Canucks come out of Covid pause with overtime win over the Maple Leafs
After everything the Vancouver Canucks have been through over the last month, it felt fantastic to watch Bo Horvat and Braden Holtby share a chuckle on Sunday night.
When they were at the podium during their postgame media availability after beating the Toronto Maple Leafs in overtime, Horvat revealed that Holtby sometimes does that spinning around-the-world leg save in practice.
"To see it live in a game, it was pretty funny, actually," Horvat said, as Hotlby laughed in the background. "We always tease him to do it, when he does stuff like that in practice.
"To pull it off in a game was was pretty special. I think it did give us some energy, and we came out and played the rest of the third really well."
Holtby's save on Wayne Simmonds didn't just give his team a lift. It also came at a crucial point in the game, with the Canucks trailing 2-1 and just over nine minutes left to play in the third period.
Not long after the subsequent TV timeout, Nils Hoglander connected for his eighth of the year, an easy tap-in off a feed from Jalen Chatfield, who recorded his first NHL point.
That was enough to send the game to overtime, where Horvat connected for his second goal of the game, once again beating Jack Campbell to his blocker side as he streaked down the left wing.
Every Canucks player who suited up on Sunday deserves enormous credit for the determination they showed under extremely challenging circumstances, but the contributions of Holtby and Horvat stand out.
The captain showed the same resilience that propelled the Canucks to their unexpected success in the playoff bubble last summer. And he backed up his comments from a few days ago, when he snorted at the idea that people were saying the team would get "steamrolled" when it got back on the ice.
"We're ready to go," Horvat said on Friday. "We want to play hard, we want to win.
"People can say what they want and think that we're going to get steamrolled; I think that's more fuel to the fire, to prove them wrong.
"We have a really resilient group here. A lot of guys that are going to do whatever they can to help the team win, no matter what. Obviously, it's going to be tough. I'm not going to sit here and say it's going to be easy. We've got a resilient group in here that that's going to do whatever they can to help the team win and that has a lot of passion and wants to do well, and wants to win here. So we're going to come out and give it all we got."
As for Holtby, his 37-save performance was his first win since February 17, barely a month into the season, and just his fifth with Vancouver. He didn't say too much about his own Covid journey, except to share that there were "some tough days," and that his wife is still sick. But somehow, under such challenging circumstances, he delivered his best game to date in a Vancouver uniform — a performance made that much more important by the fact that Thatcher Demko is not yet available. Michael DiPietro backed up Holtby on Sunday night.
Meanwhile, Quinn Hughes scoffed at the notion that he'd been on an IV while he was ill — a tale that recently made the media rounds.
"I don't know where that comes from," he said. "I think people on Twitter can just say whatever they want and and it blew up.
"I wasn't on an IV or anything, but I had symptoms just like everyone else and I didn't feel good for a couple days. Then you start to feel better.
"I think right now, I'm just trying to get through the conditioning part of laying around for 10 days. I don't know who came up with the IV thing but, yeah, it is what it is."
Hoglander, who assisted on Horvat's first goal as well as scoring the equalizer, said that while he tested positive, he was asymptomatic. So he was able to work out at home while he was in isolation.
As for the rest of the roster — Jake Virtanen and Nate Schmidt were the last two Canucks players on the NHL's Covid Protocol list. They came off on Sunday, but were still scratched from the lineup.
Tyler Motte, Zack MacEwen and Demko were the other three regulars who weren't available — and Travis Green mentioned on Saturday that Olli Juolevi was also still sick.
After all the roster shuffling was done, Sunday's lineup included Marc Michaelis, Tyler Graovac and Travis Boyd up front, with Chatfield and Guillaume Brisebois on the blue line. Ashton Sautner and Kole Lind both took warmup and didn't play, and Matthew Highmore is still serving his mandatory quarantine.
Assistant coach Newell Brown was also absent from the Vancouver bench. After the game, Travis Green confirmed that was Covid-related.
And while the Canucks were trying to focus on taking short shifts and not over-taxing the lungs in their first game back, that plan went out the window midway through the second period, when Alex Edler was assessed a major penalty for kneeing and a game misconduct after running into Zach Hyman near the benches.
It was almost certainly a mental error caused by fatigue, given that the incident came at the end of a 3:02 shift for Edler. He had just killed an entire hooking penalty assessed to J.T. Miller, then he and Tyler Myers remained stuck on the ice after the Canucks got back to full strength.
With Edler gone, Myers and Travis Hamonic stepped up in a big way, defensively. Myers ended up playing an astonishing 12:58 in the second period, including 6:01 on the penalty kill, and finished the night with 30:08 of ice time including team highs in hits (3) and blocked shots (5).
Hamonic played 25:13, a season high for him, and finished with four blocks.
And yes — Edler's punishment may continue.
I don't know if the Canucks' difficult circumstances will help him curry any favour with the Department of Player Safety. It certainly doesn't help that his victim was Hyman, who is revered in Leafs Nation.
John Tavares said Hyman seemed optimistic about his condition after the game. Maybe that helps Edler's cause.
With a win now under their belts, it'll be fascinating to see what happens with the Canucks going forward. Was adrenaline and a little help from the hockey gods enough to mask the physical toll of the game — which could snowball as this tough schedule rolls on?
Monday's a team day off. I'm happy that everyone in the organization can enjoy it a little bit, knowing they impressed the hockey world with their gutsy determination on Sunday.