The surprising Vancouver Canucks came off a long layoff in spectacular fashion. During that layoff, the team battled a bigger foe than any hockey team they’ll face this season – a massive COVID-19 outbreak. However, on Sunday and Tuesday, the team beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in two straight games. Sunday they won in overtime by a 3-2 score, and last night they beat these same North Division leaders by a 6-3 score.
Other than Canucks’ goalie Braden Holtby, who was totally on his game both nights and whose play gave the team confidence it even had a chance to win, there were a number of Canucks’ heroes both nights. On Sunday, captain Bo Horvat played an inspired game and won the game with an overtime goal. Last night, Quinn Hughes scored a goal and two assists for Vancouver to help lead team.
As Holtby said after the game, ”We just tried to go out there and work as hard as we can and grind as a unit.”
Holtby, looked ahead to add, “I think in order for us to have a chance we just have to approach every game as a must win, and I think these last two we’ve fortunately been on the right end of things but there’s going to still be work to do and improvement to be made in order for us to make a real push.”
In this edition of Canucks News & Rumors, I take a look at these two games against the Maple Leafs that both evened the team’s 2020-21 record at 18-18-3 and should offer the team hope there’s a playoff chance this season. Should that happen, we know from last season’s bubble magic just how surprising a Canucks’ playoff team can be.
Item One: Braden Holtby Evens His Season’s Record with Win
If you’re going to single out a few players responsible for the Canucks’ surprising success against the Maple Leafs in their recent two-game series, certainly goalie Braden Holtby would be one of those players. He came into the game with a 5-6-2 record, a goals-against-average of 3.44, and a save percentage of .899. He emerged with a record of 6-6-2, a goals-against-average of 3.41, and boosted his save percentage to .901.
He looked good in both games against the Maple Leafs, and certainly outplayed the Maple Leafs’ goalies on both nights. His two-game winning streak is the first time he’s won back-to-back games since he posted a three-game streak more than a year ago (Feb. 23-March 1, 2020) when he played for the Washington Capitals.
Holtby was simply magic in the two games as he helped lead a depleted Canucks’ team past the Maple Leafs. He was outstanding in Sunday’s win over the Maple Leafs, steering away 37 of 39 shots. Last night he stopped all but three of 40 Maple Leafs’ shots on net. In the end, his team couldn’t have asked for a better outcome in these two games after such a long layoff battling COVID.
Although Thatcher Demko was well enough to be the team’s backup goalie last night, it’s also likely that Holtby will get more chances to play based upon his performances in these two games. The Canucks meet the last-place Ottawa Senators on Thursday night. If they have any chance of working their way back into the playoff hunt, the team needs both goalies to have hot hands.
Item Two: Bo Horvat Has an Inspired Game on Sunday Night
Bo Horvat scored two goals with an assist in Sunday’s 3-2 win over the Maple Leafs. After the Maple Leafs had taken a 2-0 lead into the second, he scored to make the game 2-1 later in he second period. He then added an assist on Nils Hoglander’s game-tying goal in the third period. Finally, he won the game with a goal in overtime against Maple Leafs’ goalie Jack Campbell.
The 26-year-old Horvat now has 16 goals and 14 assists (for 30 points) in 39 games. Given that Elias Pettersson’s upper-body injury looks to keep him out for the foreseeable future, the team will be counting on Horvat to become its first-line center over the remainder of the regular season.
Item Three: Quinn Hughes Scores Three Points in 6-3 Win
Quinn Hughes scored a goal and two assists in Tuesday’s 6-3 win against the Maple Leafs. He hadn’t scored in his past three games – stretching for almost a month; nor, had he scored a goal since Feb. 13. However, the 21-year-old emerging defenseman ended that scoring drought in a big way.
His goal gave his team a short-lived lead midway through the second period, and then he had assists on goals by Nils Hoglander and Tanner Pearson. Hughes is now up to three goals and 28 assists (for 31 points) in 39 games. Almost half his points (15) have come with the man advantage. His assist on Pearson was a power-play assist.
What’s Next for the Canucks?
If the Canucks actually put on a run and make the playoffs, much will be pointed to these two games. After hanging in there after a month-long onslaught from the P1 variant of the coronavirus, these were both surprising and gutsy wins. There had to be much celebration in the Canucks’ locker room after both games.
As Canucks’ head coach Travis Green said after the first game, ‘‘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.”
Related: Top 3 All-Time Canucks Goalies
After the game, Horvat added: “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.”
From the aspect of a pure sports story, an under-manned team emerges with two wins like this. It sounds like fantasy; however, unfortunately for the Maple Leafs they were on the wrong side of the celebrations.
Regardless, it’s a good story.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf