It’s been the shiny things that have really struck us with the Vancouver Canucks.
All season long, but especially since the NHL’s restart, we’ve watched a wizard continue to transform their back line, and by extension their complete process. We’ve witnessed their captain morph into something resembling Mark Messier. We’ve seen a legitimate superstar centre continue to blossom, and now challenge for the postseason lead in points. We’ve tracked a winger, his career resuscitated, leave little doubt that his acquisition was indeed worth it. And we’ve seen a netminder who has been around much longer than you might expect seize his first chance to deliver on the big stage.
It’s these revelations that have the most to do with the team’s success, there is no doubt. But the dirty secret in Vancouver is that the Canucks are more than Quinn Hughes, and Bo Horvat, and Elias Pettersson, and J.T. Miller, and Jakob Markstrom.
And they’ve proven that now.
The Canucks now have a significant accomplishment in this current era, having completed an upset series victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues with a 6-2 triumph in Game 6 on Friday night.
With it, they have survived a second round of eliminations in the NHL’s extended postseason, and preserved their space inside the league’s Edmonton-based bubble to continue competing with the collection of elite teams still in the running for the Stanley Cup in this unprecedented hockey summer.
This was a fascinating series between two teams living at different points in their respective life cycles, clearly. While the Blues were facing this near-impossible task of reclaiming their spot atop the NHL’s pecking order, the unproven Canucks pushed forward, undeterred, searching to capture a moment that at times has seemed futile, which is to effectively bridge the gap between old and new.
Both teams contributed to this real sense of uncertainty, something which would grow to define the series. And it was the questions being asked of both teams which seemed to dictate the proceedings, at least through the first four games of the series.
It began with Vancouver looking like the younger, hungrier team, and which had drawn the defending champions at just the right moment. It took two legendary performances from the captain Horvat, and some important moments from Hughes and Pettersson as well, but the Canucks jumped out out to a 2-0 series lead.
It forced a reactive decision from the Blues, who started Jake Allen in favour of the struggling Jordan Binnington. While not necessarily the decision that reversed the path the series was taking, it elicited a response from the champions, who fought back to even the series on the strength of their own leader up front, Ryan O’Reilly.
Square at two games, the series had reached something of a stalemate, with the top-end players on each team cancelling out each other’s progress.
This series needed something to emerge as the difference.
Enter Vancouver’s depth.
Its group often maligned, routinely questioned, and believed to be overmatched in the series, but it was the role players for Vancouver which provided the winning imbalance versus the Blues.
Depth contributors for Vancouver accounted for half the scoring in the remainder of the series from the point in which the Canucks fells behind 3-1 in Game 5.
Tyler Motte had two goals in both Games 5 and 6; Jake Virtanen had a huge goal in the Game 5 comeback; Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, and Troy Stecher on a feed from Brandon Sutter combined to build the Canucks a 3-0 lead in the elimination Game 6.
All told, the Canucks’ depth accounted for eight of the 10 goals they scored after the Blues fought back to even the series.
And it was the perfect opportunity to be a little petty.
“Boom, roasted” - Jay Beagle after being asked about the unexpected production from the bottom six #Canucks— Brendan Batchelor (@BatchHockey) August 22, 2020
Of course, there was a lot more that went into the series win than the unexpected contributions from lower along the Vancouver lineup. Markstrom averaged more than 35 saves in the series, Hughes continues to average a point per game while taking on tougher and tougher matchups from a defensive standpoint, the power play converted at better than a 50 percent clip in their victories.
Vancouver will need that and more to in order to overcome the highly impressive Vegas Golden Knights in what is officially the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
There will be pressures to take advantage of this opportunity given the uncertainty that lies ahead, and we could soon see the shine rub off the collection of players supporting the superstar base in Vancouver.
But whatever happens in the remainder of their time in the bubble, this win, over the defending champions, is worth savouring.
That’s because in this moment, the Canucks have become what they were envisioned to be. And while contributions from every inch of the lineup and the ability to offset key losses to continue trudging forward may not last — hey, guess what, nothing does in this game.
You build with something specific in mind.
And finally, it’s come to life.
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