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The Vancouver Canucks have played just one postseason game, but it’s awfully close to do or die for them already.
Down 1-0 in the series following a 3-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild in Game 1, the Canucks and Wild meet again tonight for Game 2 at 7:45 pm PT.
The first game didn’t go well for Vancouver, who were outplayed by the tight-checking Wild. Here’s what needs to happen tonight to change the Canucks’ fortunes.
1. Pettersson needs to fight through checks
The Wild did a masterful job of slowing down the Canucks on Sunday, while paying close attention to Elias Pettersson. The 21-year-old Canucks star will need to be a quick learner in his first NHL postseason.
Minnesota is going to try to make life miserable for him, that much is certain.
Pettersson will need to fight through checks while the referees put their whistles away, as they tend do in the playoffs.
"I think it was what I expected: high-intense game, a lot of hits and both teams were battling. Both teams want to win. Game 1 to Minnesota. I’m looking forward to Game 2." – Pettersson
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) August 3, 2020
On Sunday, Pettersson looked close to breaking through. Hopefully he can break down the door tonight.
2. MVP Markstrom needs to return
Jacob Markstrom was good, not great, for the Canucks in Game 1. Unfortunately for the Canucks, they’re not built to win with average goaltending on most nights.
Markstrom made a number of big saves, but Kevin Fiala’s opening goal was one he should have had. The 30-year-old goalie took ownership for that one, as well as the second goal by Jared Spurgeon, scored while Markstrom was partially screened by Alex Edler following a defensive miscue by Tyler Motte.
It's not often you beat two goalies five hole on the same goal pic.twitter.com/mqVfJ0lcRA
— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) August 3, 2020
“Those two goals obviously you want them back. Their goalie didn’t do any mistakes tonight and I did two,” Markstrom said on Sunday.
If the Canucks are going to win this series, Markstrom will need to be one of the three stars on most nights. At the very least, he needs to outplay Wild goalie Alex Stalock.
3. Get to the middle of the ice
Markstrom can play the game of his life tonight, but he needs his teammates to score at the other end of the ice.
The Canucks did none of that in Game 1, of course. The Wild did a masterful job defensively, which included giving extra attention to the Canucks’ top young players.
They’ll need to fight through that tonight, and get to the middle of the ice.
This heat map from Game 1 was telling. On the left are Minnesota’s attempted shots towards Vancouver’s net. On the right are Canucks attempts on the Wild net.
The Canucks didn’t put many shots on goal from right in front of Wild goalie Stalock, which is a problem that Canucks head coach Travis Green addressed following the game.
“They’re a good team, you’ve got to give them credit. They know how to defend,” said Green. “It felt like we spent a lot of time in their end. We didn’t get to the net enough… We’re probably going to have to do a better job of getting to the net if we want to score.”
Fight for space, screen Stalock, and bang in a dirty goal.
4. Draw more penalties
The Canucks’ power play was one of the best in the NHL this season, so needless to say, they need to get it working for them.
They had just one power play attempt on Sunday, though they would have had a second but a too many men penalty wiped it out.
That’s not close to enough.
5. Be more disciplined
The Canucks took far too many needless penalties in Game 1, including a needless slashing penalty by Tanner Pearson to the back of Stalock’s legs to start the third period.
The Wild had four power plays, and scored on two of them.
6. Shake things up
Speaking of Green, he needs to shake up his lineup to give the Wild a different look.
That probably means inserting Jake Virtanen, who scored 18 goals in the regular season, but Zack MacEwen and Loui Eriksson are also candidates.
Practices are closed to the media during these pandemic playoffs, so we won’t know what the team is planning until game time.
The biggest lineup issue Green needs to fix is the third line, centred by Adam Gaudette, which struggled mightily in Game 1. Green could insert Virtanen for Gaudette, then move Brandon Sutter to the middle to centre the third line.
Perhaps the coach would trust his third line more in that scenario, though Sutter has traditionally been an offensive black hole with the Canucks.
If I was in charge, I would give Gaudette another chance, remove Motte from the lineup to make room for Virtanen, reunite Brock Boeser with Pettersson and JT Miller, and move Ferland to the fourth line:
The trouble with taking out Motte is that Miller or Antoine Roussel would then have to kill penalties regularly. I’d argue that’s not necessarily a bad thing though.
— Rob Williams (@RobTheHockeyGuy) August 3, 2020
7. Play like a desperate team
It’s playoff time. The Canucks need to be smart, they need to be patient, but they also need to want it more than the other team.
And they need to show desperation.
Finish every bodycheck. Battle for every loose puck.
Fight for space.
Play like your season is on the line.
Do all that and they’ll win Game 2.