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THE MOJ: Will — and special teams — crucial as Canucks return to the playoffs

First-round foes Nashville might not be as talented as Vancouver but they are determined
Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (74) defends the goal against the Vancouver Canucks right wing Brock Boeser (6) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. The Canucks won 5-2. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

Here we go.

For the first time in what seems an eternity, there will be playoff hockey at Rogers Arena.

The Vancouver Canucks will be playing the Nashville Predators in the first round of the National Hockey League playoffs with the best-of-seven series beginning Sunday in Vancouver.

It will be the second post-season matchup between the two organizations, The previous one was during the Canucks Stanley Cup final run of 2011. The Canucks won that Western Conference semi-final series in six games to advance to the conference finals against San Jose before eventually losing to the Boston Bruins in the legendary 2011 Stanley Cup showdown.

The Canucks swept their three-game season series against the Predators, winning 3-2 in Nashville on Oct. 24, 5-2 on Halloween in Vancouver, and completing the sweep with a 5-2 victory in The Music City on Dec. 19.

But it’s a different Nashville team that Vancouver will be facing since they last met.

After dropping the game to the Canucks prior to Christmas, the Predators sat at 18-14-0.

Since that time, they have gone 29-16-5 which included a stretch of 18 games without a loss in regulation.

Long time Predators play-by-play voice Pete Weber wants to know which Nashville team will show up.

“I’m curious to see if it’s the team that we saw prior to the New Year or the one that had an amazing turnaround from January onwards,” said Weber, who has been calling Preds games on the radio since the team’s inception in 1998.

Weber was just one of a handful of people that we reached out to asking what is the one question that you want to see answered in this series?

For ESPN’s Ray Ferraro, it’s how these two young teams handle the pressure of the playoffs.

“I’m curious to see how both team’s relative playoff inexperience plays out. Nashville plays a straight-ahead game against a defensively sound Vancouver group and I’m curious whose style of play will be able to be imposed most often in the series. I see this as a really even series. I would pick Vancouver in six, but I think these are two teams that most will look past and they really shouldn’t,” explained Ferraro.

For TSN’s Craig Button, it’s about will.

“I think Rick Tocchet looked at his team at the end of February and said we have to start getting prepared for the playoffs. The playoffs require us to fight for every square inch of ice, to battle for every puck, to make sure we’re not giving anything away,” said Button.

“I think Rick and the coaching staff recognized that their team was going to be in the playoffs, but to be successful in the playoffs, they had to go through the process of what I would call hardening up. And I think Rick really did a nice job of getting them to focus on that. Do they have a good goaltender? No question. Is there defense good? Yeah. Do they have difference makers? Yeah. But once you get into the hard areas versus good teams, it’s will as much as it is skill. I think Rick identified that time as critically important for his team to dig in.

“Nashville plays hard, they’re competitive and they’re on you. I don’t think they have more skill than the Canucks but are the Canucks prepared to show that they have the requisite ability to dig in and make sure that they’re on the right side more times than not in the critical and important battles in the game.”

For TNT’s Paul ‘Biz Nasty’ Bissonnette, it boils down to the Canucks secondary scoring – especially if goaltender Thatcher Demko isn’t 100%.

“Vancouver needs their secondary scoring. If Demko isn’t at the top of his game due to that injury, they will really need it. Conor Garland, Dakota Joshua and (Elias) Lindholm will be big keys to Vancouver’s success. Rick Tocchet has them playing well and it should be a great series,” says Bissonnette.

There all great points by the aforementioned ‘hockey insiders’ and I agree with all of them but this agent will add another point.

I want to see if the Canucks special teams can be special. As The Athletic’s Harman Dayal pointed out, Vancouver’s special teams since the All-Star break have been dismal with the power play unit ranking 25th while the penalty kill ranked 2oth. Playoff games are usually tight ones and special teams can win – or lose – you a series.

Those two units desperately need to be better if the Canucks are to have success in the post-season.

I’m looking forward to getting some answers.


* The first game of the series will take place on Sunday. Game two will take place on Tuesday at Rogers Arena. Games three and four will be in Nashville on Friday, April 26 and Sunday, April 28 respectively. If necessary, game five will take place on Tuesday, April 30 at Rogers Arena, game six will be at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday, May 2 with game seven the following night at Rogers Arena. Concerts in both arenas are the cause for the irregular schedule.

* The series could prove to be a costly series for a pair of Preds. North Vancouver’s Colton Sissons and Burnaby’s Dante Fabbro always have plenty of family and friends attending games in Vancouver.

* The Canucks wrapped up their season with a 4-2 loss to the Jets in Winnipeg on Thursday. The Jets got two goals from Cole Perfetti with Nikita Chibrikov and Gabriel Vilardi also adding tallies. Conor Garland – with his 20th - and Elias Lindholm scored for Vancouver. Thatcher Demko made 24 saves for Vancouver while Laurent Broissoit stopped 18 shots for Winnipeg.

* The Canucks finished the season with 109 points – the third highest total in team history.

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

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