In many ways, Bo Horvat is not like Kesler.
There are, however, a few striking similarities, the most obvious of which is Horvat’s ability to lead the Canucks from the second row. Kesler played behind Henrik Sedin. Horvat plays behind Elias Pettersson.
But against the Stanley Cup champion of the St. Louis Blues, Horvat plays in front of everyone.
He scored two scoring goals on Friday, including an overtime breakaway winner on an all-round assist from Quinn Hughes, as the Canucks won 4-3 to take a 2-0 lead in the first-round series.
Horvat has four goals in two games while skating with more speed and power than anyone. Two more wins will give the Canucks a decisive surprise against the defending champions in Vancouver’s first playoff tournament since 2015.
“There’s that stereotype where you say guys are built for the playoffs,” lineman Tanner Pearson said after the Canucks survived a two-goal slump in the final 11 minutes. “It’s perfect with Bo. Hard, heavy at the bottom, does a lot of things right. So he definitely shows up and he shows the way for us. We’re following him right now, which we’ll do in the blink of an eye.
Pearson also scored on Friday, but the only Canuck near Horvat was goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who made 34 saves and would have scored the victory in regulation if David Perron’s chest deflection had tied the game 3-3 against teammate Jaden Schwartz with 6.4 seconds remaining did not withstand a video review.
Horvat, who spectacularly woven between veteran Blues Schwartz and Brayden Schenn before defeating goaltender Jordan Binnington in the first period to open the shorthanded lead, surprised Binnington with a quick shot between his feet at 5:55 am into overtime.
The breakaway was started by the young genius Hughes, the Calder Trophy finalist, 20, who takes the game to a higher level than almost everyone.
Here’s how Hughes analyzed his weighted bank pass to Horvat behind the Blues defense as St. Louis center Tyler Bozak was about to bury the defenseman along the boards in the Canucks’ zone: “I’m in. sort of pulled out of the corner with the puck. The. I don’t know who their D was – I think it was (Vince) Dunn – and he was kinda in the middle, not too much on the boards. And especially him being left-handed, I thought it would be difficult for him to get this pass (to his right). Obviously I wanted to make a straight pass but I don’t think that was an option.
“I don’t know how many guys could pull off the pass Hughes pulled off,” Vancouver coach Travis Green marveled. “You could see (the game developing) from the bench. Sometimes you see a play and you wonder if the guy can do the play. And he’s one of those players who can make those quick, long passes even when he’s tired and under pressure. And Bo read the play. Two good players who make good games.
Half of the Canucks’ roster had never made an NHL playoff game until this month. Horvat, the team captain, hadn’t played one since being a rookie in 2015 when Vancouver lost in the first round to the Calgary Flames.
The Canucks’ qualifying-round victory last week over Minnesota was the franchise’s first playoff victory since 2011, and their current five-game winning streak is Vancouver’s longest since 2009. That streak has started. by a four-game sweep of the Blues. .
“It hasn’t been fun, for sure,” Horvat said of the past four years when the Canucks have lost more games than anyone except the Buffalo Sabers. “I’m the kind of guy who watches the playoffs when you’re not there. You want to see what it is. It’s the best kind of hockey you can play. I wanted to come back here for four years and luckily we are back now. It just needs to keep going. It’s a lot of fun, the team is playing well and we still have to win two more hockey games here.
Horvat was horrible when the tournament opened against Minnesota and improved his game from there. His six goals in six games lead the playoffs.
“He’s playing phenomenally right now,” Green said. “The last three games are as good as I’ve seen them maybe in my (three seasons) here. I know he wasn’t happy with his game in the first couple. The good thing about Bo is that you can be honest with him, be honest with his game. He’s a big body that can skate. If anyone is made for playoff hockey, it’s Bo Horvat and he’s definitely on top of his game right now.
The Horvat-Pearson-Loui Eriksson line was essential going 2-0 because Ryan O’Reilly, winner of the St. Louis Selke Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy, transformed Pettersson and his line mates Brock Boeser and JT Miller as power play specialists.
The Canucks’ lead line is still pretty good at that, however, and generated two more power play goals on Friday.
Special teams were a huge advantage for the Canucks, but they needed Horvat and Markstrom and the strong defensemen they showed in the playoffs that they often missed during the regular season.
They did enough to lose on Friday, blowing a two-goal lead in the third period, but they won nonetheless. They also won without 20-minute defender Tyler Myers, who was injured in the final period after being pushed head first into the boards by Schenn, who was not penalized.
“It’s a tough goal for a young group to give up,” Green said of Schwartz’s equalizer. “You’re heading into extra time (after) six seconds off a 2-0 lead. I have been fairly honest with them. I just said, “Hey, if you had given us extra time in Game 2 to go 2-0 up, we would have taken it a few days ago and ran with it. We are well placed here. Let’s go win the game now and don’t worry about what happened in the past. Let’s be worried for now. ”
The Blues can be worried at the moment.