EDMONTON – It was the reunification of the Lotto Line, but there was nothing lucky about the Vancouver Canucks’ 4-3 playoff win Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild or the dominance of their top forward line.
One game after the Canucks’ best players were largely ineffective in a 3-0 loss Sunday that opened the National Hockey League qualifying series, Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller were easily the best trio as Vancouver won a game that got close only at the end.
The trio produced a couple of goals, matched by a reworked second line. The alterations were required by an undisclosed injury to Tyler Toffoli, the first-line winger who was replaced by Boeser.
Boeser, Pettersson and Miller — Nos. 6-40-9 — were one of the league’s best forward lines until Boeser’s February injury preceded the acquisition of Toffoli from the Los Angeles Kings.
The trio looked Tuesday like they’d never been apart.
“It’s unfortunate with Toff, but I’m excited to get back out there with those guys,” Boeser said after the first playoff goal of his career made it 3-1 for Vancouver halfway through the game. “I thought we played a pretty strong game. We’ve got to clean up a few mistakes defensively, but other than that I thought we played pretty strong.
“I think our team played a lot better. We weren’t nervous. We showed up tonight knowing we needed to get a win and we did that, and that’s huge for our group. Hopefully we can continue this success.”
There was no indication of how long Toffoli might be out. He was one of the best Canucks in the 10 games he played after the trade, but may have injured his shoulder or arm on a stiff collision with Wild winger Ryan Hartman during Game 1.
Canucks coach Travis Green also scratched centre Adam Gaudette for Game 2, who looked a little overwhelmed in his playoff debut, and brought Jake Virtanen and Loui Eriksson back into his lineup.
Virtanen, an 18-goal scorer during the regular season who played his way out of the top four lines at training camp, has been a source of rabid discussion the last two weeks. But hardly anyone was talking about Eriksson, who was deployed alongside Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson on a second line that gets difficult matchups.
Horvat and Pearson also scored for the Canucks, who led 4-1 late in the third period until Kevin Fiala scored twice as Minnesota skated six against five.
Importantly, Pearson made it 1-0 just 24 seconds after the late-evening faceoff, breaking the unlikely shutout spell that Minnesota goalie Alex Stalock carried from Sunday.
“I think it’s similar to the start of the season: you want to get the first one out of the way and get on a roll,” Pearson said. “And since we didn’t get one last game, we felt we needed to get a good bump off the start and, definitely, a goal the first shift helps that.
“I think it’s big just to get the confidence going. Especially at this time of year, you can’t wait around and wait a few games to get it going.”
Game 3 of the best-of-five series is Thursday at 11:30 a.m. PT on Sportsnet.
The Canucks’ big guns are awake, but so is everyone in this intense series.
Pettersson, Vancouver’s 21-year-old star, did not play in the final three minutes after injuring Hartman in a clash along the boards. As the players battled for a loose puck, Hartman high-sticked Pettersson, who responded by shoving Hartman head-first towards the ice. The Wild winger appeared to strike his head and needed assistance getting to the dressing room.
The Canucks also lost physical wingers Antoine Roussel and Micheal Ferland. Roussel was hit in the face by a deflected slapshot in the third period, while Ferland did not appear for the start of the second after missing most of the season with a concussion. Ferland fought Minnesota’s Marcus Foligno a minute into the opening game on Sunday.
The Canucks and Wild are scrumming after whistles like it’s the 1980s.
“It just shows both teams aren’t taking any crap from each other,” Pearson said. “There’s a lot of pushback, a lot of stuff between the whistles. But at this time of year, guys are trying to do everything they can to win. If that means getting under a guy’s skin, guys are going to do that.”
There were 13 power plays and more than 24 minutes of power-play time. Horvat’s third-period deflection was the only power-play goal and slightly redeemed a unit that allowed Minnesota to tie the game in the first period on Luke Kunin’s shorthanded goal.
“Both teams are playing with a lot of emotion,” Boeser said. “Yeah, it’s been a battle, but it’s exciting. I think our group plays better when we’re emotionally into it.”
It was the first NHL playoff win for Canucks starter Jacob Markstrom, who made 32 saves, as well as younger teammates Boeser, Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Troy Stecher and Tyler Motte.
“A lot of new guys with the playoffs and trying to maybe feel it out to a certain extent, and not knowing what to really expect,” Pearson said. “But I thought there was a lot of good pushback the first game. At least you get the first game under your belt and go into the second game knowing what to expect.”
Now the Canucks head to Game 3 knowing how to win a playoff game, too.