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THE MOJ: Canucks stick with the plan and it pays off with Game 1 victory

Team refused to waver and press after falling behind and it paid off
Vancouver Canucks’ Dakota Joshua, left to right, Teddy Blueger, Tyler Myers, J.T. Miller and Carson Soucy celebrate Joshua’s second goal against the Nashville Predators during the third period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series, in Vancouver, on Sunday, April 21, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Dakota Joshua described it as a ‘spectacle’. Quinn Hughes said it was ‘electric’.

It was the atmosphere at Rogers Arena as playoff hockey returned to Vancouver for the first time in nine years on Sunday night.

The Vancouver Canucks didn’t disappoint the sell-out crowd of 18,967 as they scored three third period goals – the last one into an empty net – to defeat the Nashville Predators 4-2 in game one of their first-round playoff series.

“When we came out on the ice today it was probably one of the more special things I’ve been a part of other than the birth of my children and my wedding. It’s hard not to get choked up when you see that,” J.T. Miller said after the game.

“That literally is everything – that emotion, that noise and the towels. If you can’t get up for that, you have something wrong with you. That was amazing. Once the first couple of shifts subsided, it was nice to settle in and play the game but I think I got a different perspective of what hockey means to these people here.”

Despite the energy in the building, it was the Predators who opened the scoring on a goal by Jason Zucker at 16:15 of the first period and led 1-0 after 20 minutes of play,

The Canucks battled back with an early second period goal by Elias Lindholm 0:47 seconds into the period but Ryan O’Reilly’s goal on the power play at 10:46 gave the Preds a 2-1 lead after forty minutes.

After Nashville went ahead, the Canucks came to a fork in the road.

Do they succumb to the pressure, press and make a mistake to give Nashville a 3-1 lead? Or do they hold steady until an opportunity arises?

Luckily for Canuck Nation it was the latter on this night as Pius Suter scored at 8:59 and then Joshua scored 12 seconds later to give the Canucks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Joshua added an empty netter at 18:32 to clinch the win.

In a way, the Canucks had been preparing for this situation – and for this game – all season long.

Since training camp, Vancouver head coach Rick Tocchet has preached to stay ‘even keel’ and to be patient in critical situations.

Being down 2-1 at home in your first playoff game with an amped up crowd tested that mantra and the Canucks passed the test.

“It helped a lot. We’ve been working on it all year. We’ve talked countless times throughout the season exactly for moments like this. It’s what we have been building for – how to approach it physically and mentally. When things go bad or go well, it should be even-keel and they guys did a good job tonight,” stated Tyler Myers.

“We could have pressed and got off our game but we didn’t. We played strong, mature hockey. We let the game come to us and we didn’t give them too much. We knew we were going to have our looks,” said Hughes.

You can talk scheme, you can talk Corsi or PDO or whatever other analytical data you can uncover but the game is decided in the purest form – winning one-on-one puck battles – and it was a key in the Canucks success on Sunday night. Whether it was winning that battle in the defensive zone to start the rush as was the case in the first two Canuck goals or whether it was Lindholm and Conor Garland doing the dirty work to set up Joshua’s game winner, having the will to win that one-on-one is paramount to success.

“It all starts somewhere on the ice – winning a one-on-one battle. All the goals are scored like that no matter what zone it’s in. That’s how a lot of goals are going to be scored in the playoffs. I just take pride in trying to win every battle I’m in,” stated Joshua.

“A lot of times off the forecheck you get one chance to keep the puck and if you win that battle and get the puck to the ‘D’ that could start a thirty second shift – or two or three shifts in a row - in their end. It’s a big play and we talk about it all the time. If you lose that puck battle that might mean that shift you’re playing defense. We take a lot of pride in those and it’s something we can even be better at,” explained Miller.

As for Tocchet, he was happy with his team’s performance in the puck battles, but as always, saw areas in which the Canucks could improve in.

“It was good. I think there’s another level. I think our edge battles off the draws – that’s one thing I think we’ve got to improve on. I think that has to be improved. It was a pretty low-event game in some respect but I think some of the chances they got were off (winning) draws,” said Tocchet.


* Thatcher Demko made 20 saves – including an incredible save of Nashville’s Anthony Beauvillier two minutes into the game. Demko came sprawling across his crease and got his right leg out to stop Beauvillier’s back door re-direct attempt. Nashville’s Juuse Saros made 17 saves in a losing effort.

* Vancouver was 0-2 on the power play while Nashville was 1-4.

* Nashville head coach Andrew Brunette is confident his team will bounce back in game two Tuesday night at Rogers Arena. “I think this group has been resilient. We’ve handled adversity all year. I think to a man we probably didn’t play our best but we’ve done a really good job of just moving straight ahead. Just forget about it - rinse it. It was a fun game…I was proud of our group -how they handled it early and how we started – in my mind – to take the game over but we just didn’t finish the job. So lesson learned. It’s a long series and we can’t wait for the next game.”

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.

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