EDMONTON – It helps in a fight when your goalkeeper is your toughest player.
After the Canucks’ humiliating start against the Vegas Golden Knights, who dominated their opponents on the ice and mocked them on the benches, Jacob Markstrom’s mental hardship showed again on Tuesday when he scored 38 saves in the 5-2 victory in Vancouver.
And that total was actually surpassed by teammates’ saves who blocked 40 shots as the Canucks rose from the canvas to enter the best-of-seven playoff series themselves.
In the final round, as Vancouver extended their 2-0 lead over the St. Louis Blues, Canucks manager Travis Green said he loved the way his team went head to toe against the Stanley Cup champions. The Canucks were in combat.
However, they never got off the ropes in their 5-0 loss to Vegas on Sunday. The Canucks entered the fight on Tuesday, compounded by the return of winger Tyler Toffoli from injury, who scored a goal on his first shift and finished with three points.
His production was complemented by linemate Elias Pettersson, who scored an important goal late in the second half after being tweeted as a “little splash” from the Vegas bank on Sunday.
But the Canucks had still taken a 40-27 lead on Tuesday, including 22-7 in the second half when Markstrom dug in and kept his team brilliantly ahead.
“We spoke to our group,” said Green after the game. “Call it motivation, call it what you want, we had to play better today. We had to have an answer. I was confident that we would get an answer from our group tonight. We always had it in the past when we didn’t play as well as we should. That doesn’t mean you will win, but I thought it was good that we responded with a better game and balanced the series. “
“I thought we reacted really well,” said Canucks captain Bo Horvat. “I was proud of the way the guys did it. We knew we had to be better. Obviously they are a great ice hockey team and we knew it. We knew we had to come out strong today and we showed that we can play with them. And Marky was upside down, which of course was a plus for us too. “
Horvat was aware of what was being shouted from the knight’s bench on Sunday. Without fans in Rogers Place, it’s not hard to hear if you can listen through the white noise of the F-bombs.
“We knew what it felt like when they won, laughed and had a good time on the bench,” said Horvat. “We’ll definitely keep that in mind. We wanted to come out strong tonight and make a statement and I thought we did. Obviously it was much quieter there. We’ll try to keep it that way. “
It could have been loud again in the second phase, but Markstrom stopped 21 of 22 shots in a frame when the Knights shot attempts were 40-9. Incredibly, the Canucks started and ended the period two goals ahead.
“It’s huge to keep a 1: 1 period and build from what we started in the first phase,” said Markstrom. “Everyone believes in what we did today.
“As a team we had to play better than we did in Game 1. We did that today and it’s obviously huge to get Toff back and he scores straight away. This is great for our group and our trust. “
Since the Canucks’ first qualifying round game on August 2 with an ankle sprain, Toffoli has only scored 1:29 in the game and swept the remains of Pettersson’s wrap-around – the Canuck had zoomed past defender Shea Theodore – into an open net.
Seven seconds after their first power play, the Canucks made it 2-0 at 10:59 a.m. when Toffoli slid a pass into the low slot between three Knights and onto Horvat’s stick, who shot him past goalkeeper Robin Lehner.
Toffoli’s return restored the Canucks’ top 6 despite Green changing lines from the end of the regular season. Toffoli skated with Pettersson and Tanner Pearson, while JT Miller moved next to Horvat and across from Brock Boeser.
“When everyone gave me the OK, I was really excited,” said Toffoli of the return to the Stanley Cup tournament. “I felt like I was going back to my first playoff series. It was fun getting back on the line-up, scooping a big win and binding the series. “
After the 2-0 lead came the rest of the game.
With the rise of the Golden Knights, Alex Tuch halved the deficit at 6:34 a.m. in the second half after Theodore had tossed the puck perfectly up and out and made his way to the grazing teammate Nicolas Roy, who had a step on Hughes .
Then Markstrom made a bunch of difficult stops before Pettersson out of nowhere after an attack in the offensive zone when he remained uncovered over the crease, took a pass from Alex Edler and Lehner badly deceived at 18:35 with a deke.
The Knights may still have been trying to figure out how to dominate the second period, but they left 3-1 when Horvat scored again just 18 seconds after the third, converting Boeser’s pass after Edler’s keep-in at the blue line caught both Vegas defenders had ice cheat and let a two-on-zero in front of Lehner.
Pearson, into an empty net, and Max Pacioretty exchanged late goals.
In the preliminary round, the Canucks reduced the Blues series to a best-of-three.
Now her series against the knights is a best-of-five. Trying to win that is a little less daunting than staring at a best-of-seven. Understandably, not many would pick the Canucks to win either.
Far better than Tuesday, the Canucks could still have lost two or three goals if it hadn’t been for Markstrom. And even Vancouver’s best may not be good enough to beat Vegas. But at least the Canucks are back in the fight, showing on Tuesday that they can score some hits even if they can’t take on the Golden Knights.