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The Vancouver Canucks are looking to go where only three teams in franchise history have gone before tonight.
With a win against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7, the Canucks would advance to the Conference Final for just the fourth time in the team’s 50-year history. The only other Canucks teams to make it to the third round of the playoffs also made it to the Stanley Cup Final, in 1982, 1994, and 2011.
Vancouver is 6-5 all-time in Game 7s and have overcome a 3-1 series deficit on three occasions. The Golden Knights blew a 3-1 series and lost to the San Jose Sharks in their only Game 7 experience last year.
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It won’t be easy though. The Golden Knights have outplayed the Canucks through most of the series, but Vancouver has battled back from a 3-1 series deficit on the strength of great goaltending from rookie Thatcher Demko and timely goals from their young stars.
Game 7 goes tonight, from the NHL bubble in Edmonton, at 6 pm PT on Sportsnet. It’s the 12th Game 7 in Canucks history, and just the second ever for the Golden Knights.
The winner of this series won’t get much of a break, as the NHL has announced that the Western Conference Final will begin Sunday at 5 pm PT.
The game comes on the second half of a back-to-back, so fatigue could become a factor. Demko is expected to start in net again for the Canucks, while Vegas has a choice between Robin Lehner again or Marc-Andre Fleury, who is rested.
“Our group’s excited to play,” said Canucks head coach Travis Green at today’s media conference. “We’ve got a lot of energy today.”
“With a younger group, there’s a lot of excitement,” said Green. “A lot of belief in our team. I think at 3-to-1, a lot of people probably didn’t think we’d be in this position. But within our group I think there was confidence that we could get it to this point. They’re excited to play tonight.”
Many players on the Canucks didn’t have playoff experience coming into this postseason, never mind Game 7 experience. But they’ve managed to find a way to stave off elimination twice.
The Canucks’ best young players have been excellent in their first taste of playoff hockey. Canucks captain Bo Horvat leads the NHL with 10 playoff goals, while Elias Pettersson is tied with J.T. Miller for fourth in playoff points. Rookie Quinn Hughes is second among all NHL defencemen in playoff points.
Those players, along with their supporting cast, need to rise to the occasion again tonight.
“We talk about composure, confidence, wanting the puck,” Green said. “I think if you have those words and you talk about those things throughout a season, when you get to a situation like that you always have something to go back on and really rely on.
“Tonight’s a big game, it’s going to be an exciting game. There’s obviously pressure, you want that pressure as a player, but you still got to do the things that you always do and what’s got you here.”