Canucks’ blend of youth, veterans soars into playoffs ahead of expectations

Chris Tanev scores the overtime winner for the Vancouver Canucks after battling back into the game late against the Minnesota Wild, they take the series 3-1 and advance to the next round.

EDMONTON – The youngest players on the Vancouver Canucks call defenceman Christopher Tanev “dad,” but it only seems like he is old enough to be their father.

The 30-year-old is one of only two Canucks who actually has first-hand memories of the last time the franchise won a National Hockey League playoff round before “dad” drifted an overtime wrist shot past Minnesota Wild goalie Alex Stalock very late Friday to get Vancouver’s kids out of the qualifying round of this extraordinary Stanley Cup tournament.

Tanev’s goal — nine years after he was a depth player on the Canucks team that went to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final — was scored just 11 seconds into overtime as Vancouver won 5-4 and took the series 3-1 in games.

Rebuilt in the five years since they last made the playoffs, these Canucks feel different than most of the teams that have unsuccessfully chased a Stanley Cup since Vancouver entered the NHL in 1970.

Led by dynamic, young stars Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Brock Boeser, supported by a few veterans and some key mid-career players still at their peak, anything seems possible for the Canucks.

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They will play either the St. Louis Blues or Dallas Stars in the next round. And although 2020 seems a little early for Vancouver to be thinking again about trying to win Lord Stanley’s soup tureen, the Canucks have already soared far higher and sooner than anyone predicted when this season began 10 months ago.

“I’m so proud of all our guys,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said. “They worked and competed the whole series, and when we lost some guys (to injuries), other guys stepped in. They just kept fighting and working. You can’t replace this experience. Hopefully it helps them and makes them ever stronger going forward.”

There were nine Canucks in Friday’s lineup who had never been to the NHL playoffs until this week. Coach Travis Green was new to the post-season, too. This included defenceman Olli Juolevi, who made his NHL debut Friday due to an injury to Oscar Fantenberg.

But it was fitting that after so many lean, losing years for the Canucks, Tanev should score the winner. And that the tying goal with 5:46 remaining in regulation time was scored by 24-year-old captain Bo Horvat, who was set up beautifully by Tanner Pearson, a former Stanley Cup winner in Los Angeles and one of a handful of experienced players brought in by Benning the last couple of years.

Hughes, the 20-year-old Calder Trophy-finalist defenceman, led the Canucks with 27:20 of ice time and had a goal and assist on a night when the veterans otherwise drove the team.

Horvat had two assists to go with his goal, and Pearson also scored. Brandon Sutter scored his first playoff goal in five years as the Canucks rallied from 3-1 and 4-3 deficits against one of the NHL’s best five-on-five teams.

The Wild had looked defensively impenetrable while winning the series-opener 3-0 last Sunday. But the Canucks put together their first three-game playoff win streak since 2011 and on Friday were able to rescue shaky starter Jacob Markstrom, who had done the same for his teammates numerous times during the season.

Markstrom allowed awful goals to Eric Staal and Nico Sturm — whose shot from an acute angle rattled through the goalie’s arm and body to put Minnesota ahead 4-3 with 51 seconds left in the second period.

“I think our team played a great game and I’m so happy we won,” Markstrom said. “I want to thank all the players that they scored one more goal than I let in.”

“We wanted to come out and prove ourselves and play hard,” Horvat said. “We’ve got a great group of guys here and to finally get a win under our belt and win a playoff series, it definitely feels great, but we’ve got a lot more work to do. This is only the first series of many, and we can’t wait for the next one.”

Four games into the series, this is a different Canucks team than the one that never troubled the Wild while trailing – and losing – the opener. To be fair to Minnesota, they weren’t the same, either, with workhorse defenceman Ryan Suter unable to pay Game 4 due to an undisclosed injury.

The Canucks will start the next round Tuesday or Wednesday.

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