Canucks demonstrate the height of their floor in Game 1 win over Predators

Dakota Joshua had a pair of goals, including the eventual game-winner, Thatcher Demko made 20 saves, and the Vancouver Canucks took Game 1 over the Nashville Predators 4-2.

By Iain MacIntyre,

If the Vancouver Canucks are lucky, they will show everyone a soaring, vaulted ceiling at some point during the Stanley Cup playoffs. But in Game 1 on Sunday, they demonstrated the height of their floor.

That was impressive, too.

With almost half of their lineup – and nearly all of their core players – experiencing the emotional storm of real playoff hockey for the first time, in an atmosphere electrically charged by the first post-season game in Vancouver in nine years, the Canucks didn’t come close to their ceiling against the Nashville Predators.

But their floor, that baseline foundation built over the last 15 months by coach Rick Tocchet and his staff and fully embraced by players whose main experience in Vancouver had been losing, carried the Canucks through opening night the same way it did during their 50-win regular season.

Down 1-0 early and still trailing 2-1 in the third period, the Canucks simply stuck to their principles of speed and pressure and positional discipline and got goals 12 seconds apart from Quinn Hughes and Dakota Joshua and beat the Predators 4-2.

Game 2 is Tuesday. And the nine guys in the Vancouver lineup who had never experienced National Hockey League playoffs in front of fans, now have an idea what they are about. Their beliefs in how to handle them were powerfully reinforced on Sunday.

“First off, I’m happy for them to be able to experience this for the first time,” veteran defenceman Tyler Myers said. “But also the type of game it was, they got a real big taste of what playoff hockey is like. I thought everyone handled it well. The whole group handled that well. It’s good for them to feel it and experience it and now we’ve just got to keep going.

“It’s part of us maturing as a group. When things don’t go well, maybe before we would have tried to open things up and get out of our system and play shinny hockey. We’re working hard to play the same way no matter what goes on. I thought we displayed that tonight.”

The not going well part is far better than it used to be.

Understandably, the Canucks were a little overwound in the first period, when they managed only four shots on net and complicated their play with the puck at times. 

Except for taking three penalties in just over six minutes, the Canucks got better in the second period, then took the game away from the Predators in the third.

Pius Suter tied it 2-2 at 8:59 by deflecting a Hughes wrist shot from the point that zipped past screening teammate J.T. Miller before eluding Nashville goalie Juuse Saros.

And on the next shift, Elias Lindholm knocked Predator defenceman Jeremy Lauzon off the puck behind the Nashville net, allowing Canuck Conor Garland to fetch it and centre to unmarked Dakota Joshua, who slung a shot into the top corner over Saros’ right shoulder. It caused the loudest eruption in Rogers Arena since Vancouver went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011.

Joshua’s breakthrough season included an empty-net goal at 18:32.

Joshua and Garland have been driving the Canucks’ third line all season and, with Lindholm installed by Tocchet in the middle of it when the centre returned from injury four games before the end of the regular season, the unit could be a massive X-factor in this series.

Lindholm’s wrist shot from distance was misplayed by Saros 45 seconds into the second period when the Canucks tied it 1-1, only to fall behind again at 10:46 when Teddy Blueger’s interference penalty preceded a power-play goal by Ryan O’Reilly.

“I think… we could be a really good line,” Lindholm said. “Obviously tonight, we had a solid game. There’s ways we can improve. But like you said, third line, you’re not going to get that top pair (of Nashville defencemen) too often. Hopefully we can use that.

“A lot of guys haven’t played in a long time in the playoffs. There’s always some nerves going into this game; you could tell a lot of guys were kind of nervous. But I think that’s a good thing, too. The first period, everyone is so fired up, there’s not a lot of plays being made out there. After half the game, we kind of settled. But I think this group has done a tremendous job throughout the whole year to stay with it. And obviously tonight we got rewarded.”

Especially, Sunday, they got rewarded.

There was a lot of discussion before the playoffs about how the Canucks’ youngish core, Hughes and goalie Thatcher Demko, forwards Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, would deal with the atmosphere and ferocity of the Stanley Cup tournament.

But even veterans like Miller, Myers and Lindholm felt emotions swell as they skated out before the anthems to U2’s ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ as fans long-starved for playoff hockey screamed and twirled towels.

“Goosebumps,” Lindholm said.

“My head was on a different planet tonight,” Miller said. “That atmosphere was incredible. I mean, when we came out there, that was a special moment I’ll always remember. And I guarantee you they (playoff rookies) always will, too. We have better in us. But I just thought we looked pretty good for the most part.”

Canuck fans are accustomed to screaming at playoff time, but not always in a good way. Before Sunday, their team had lost seven of nine playoff home games — only nine games! — since the Canuck franchise peaked in 2011 by taking a 3-2 series lead against the Bruins before collapsing in the final.

Maybe this reborn Canucks team, with its strong foundation and strong beliefs binding together a lot of talent, will be different.

“We’ve talked countless times throughout the season exactly for moments like this,” Myers told reporters. “It’s what we’ve been building for — how to approach it physically, mentally, when things go bad and things go good. Guys did a good job tonight.

“When I stepped out on the ice before puck drop, I took a moment, looked at the fans. It was a pretty special moment. I know they’ve been waiting for this for a while.”

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