It took five years for the Canucks to get back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and after Game One it was almost enough to make you wish they hadn’t at all.
In a regular best-of-seven series every game matters, and in a best-of-five even more so. But by the time the buzzer sounded and the Minnesota Wild surrounded Alex Stalock to celebrate his first playoff win (and shutout), the Canucks hadn’t just lost an important game. They’d wasted one.
The first period was an absolute mess in execution. Passes weren’t connecting, shots were all coming from the blue line and the one chance the Canucks had at a man advantage, they got overzealous and sent one too many players out on the delayed call.
Vancouver seemed to tighten up as the game went on, but things unravelled quickly in the late stages. After being one of the Canucks’ most consistently smart players all season, Tanner Pearson needlessly chopped Stalock down behind the net. Then when Luke Kunin grabbed Micheal Ferland’s stick from the Wild bench, Ferland pulled it away and speared Ryan Hartman with it, earning himself a thousand dollar fine today.
As much as Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser tried to get the Canucks offense going, they ran into a Minnesota defense that refused to give up an inch of ice around their goalie. And when the team needed a goal most in the late stages, Ferland and Antoine Roussel were preoccupied battling with the Wild’s own agitator in Hartman.
For any criticism Jacob Markstrom might’ve faced thanks to the weak Kevin Fiala shot that juuuust squeaked through his arm, he made up for it in the next 50 minutes. While the blue line in front of him seemed unable to string passes together, Markstrom still stonewalled the Wild on 29 shots and even attempted to get the offense going himself a few times.
But no matter how good Markstrom was after the early goal, it wasn’t going to matter if his teammates couldn’t put the puck in the net. Stalock did have a few great stops, but left a lot of rebounds lying around that Canucks forwards couldn’t break through the Minnesota defense to capitalize on.
If there’s a silver lining to be found from last night, it’s that this might’ve been the worst the Canucks have played since the season began 10 long months ago. It certainly wasn’t the team that completely crushed the Boston Bruins in February. If Vancouver’s able to settle themselves down, stay far more disciplined and make Stalock work a lot harder to prevent juicy rebounds, the only place they’ll have left to go is up.
The Main Stage
Long before the NHL even had the cities for the playoffs nailed down, they knew they’d have a rare opportunity to showcase the sport for a purely broadcast audience. And from what we’ve seen in Edmonton and Toronto so far, I think they nailed it.
Bo Horvat described the look of Edmonton’s Rogers Place as “a video game”, and not only is that description apt, it’s exactly what the league was going for. The massive screens behind the players’ benches really do evoke memories of playing NHL Threes, and the added camera angles really do make for a more in-depth broadcast (even though they don’t provide extra access to them through the league’s streaming services).
That’s not to say I don’t have notes. For starters, why on earth are they playing the away team’s goal horns? It makes no sense and takes out part of the “home ice advantage” aspect.
You could tell the NHL was already making tweaks to the audio game to game on Day 1. After a moment of silence for the late Eddie Shack before Leafs/Canadiens had very little silence, they made sure to turn the crowd noise completely down for the moment of silence commemorating the passing of Colby Cave in Edmonton prior to Oilers/Flames.
Overall, I’d like to see the home ice aspect more on display than it has been, but other than that the NHL seems to have put together an excellent show. It might even entice desperate quarantiners to give hockey a watch for the first time.
Blue Jackets 2, Leafs 0 (Game 1): At least the Canucks weren’t the only Canadian team to get shutout tonight, right?
This game was a goalie battle between Freddie Andersen and Joonas Korpisalo, and Andersen was the only one to blink. Once they had the lead off Cam Atkinson’s third period goal, the Jackets played the type of defense that’s a staple of a John Tortorella coached team. Surely watching one of the league’s best offenses won’t create a massive Twitter panic storm in Toronto.
Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (Game 1): It’d been 89 games since a Predators goalie not named Pekka Rinne started a playoff game, and it got off to a rough beginning for Juuse Saros.
For the record, as a 5-foot-10 netminder I don’t appreciate the amount of “a tall goalie would’ve stopped that” tweets I saw. Either way, it didn’t set Saros and the Preds up for a successful evening.
Power plays seem to be on the rise during Return to Play; the Coyotes and Predators combined for 13 minor penalties and both teams scored twice on the man advantage. And credit where it’s due to the Coyotes, who really made the best out of their chances, no matter how weird they were.
Avalanche 2, Blues 1 (Round Robin): Who says round robin playoff hockey can’t be fun?
The Avalanche clearly deserved the victory tonight, and they got it in the wildest way possible. Even though St. Louis opened the scoring early, the Avs were all over the Blues from start to finish, and if not for playoff mode Jordan Binnington they would’ve ran away with this game in the early going.
The Blues were able to weather the storm for most of the night, but eventually Colorado broke through to tie in the third before Nazem Kadri became the first round robin hero. Need to see a little more from the defending champs if they want to repeat.
Flyers 4, Bruins 1 (Round Robin): I have to make a confession: the Philadelphia Flyers are one of the teams I watched the least this season, and boy was that a mistake. Gritty’s crew is fun and incredibly skilled. They made the dominant Bruins look like the Red Wings.
Carter Hart definitely has the potential to be this year’s Jordan Binnington, and the scoring contributions from Michael Raffl and Nate Thompson put Philly’s excellent depth on full display. And while I obviously don’t feel sympathy for the Bruins, I will leave Boston fans with a positive thought. If the B’s get the “Curse of the President’s Trophy” out of the way in the round robin, maybe they won’t have to worry about it when eliminations return?
Are you new to hockey or just looking for a fun refresher on the rules? The Puck Bunnies, Christina and Audrey, have you covered with their introductory class on Substack, which goes through the basics of the game and then some. And after you’re done reading, their podcast is pretty phenomenal too.
CanucksArmy’s Chris Faber did a story on popular Canucks YouTuber Clay Imoo and how he was among the lucky few fans asked to supply cheering videos for Vancouver’s home playoff games. Clay is a beacon of goodness within the Canucks fanbase and an extremely kind person to everyone he meets at the rink.
Harman Dayal is bringing player report cards to The Athletic’s Canucks playoff coverage. Needless to say not many came out of last night’s contest looking great in Boy Genius’ eyes. Make sure to check it out.
Good one, NHL. Good one.
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