The Vancouver Canucks finally have a postseason win after four seasons of futility. The play-in series against the Minnesota Wild is now tied at one and the best-of-five has now become a best-of-three. The reunited Lotto Line of Elias Pettersson, JT Miller, and Brock Boeser helped make that happen with four points between them. Though, as much as we can sing the praises of the stars, they would not have come away with a 4-3 victory if not for the impeccable work behind the scenes from a few unsung heroes.
Motte Was a Key Ingredient in the Penalty Kill Cocktail
Tyler Motte has always been a favourite of mine ever since he fought his way up on to the roster during training camp in 2018-19. All he’s done since is provide speed and energy from the fourth line and of course, excellent work on the penalty kill. In fact, it has become his bread and butter in the NHL. Game 2 was no different as he was a key ingredient in killing off six Wild power plays. He even had a few offensive rushes up the ice while shorthanded.
Motte may not provide a lot of offence from his wing position on the fourth line, but you notice when he’s not in the lineup. He was again one of the go-to guys on the penalty kill in Game 2 leading all forwards with 6:42 of shorthanded time. Nearly half of his ice time was spent in the trenches, as he only played 13:16 overall. He was one of the primary reasons the Wild could not gain any momentum from their power play.
Motte’s speed and work ethic were on full display in both games and he is proving me right when I named him as a potential difference-maker in the postseason. Just like a Caeser cocktail, the Canucks penalty kill and fourth line do not perform the same without a healthy dose of Motte.
Fantenberg Quietly Did His Job
Honestly, Fantenberg did not have good performances in either the exhibition game or Game 1. Fortunately for the Canucks, he redeemed himself with a very solid, albeit quiet game from the backend in Game 2. Paired mostly with Tyler Myers 5-on-5, he also was a key component of the exceptional penalty killing his team exhibited throughout the game. Of the 11:49 he played, he spent 4:10 of it killing penalties mostly with Troy Stecher and the aforementioned Myers.
Related: Canucks Greatest Defencemen
Fantenberg’s underlying stats weren’t anything to write home about, as he finished with a below-average 40.91 Corsi-for percentage (CF%) and allowed 11 shots against when he was on the ice. On the bright side, that CF% was ranked third among the defence core just behind Stecher and Quinn Hughes, who had an insane 70.59 CF%. So, all in all, he had a very good game with the ice time he was given.
Eriksson Once Again Did the Little Things Well
Loui “little things” Eriksson was reinserted into the lineup in Game 2 and was immediately placed on the second line with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson. Almost on cue, his line scored the opening goal just 24 seconds into the game. Talk about a positive impact! It didn’t end there as he also played the most 5-on-5 minutes of anyone on the team, including the defencemen. Overall he ended up eating 20:07 of ice time, with 13:52 of it spent at even strength.
Those 20 minutes were mostly spent behind the curtain, though Eriksson did venture onto the stage once when he found himself on a 2-on-1 with Miller in the third period. Unfortunately for him, his stick exploded just before he could make contact for a one-timer. That’s just how it’s been for him as a member of the Canucks, great at defence and puck movement, not so much at finishing chances.
Putting aside his lack of success in the offensive zone, Eriksson did have a very solid game shuttling between the second and fourth lines. He did all the little things well, including a proficient 200-foot effort. Though, that’s been par for the course when it comes to how he plays. His defensive game has always been a strength, it’s the offence that has passed him by. However, to win games you need players like him, especially in a series as tight as this one.
Every Canuck Showed Up in Game 2
The Canucks needed a full team effort to blast through the defensive structure of the Wild and tie up the series. Even Jake Virtanen, who was under intense scrutiny for his questionable attitude and work ethic, made a difference in this game. He had a few chances offensively and even used his speed to foil a breakaway attempt.
If the Canucks are going to win Game 3 and force the Wild into a do-or-die situation in Game 4, the postseason bus has to continue to have no passengers. The unsung heroes and the offensive stars have to show up for work and leave everything on the table. Judging from the two games played so far, the Wild, and most of all Kevin Fiala, will not go down without a fight.
Despite Fiala’s clear frustration with the referees in Game 2, he still continued his bid to become a member of the pesky Canuck Killer Club, as he scored another two goals in the dying minutes. He already has seven goals and 13 points in 11 games, and he doesn’t look like he’s slowing down any time soon. He’s been the primary offensive threat for the Wild in this series, and if they can’t shut him down soon, he could turn out to be as debilitating as Marian Gaborik was in 2003.
However, if the Canucks simply continue to be the team they were in Game 2, they will eventually come away with a series victory. If you forget about the final two minutes of the game, it was a solid team effort from top to bottom. The big boys came to play and the lunch pail guys were also there to grind out the hard minutes on the penalty kill. Jacob Markstrom was not at his absolute best, but he made the saves he needed to. In the end, the theme of the night was no passengers and that’s the best you could hope for during the long grind of the postseason.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.