EDMONTON – Even before the Vancouver Canucks entered the playoff bubble in Edmonton, cut off from the real world until Wednesday night, the buzzwords pushed by coach Travis Green were “adaptability” and “focus.”
He was trying to get his players mentally ready for the unprecedented and unpredictable summer Stanley Cup tournament — but he had no idea a month ago how those words would apply to tonight.
After a historic two-day shutdown of the NHL playoffs by players determined to focus society’s attention on racism and social justice, the Canucks are suddenly hockey players again tonight when they play Game 3 of their series against the Vegas Golden Knights.
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Impromptu meetings between players from the two teams on Thursday helped spur the shutdown of playoffs in Edmonton and Toronto.
“We’ve preached being adaptable and being focussed,” Green explained. “When we came into the bubble, we talked about: ‘There are going to be things that happen. Schedules might change, times might change, day to day you might not know what we’re doing.’ And this is a time we’re going to have to show that.
“Normally in playoff hockey, your emotions are up and down and you’re trying to control your emotions. With what happened over the last few days, it’s a different type of emotion.”
Green said he believes the intensity of the hockey will be undiminished in the wake of the shutdown and the collaboration of more than 200 NHL players that made it happen.
“I don’t expect it to change one bit,” he said. “I expect the intensity to magnify as the series goes on, and I expect it to be a very intense game tonight.”
Vegas winger Mark Stone agreed.
“Absolutely,” he said. “It’s the Stanley Cup playoffs. Any way you slice it, it’s going to be intense.”
The head of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, an officer named Steve Grammas, sent a letter to the Golden Knights criticizing them for their role in the NHL shutdown, saying, “it appears the Golden Knights would rather jump on the bandwagon of attacking the police profession rather than waiting for the facts” in regard to the Jacob Blake shooting.
Vegas winger Ryan Reaves, who is Black, was one of the catalysts of the two-day player strike.
“I can only speak personally,” Golden Knights coach Pate DeBoer said. “I’ve got a brother-in-law who’s a deputy police chief, and I’ve got another brother-in-law who’s retired military. I know they know the amount of respect we have for what they do. And I can tell you the guys in the room, the amount of respect (they have) for what those men and women do every day.”
BACK TO BACK
A consequence of the two-day stoppage is a compressed schedule that has the Canucks and Golden Knights playing back-to-back games this weekend. If the series goes to the seven-game limit, the teams will undergo playoff-intensity hockey five times in seven nights, which is unheard of.
“You can’t save your energy,” Canucks captain Bo Horvat said. “You’ve got to go hard tonight. We know it’s a back-to-back, but we can’t be saving ourselves when every single game, every single shift means something. We’re going to be ready to go.”
The Golden Knights have the benefit of two No. 1 goalies – Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury are expected to split the weekend games – and a deep roster.
“I’ve said from Day 1, I think that’s [an] advantage to us,” DeBoer said. “The tighter the schedule, the more back-to-backs, the more your depth comes into play. And that’s at all positions. I think we welcome that. It tests your depth, it tests your character and we like where we are on those things.”
Canucks starter Jacob Markstrom, who has played all 12 of Vancouver’s playoff games so far, will likely play both games this weekend and may have to play every game this week. That’s a daunting workload for one goalie.
At least he should be rested and reset after three days between Games 2 and 3 against the Golden Knights. Markstrom practised Friday and should have had the benefit of a technical session with Canucks goaltending coach Ian Clark. These refresher sessions, which occurred periodically throughout the season, have been vital to Markstrom maintaining his form.
“I’m not going to get into what Marky’s done in practice,” Green said. “He practised. He’s fine. Yeah, a couple of days for Marky were probably beneficial.”
The two extra days between games should also help top winger Tyler Toffoli. He had a goal and two assists for Vancouver in Tuesday’s 5-2 win, in his first game since spraining his ankle Aug. 2 during the Canucks’ qualifying-round opener against the Minnesota Wild.
Defenceman Tyler Myers, who suffered a shoulder injury last round against the St. Louis Blues, will also be two days closer to returning.