EDMONTON – Jordie Benn is still so new to the playoff bubble that he doesn’t know he’s not supposed to actually say anything on the National Hockey League’s media calls.
The Vancouver Canucks depth defenceman was on fire Thursday like his team was on fire Wednesday, when they improbably roared back from a two-goal deficit that should have been at least four goals and deservingly beat the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues 4-3 in hermetically-sealed Rogers Place.
Benn on Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom, whose astonishing series of saves in the second period had the Blues still muttering a day later: “When Marky is doing those things it’s pretty incredible to see that a human being can make saves like that. So, I mean, it fires us up.”
On 20-year-old rookie Quinn Hughes: “The kid, it’s incredible to watch him. I’ve played with some good players and he’s up there as one of the best I’ve ever seen, personally. We were talking. . . last night after the game, and it’s just scary that we say that kid is going to get better. I don’t know how that’s possible because he’s so good already. But it’s going to be scary in a few years when he is better and older and dominating this league.”
Benn on defenceman Alex Edler, injured in Wednesday’s game when he suffered a skate cut to his face: “We were all hoping Eddie was going to come back. He was half-dressed (to play) when we came back into the room after, so he’s fine and ready to rock.”
This made it difficult for coach Travis Green, who is as communicative on injuries as the stone heads on Easter Island, to play the game-time-decision card when asked if Edler will be available Friday for Game 6 when the Canucks have a chance to eliminate the Blues and move into the final eight of the Stanley Cup tournament.
“I won’t say that he’s in and I won’t say that he’s out,” Green nonetheless persisted after following Benn to the interview room.
Pressed, Green relented slightly, offering: “I’ll check in with Benner to make sure that he’s in or out.”
The stitches that Edler required after being caught by the skate of Jordan Kyrou were so deep and extensive that doctors simply couldn’t get him sutured in time to return. He’ll be monitored for infection and discomfort but is expected to play Game 6. Jordie Benn said so.
Benn will be playing Friday, too, and that would seem quite remarkable were it not for the talented and wonderfully-unpredictable Canucks gobsmacking us on a nightly basis.
Signed as a free agent last summer to bolster the bottom end of Vancouver’s blue line, Benn had a fairly miserable season, losing his lineup spot to Oscar Fantenberg in December and getting healthy-scratched for 25 of the Canucks’ final 32 games.
With both the blessing and scheduling bad luck of returning to his off-season home in Texas for the July birth of his daughter, Benn missed half of training camp and nearly all of the Canucks’ playoff preparation and practices in Edmonton.
But when defenceman Tyler Myers suffered a shoulder injury in Game 2 on a hit from behind by Brayden Schenn, Benn was suddenly back in Green’s lineup. And with Edler unavailable in the third period on Sunday, Benn played four shifts in the last 5 ½ minutes and was on the ice for the final 51 seconds as the Canucks just held off the Blues.
“Benner, coming in cold the way he did, I don’t think people understand that’s not easy to do,” Green said. “That’s hard. We probably weren’t fully committed to it until I talked to him about how he felt. I wanted to see if there was any doubt in his mind about playing. That’s one thing about veterans, they can understand the magnitude of maybe an injury or the situation you’re in. And there was never a doubt in Benner’s mind that he was ready to go. I think he has looked stronger every game. He’s got some composure.
“I know for us, that meant a lot just to hear the confidence he had in himself, and that carried over a long way.”
Shots were 8-7 for the Blues when Benn was on the ice and the 33-year-old finished with a shots-for percentage of 54.2. It doesn’t make sense that Benn, having played seven games in eight months, should have one of his best performances of the season under unforgiving playoff circumstances.
But there are incredible things happening within the Canucks. Hughes is playing like the best defenceman in the world even if it looks like his playoff beard won’t be finished until 2028. Markstrom is making saves like he has come flying off the turnbuckle. Speedy checker and penalty killer Tyler Motte scored two — TWO! — highlight reel goals on Wednesday. And Jake Virtanen, who rivals pipelines for controversy on the West Coast these days, scored against the Blues as Green’s savvy line-blending freshened his forwards and made it difficult for Blues monster Ryan O’Reilly to shut down everyone.
These are team-building times for the Canucks, who appear to be coming of age before our eyes.
“I think I’d have been more surprised if we didn’t come out and play a helluva game,” Green said, a couple of days after guaranteeing his young team would rebound from losing its 2-0 series lead. “I just feel like our team is all-in. They’re here to win; they’re not here for experience. They’ve got a lot of belief in themselves and we’re going to try to do it again tomorrow.”
You can’t take your eyes off this team.