After the humiliating opening of the Canucks series against the Vegas Golden Knights, who dominated their opponents on the ice and ridiculed them on the benches, Jacob Markstrom’s mental tenacity was again evident on Tuesday when he completed 38 saves in Vancouver’s 5-2 win.
And that total was actually surpassed by saves made by his teammates, who blocked 40 shots as the Canucks rose to even the best of seven playoffs.
In the final round, when Vancouver lost its 2-0 lead to the St. Louis Blues, Canucks coach Travis Green said he liked the way his team stood against the Stanley Cup champions. The Canucks were in action.
But they never came off the ropes in Sunday’s 5-0 loss to Vegas. On Tuesday, the Canucks stepped into the fight, spurred on by the return of injury from winger Tyler Toffoli, who scored in his first shift and finished with three points.
His production was matched by line-mate Elias Pettersson, who scored a key goal late in the second period after being stung like a “little throw” by the Vegas bench on Sunday.
But the Canucks were still beaten 40-27 Tuesday, including 22-7 in the second period, when Markstrom dug and brilliantly held his team in front.
“We talked to our group,” Green said after the game. “Call it motivation, call it whatever you like, we had to play better today. We had to have an answer. I was sure we would get a response from our group tonight. We’ve always had it in the past when we haven’t played as well as we should. That’s not to say you’re going to win, but I liked that we responded with a better game and equalized the streak.
“I thought we reacted really well,” said Canucks captain Bo Horvat. “I was proud of the way the guys did. We knew we had to be better. Obviously, they’re a great hockey team and we knew it. We knew we had to come out strong today and we did it, and we showed we can play with them. And Marky was standing on his head, which was obviously a plus for us too.
Horvat was aware of what was being shouted from the Knights’ Bench on Sunday. Without fans at Rogers Place, it’s not hard to hear if you can listen through the white noise of the F-bombs.
“We knew what it was like when they were winning and laughing and having a good time on the bench,” said Horvat. “We keep that in our mind for sure. We wanted to come out strong tonight and make a statement, and I thought we did. Obviously it was a lot quieter there. We will try to continue this way. ”
It could have gotten noisy again in the second period, but Markstrom stopped 21 of 22 shots in a frame when the shooting attempts were 40-9 for the Knights. Incredibly, the Canucks started and ended the period with a two-goal lead.
“It’s huge to keep a 1-1 period and build from that, from what we started in the first one,” said Markstrom. “Everyone believes in what we have done today.
“As a team we had to play better than in the first game. Today we did it and it’s obviously huge to get Toff back, and he scores right away. It is important for our group and our confidence. ”
Absent since the Canucks’ first qualifying round game on Aug. 2 with a sprained ankle, Toffoli scored just 1:29 in the game, sweeping away the remnants of Pettersson’s curl – the Canuck had overtaken defenseman Shea Theodore – in an open net.
Seven seconds into the start of their first power play, the Canucks made it 2-0 at 10:59 a.m. when Toffoli passed through the low lunge between three Knights and over the stick of Horvat, which took him passes goalkeeper Robin Lehner past.
Toffoli’s return restored the Canucks’ top six, although Green changed the lines from what they had been at the end of the regular season. Toffoli skated with Pettersson and Tanner Pearson, while JT Miller played alongside Horvat and face Brock Boeser.
“Getting everyone’s agreement, I was so excited,” Toffoli said of his return to the Stanley Cup tournament. “I felt like I was coming back to my first playoff series. It was fun coming back into the lineup and getting a big win and leveling the series.
After the 2-0 lead, the rest of the game came.
With the Golden Knights soaring, Alex Tuch cut the deficit in half at 6:34 of the second period after Theodore perfectly lobed the puck up and out and in the path of his teammate Nicolas Roy, who had a step on Hughes.
Next, Markstrom made a stack of tough saves before Pettersson, out of nowhere after a face-off in the offensive zone while left uncovered above the crease, took a pass from Alex Edler and took badly duped Lehner with a deke at 6:35 pm.
The Knights may still have been trying to figure out how they could dominate the second period, while still trailing 3-1, when Horvat scored again just 18 seconds after the third, converting Boeser’s pass after Edler’s hold. at the blue line caught the two Vegas defenders. cheat the ice and left a two against zero in front of Lehner.
Pearson, in an empty net, and Max Pacioretty traded late goals.
In the previous round, the Canucks reduced the Blues’ streak to a best of three.
Now their series against the Knights is a best-of-five. Trying to win is a little less intimidating than watching a Best of Seven. Understandably, few people would pick the Canucks to win either.
Much better Tuesday than Sunday, the Canucks could still have lost two or three goals without Markstrom. And even the best of Vancouver may not be good enough to beat Vegas. But at least the Canucks are back in the fight and demonstrated on Tuesday that they can punch even if they can’t face the Golden Knights.