The Vancouver Canucks have won a postseason series for the first time since the 2011 Western Conference Final win over the San Jose Sharks. After a 3-0 shutout win over the Minnesota Wild in Game 3, the Canucks fought back in Game 4 to win the series in overtime. The 5-4 win sends the club to its first playoff appearance since 2015.
The Canucks lost to the Calgary Flames in six games in 2015. They’ll be hoping for a different result this time against the St. Louis Blues, as the team has an opportunity to make a deep playoff run.
When the Canucks beat the Sharks in Game 5 to move on to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, defenceman Kevin Bieksa scored the game-winning goal in double overtime. 11 seconds into overtime on Friday, current defenceman Chris Tanev scored the game-winning goal to send the Canucks into the Stanley Cup playoffs. He finished the series with four points (1G, 3A) through four games, including his game-winner and two assists on Friday night.
This will be the veteran defenceman’s fourth playoff appearance in his 10-year career. He played five playoff games when the team made their Stanley Cup run in 2011. One of those games was a Game 5 win in the Stanley Cup Final against Boston Bruins. Bieksa was impressed by how calm the defender was during that game (from ‘Bieksa on Canucks youngster Tanev: give the kid a light,’ The Province, 06/10/2011). The calmness he showed earlier in his career is still apart of his game, and it showed in the Game 4 overtime winner.
“He’s nothing like a young Kevin Bieksa,” Bieksa told The Province. “He’s way more calm than a young Kevin Bieksa. He could have played the game with a cigarette in his mouth, he’s so calm and cool out there.”
The rookie out of the University of Michigan has impressed everyone in his first NHL season. Quinn Hughes finished the play-in round with a team-leading six points. His six points also led all defensemen in the league through the play-in round. He followed up his three-assist performance in Game 3 with a game-tying goal in Game 4.
Hughes has played along with Tanev, and the two have been a great pairing for the club. His performance during the season and the play-in round prove just how good the young defenceman is. He had a stellar rookie season, becoming the first Canucks defenceman to score 50 points in a season since Christian Ehrhoff in the 2010-11 season. Tanev believes his defensive partner will become the best defenseman in the league, and he’s not too far away from it.
“He’s impressive,” Tanev told CBC. “He’s going to be the best defenceman in the league if he’s not there next year or the year after. The way he skates, the way he moves the puck, he’s a special player. He’s going to be the best player around for a long time. We’re happy he’s on our team.”
Heart of a Champion
The Canucks came back three separate times in Game 4. First, they tied the game after being down 1-0. Then they fought back to tie the game after being down 3-1. After Nico Sturm scored in the second period to give the Wild a 4-3 lead, captain Bo Horvat scored to tie up the game in the third period before Tanev scored to win it in overtime. The team showed a lot of heart by coming back three separate times in one game. It will be a big boost to the team’s confidence moving forward, especially since most of the team is still young.
Veterans Showed Up
Most of the Canucks veterans have been heavily criticized all season long for being overpaid. Brandon Sutter played two of his best games in Games 3 and 4. In Game 3, it took the Canucks some time to get going, but Sutter had a good start while the rest of the team was sluggish. He was finally rewarded for his Game 3 effort in Game 4, as he scored the second goal of the game. The 31-year-old has two seasons remaining in his $4.375 million contract, which ends after the 2020-21 season.
Antoine Roussel is another veteran player who has stepped up in the postseason for the Canucks. In Game 3, he scored the second goal of the night for his club and in Game 4, he assisted on Sutter’s goal. He has been impactful in other ways for the team as well. One of the plays he made included a penalty where he hit Wild goaltender Alex Stalock, whom he continues to troll on his Instagram account.
After a stellar 27-save shutout win on Thursday, Jacob Markstrom struggled on Friday night. He posted a .862 save percentage, which is not the norm for the team’s regular-season MVP. His regular-season SV% was .918, and his goals-against average was 2.77. His poor performance in Game 4 is likely due to the team playing intense games in back to back days. A few of the goals Markstrom let in Friday night were uncharacteristic of the Swedish goaltender.
The Canucks need Markstrom to be on his game, since he’s the main reason the team had a successful regular season. Markstrom will be the key to a long Stanley Cup playoffs run for the Canucks and will need to be consistent for the following months.
Canucks Take on Defending Stanley Cup Champs Next
The Canucks will face off against the St. Louis Blues when the playoffs start on Wednesday. The Canucks have a winning record against the Blues throughout the past two seasons, going 4-0-2 against the defending Stanley Cup champs.
Related: Canucks: Revisiting the Luongo Trade
The Blues struggled to pick up a win in the three games they played through the round-robin tournament, losing to the Dallas Stars in a shootout on Sunday. The Canucks will have the upper hand after playing in a competitive series. The team took some time to find their game but got better as the series continued. The next round should show exactly where this Canucks team is, as they will face-off against the defending champs.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.