Give credit to the Vancouver Canucks’ hockey team for rising up for an unusual and difficult victory after a month-long onslaught from the P1 variant of the coronavirus. It was a gutsy win and, after finally playing for the first time since March 24, there had to have been celebrations all around the locker room after Canucks’ captain Bo Horvat scored just over a minute into overtime to carry his team to a 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday night.
How important was the win to the Canucks? Canucks’ head coach Travis Green said, ‘‘This isn’t just your regular win during the regular season. It’s a special win. We’ve gone through a lot here with our group over the last few weeks.”
Horvat had an inspired game in leading a group of exhausted and far from in game shape teammates who hadn’t been able to practice until two days before. Horvat counted on all three of his team’s goals – scoring two himself and assisting on another by Canucks’ rookie Nils Hoglander.
After the game, Horvat shared: “I couldn’t be prouder of our guys in that room; the way they manned up tonight and stuck with the process and willed their way to that win.”
Canucks’ goalie Braden Holtby also carried the night by making 37 saves for his team. And, as Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe said in his post-game interview, Holtby made 10 point-blank saves in the game.
I know I’m supposed to be covering the Maple Leafs; but, from the aspect of pure sports, you’d have to be a Grinch not to applaud the Canucks on this win. In the end, COVID-19 ravaged the team with “at least” 21 players and four members of the coaching staff testing positive for the coronavirus. That’s not even counting the terrifying concern that hockey players – who are also husbands and fathers – have for their children and families who also caught the virus from them.
This game will be replayed often years from now during get-togethers of retired Canucks’ players.
Now back to the Maple Leafs. By the way, the Maple Leafs outplayed and out-chanced the Canucks; they just didn’t win.
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll share some of the team’s news emerging from the game and offer commentary about the team going forward. The two team’s play again tomorrow night, and the Maple Leafs need a victory to retain their top spot in the North Division.
Item One: Zach Hyman Goes Down with a Knee Injury
Although it might have been unintentional, it was also nasty. The Maple Leafs’ Zach Hyman looked as if he were going to fake out and go around Canucks’ defender Alex Edler, but Edler reacted by sticking out his leg to prevent the move. The result was a knee-on-knee collision that sent Hyman to the dressing room and Edler out of the game.
Hyman stayed on the ice for several minutes after the play ended and then went directly to the locker room. He didn’t return and, at this point in time, I haven’t heard any word about the severity of his injury. Obviously, Hyman’s teammates were irate. Although Auston Matthews scored at the end of the five-minute major’s power play to make the score 2-0, the team didn’t take full advantage of the situation to put the game away. It cost them down the stretch.
Should Hyman’s knee injury keep him out for any time, he’ll be desperately missed. The 28-year-old, play-anywhere-well forward has scored 33 points in 43 games this season. He’s also had 17 points in his last 16 games. By the way, Hyman isn’t getting many of the goals his buddy Matthews teased him about last season when – after a win against these same Canucks just over a year ago – called Hyman “the Sidney Crosby of the 6-on-5.”
Right now it doesn’t look as if Hyman will be able to play tomorrow against these same Canucks, but there’s no word if he’ll be gone for a more-extended period. It was announced this morning that Edler will have an NHL hearing about the hit.
Item Two: John Tavares Has Another Multi-Point Game
John Tavares has been on a bit of a scoring streak and added two assists last night in the 3-2 overtime loss to the Canucks. Tavares assisted on William Nylander’s first-period goal and got the secondary assist on Matthews’ power-play goal to make it 2-0 in the second period. The 30-year-old captain has now scored two goals and six assists in his latest five-game point-scoring streak. He’s also pushed his totals on the season to 40 points in 45 games.
Item Three: Auston Matthews Scores Yet Again
This headline seems redundant, and that’s a good thing for the Maple Leafs. Matthews scored yet again after missing a game with a “similar” wrist injury. The 23-year-old generational talent now leads the league with 33 goals (as well as 21 assists) in the 41 games he’s played. He also, even though the Maple Leafs’ power play isn’t working that well, has 10 of his goals with the man advantage.
In the eight games Matthews has played in April, he’s scored nine goals and three assists – exactly a point and a half a game average. He’s the NHL’s goal-scoring leader and is seven goals ahead of the Colorado Avalanche’s Mikko Rantanen in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy.
Item Four: William Nylander Hits Goal-Scoring Milestone
William Nylander scored his 100th NHL career goal after missing five games on the COVID-19 protocol list. He also added an assist. His goal came early in the first period. Interestingly, for someone who had a layoff and there were questions about his game-shape, Nylander had 21:00 of time on ice in Sunday’s game.
This is his third multiple-point game in a row and he’s now up to 14 goals and 18 assists (for 32 points) in 40 games this season. Obviously, he wasn’t that rusty.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Given goalie Jack Campbell’s recent play, I have to wonder if newcomer David Rittich gets a start against the Canucks tomorrow. I suppose if I were coach Keefe, I’d be wondering if it would be better to give Campbell a rest or another start to show the team’s support for him. Campbell seems to beat himself up over a loss.
However, Campbell has been brilliant this season – until recently. I’m not so sure I can guess what Keefe’s thinking in this case, and it will be interesting for me to see how the coach plays it.