Hockey is back on tap and in a big way, which means there’s a lot to cover in a relatively short period of time. It’s time to get on with the show and sum up the Stanley Cup Playoffs Qualifying Round matchups.
Up next, Vancouver Canucks and Minnesota Wild.
These two teams renew a storied playoff rivalry when they clash Sunday in Game One of their Qualifying Round series. Vancouver enters, as usual, as the team many people sleep on. Even their own fanbase is rife with non-believers, but this time out the Canucks really could find considerable playoff success. Vancouver is a fast, goal-scoring hockey team.
The Wild enter the fray with rumours of a rebuild, but the COVID-19 shutdown seems to have put even that on pause. General manager Bill Guerin traded Jason Zucker to the Penguins ahead of the deadline and sacked coach Bruce Boudreau, bringing in Dean Evason. Then there were reports of a Zach Parise trade, all signs pointing to a complete reorganization of Minnesota’s state of hockey.
Now, the Wild are in the dance with a stack of veterans ready to rumble. Parise, Mats Zuccarello, and Eric Staal are among the number of Minnesota stalwarts, while the club’s defence is nothing to sneeze at. The Wild clamp down on opposition scoring chances and did so with aplomb in the regular season, leading the league in suppressing high-danger chances against.
Vancouver thrives in those situations and forwards like Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson will open up the ice. Jim Benning’s acquisitions of J.T. Miller, Tyler Toffoli, and Tanner Pearson have stacked the deck with depth up front. The club’s power play is infinitely improved, while defenceman Quinn Hughes turns heads everywhere he goes.
One issue for Vancouver is shots-against. The Canucks allowed 33.3 per game, making them the fourth most permissive hockey club in the league. They were, however, second in blocked shots. If they get back on their heels, they’re not above getting in the shooting lanes.
The Canucks got a tremendous year out of Jacob Markstrom and he is an emotional hero in that locker room. Minnesota can’t really counter that, with Alex Stalock and Devan Dubnyk accounting for a combined .902 save percentage. The former might be the starter, but he has limited playoff experience.
When the rubber hits the road Sunday in Edmonton, the Canucks have every chance to prove they can hang with the league’s best. They have the tools to do and should take this five-game series.