1. So much of post-season hockey is about adjustments. It’s a multi-game battle against the same opponent in a short period time. As series progress, familiarity between teams increases. As such, it’s vital that coaches get the feel for their own team and their opponent and make the right – and necessary – adjustments. On that front, Travis Green and staff did a strong job tweaking the way the Canucks approached Game 2 of the series on Tuesday night. Obviously, Green’s hand was forced by injuries to Tyler Toffoli and Adam Gaudette which required two line-up changes. But beyond personnel decisions, it was the game plan the Canucks employed on Tuesday that allowed them to look so much better against Minnesota than they had 48 earlier in Sunday’s 3-0 loss. The Canucks attacked the Wild zone with speed and backed defenders off (see the JT Miller goal that made it 2-1 early in the second period). The team also did a much better job of getting to the net. (Again see the Miller goal and see Elias Pettersson driving to the goal mouth and taking a defender with him). There were other examples throughout the night. When skilled players are able to get defenders to back-off, it creates time and space and that’s when elite players are at their most dangerous. It was an encouraging sign that all four Canuck goals were scored by top six forwards – a group that collectively underperformed on Sunday.
2. Much of the discussion between Games 2 and 3 will be the fact the Canucks top players have announced their arrival in this series. And that’s certainly an encouraging sign for Vancouver. While people will point to the club’s goal-scorers on Tuesday: Pearson, Miller, Boeser and Horvat – all among the team leaders in regular season goals and the players they will need to continue to produce as the series unfolds – don’t forget about Jacob Markstrom. Sure, he allowed a pair of late goals to Kevin Fiala who already has three goals and 20 shot attempts in two games in this series. But this isn’t about the goals that got past the Canucks puck stopper. It’s about a sequence early in the second period that may have turned last night’s game – and who knows perhaps the series – in the Canucks favour. Mere moments after JT Miller gave the Canucks their second lead of the night 3:01 into the second period, the Wild pressured deep in the Vancouver zone. Kevin Fiala spotted Eric Staal alone in front and slid him the puck. Markstrom, moving from his right to his left, got across the crease to stone Staal from point blank range. It was his most-spectacular save of the night and probably his biggest, too. If Minnesota scores there, they seize momentum and negate the work the Canucks had done to take the lead moments earlier. It felt like the kind of signature save Markstrom has provided in so many games over the past two seasons. And it allowed the Canucks to build on their lead five minutes later when Brock Boeser picked up his first post-season goal. Within games – and series – there will be key moments and momentum swings that impact outcomes and that Markstrom stop on Staal felt big at the time and still seems significant a day later.
3. Elias Pettersson is already an elite talent in the National Hockey League. Beyond his remarkable skills, though, is his ability to process the game. He does that a ridiculously high level, too. While his effort level was praised by Travis Green after Sunday’s series opener, Pettersson likely did a slow burn between games knowing that he hadn’t generated any offense and that his team was shutout. Tuesday looked like an indication of Pettersson’s sky-high hockey IQ on full display. He seemed to figure out the things he needed to do to be effective. He dug in and gave as good as he got in the physical department mixing it up with a number of Wild players on a handful of occasions. And he was able to engage physically without being distracted or taken off his game. His start to the third period was a master-class in how to help his team protect a lead. With the Canucks up 3-1 to start the third, Pettersson drew a pair of penalties after getting tripped by a chasing Alex Galchenyuk and then forcing Brad Hunt to take a slashing call. Bo Horvat scored moments after that Hunt infraction allowing the Canucks to extend their lead to 4-1 at the time. As expected through two games, Pettersson has been a target of the Wild. He got steam-rolled by Zach Parise along the end boards in his own zone in the third, but took the hit and popped back to his feet and got right back into the play. Later he got tangled up with Ryan Hartman and cuffed the Wild winger who went down awkwardly and left the game. While Pettersson had just a single assist on the night, he left more of a stamp on the game than his offensive contributions on the scoresheet. He looked like a guy who’s quickly figuring out post-season hockey and has the feel of player who’s only going to get better from here on out.
4. After giving up two goals on the Wild’s first two power play shots in Sunday’s series opener, the Canucks penalty kill was certainly one of the key talking points to come out of Game 1. On Tuesday, the Canucks were a perfect six for six while short-handed. Obviously, they don’t want to make that many trips to the penalty box, but they have to be comforted knowing their role players stepped up. Alex Edler looked like he had turned back the clock a decade. The 34-year-old blueliner logged 7:23 of short-handed ice time followed closely by Chris Tanev 6:18. Tyler Myers is usually part of the Canucks penalty kill, but the big defender made three straight trips to the box (although to be fair his first penalty was a co-incidental minor at the second period buzzer). Still with Myers unavailable to kill his own penalties, the veterans Edler and Tanev stepped in and stepped up. Tyler Motte, Jay Beagle, Brandon Sutter and Loui Eriksson did the bulk of the penalty killing up front. With Micheal Ferland and Antoine Roussel leaving the game and not returning, the Canucks were down a pair of forwards for a long stretch of the night. That meant more ice time than some forwards likely expected (Loui Eriksson 20:07, Brandon Sutter 16:18, Jay Beagle 15:03). But everyone found a way to contribute and there were no passengers on Tuesday night.
5. The build-up to Tuesday’s 7:45pm (it actually became a 7:52pm) start centered around who would be in the Canucks line-up. Based on Sunday’s performance, speculation had Travis Green making as many as three changes to his forward group. However, as the day unfolded, there were hints coming out of the Edmonton bubble suggesting that Tyler Toffoli may be unable to play. Sure enough that was the case. Adam Gaudette was held out of the line-up, too. Following the game, Travis Green would only reveal that both players were deemed ‘unfit to play’ suggesting injuries rather than simply being healthy scratches. That made room for Loui Eriksson and Jake Virtanen to make their series debuts. Two games in and already the Canucks forward depth was being tested. Then Ferland and Roussel left last night’s game and suddenly the supply of AHL forwards on hand as Black Aces may enter the discussion. The Canucks will need to see if there’s any chance any of the injured players can return for Thursday’s early start. Otherwise, Zack MacEwen surely draws in and makes his NHL post-season debut and one of Tyler Graovac or Justin Bailey likely gets another big league chance, too. With no morning skate on Thursday, it will likely take until pre-game warm-up to see who’s in uniform and what the line combinations look like.