play unit, they will get another opportunity in Game 3 to become the threat they were in the regular season.
The Kevin Fiala Problem
Fiala gave Canucks fans a scare as he scored two goals late in Game 2, to cut down the lead to one goal. Luckily enough for Canucks fans, the game had less than 10 seconds remaining, and Markstrom stopped a somewhat scary shot to end the game. Besides the win, Fiala is starting to become a problem for the club. He has three goals in the first two games of this play-in series. Green and his coaching staff are going to have to find a way to slow down the forward. He was having a career season before the stoppage with 54 points in 64 games and ended the regular season with 26 points in 19 games after the All-Star break.
Fiala is the Wild’s best offensive weapon and has shown that throughout the first two games. Through the first two games, Green has been matching up the Pettersson line against the Fiala line. Horvat’s line is much more suited to handle an offensive threat like that of the Wild’s first line. The only problem for the next two games is that the Canucks will not have a first change advantage. Green will have to find his opportunities to match his captain against the Wild’s best offensive threat, and they may be able to stop him.
Micheal Ferland missed the majority of the season dealing with injuries. He joined the team in the post-season, and it was the first opportunity to get a good look at the forward in playoff action. The last time the club made it to the playoffs, Ferland played against them and made an impact for the Flames throughout the first-round series.
After making somewhat of an impact in Game 1 and getting fined $5K for spearing Ryan Hartman, Ferland left Game 2 after a power play shift in the first period. It has been reported that Ferland has left the bubble in Edmonton and will miss the remainder of the play-in round. This gives an opportunity to other players on the roster. Gaudette may return to the lineup after being replaced for Game 2, or Zach MacEwen may get his first taste of postseason action.
Canucks Build Momentum for Game 3
The Canucks and Wild will play back to back games as Game 3 is on Thursday and Game 4 is on Friday. With a big win in Game 2, the Canucks built momentum leading into the next game. Green did a great job of preparing his club after a loss. His club adjusted from taking a majority of their shots from the point in Game 1 to attacking closer to the net. This was a successful change for the team that was shutout in Game 1 and resulted in them scoring four goals on the night.
Game 3 will be important as it will bring the winning team one win away from the playoffs. With the Wild getting first change in Game 3, Green will have to hope he can get his best matchups when he gets the chance.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.