VANCOUVER – Reporter to Jay Beagle after Monday’s game: “Where did you block that one?”
Goalie Jacob Markstrom, overhearing: “Which one?”
Reporter: “The one against Colton Parayko.”
Markstrom: “Which one?”
He had a point.
During one third-period shift that represented the battle level the Vancouver Canucks needed to beat the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues 3-1 at Rogers Arena, Beagle slid in front of Parayko’s shot, taking the puck off his shoulder.
Clearly stung, Beagle got up to stay in the fight as the heavy Blues buzzed the Canucks’ zone. Thirteen seconds after the first block, Beagle crouched to stop a full-on blast by Parayko, whose shots really hurt people. Beagle took that one off the toe.
Now on one leg and with a dead arm, Beagle got up again, went to the front of his net and knocked Alex Steen to the ice.
“Honestly, that’s how you win,” Beagle explained in the dressing room. “You can’t give them anything. That was playoff-style hockey right there.”
Many of the Canucks, including all their young stars, have not actually played a National Hockey League playoff game.
But Beagle won a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals.
Defenceman Tyler Myers, who went to the conference final with the Winnipeg Jets two years ago, had one of his most combative games for the Canucks.
Winger J.T. Miller, who played 10 rounds of playoffs the last five seasons with the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning, was at the middle of everything for the Canucks, as he has been since all season.
Miller scored twice against St. Louis goalie Jake Allen before Vancouver captain Bo Horvat scored into an empty net as the Canucks won their ninth-straight game at home and added to their surprising lead in the Pacific Division.
So, this is how you do it.
“When you get into a game like that – you talk about how it looked like a playoff game, felt like one – for us guys who have been around and seen some of those playoff games, we want to kind of show what it’s like and get the young guys involved,” Myers said. “I think all the young guys have done a great job of buying into what we’re trying to do.
“I think we’ve taken big strides this season. But it’s important that we keep in the room that we don’t get complacent. We’ve still got just over 30 games left and. . . it’s going to be tight the whole way. We’re going to bounce up and down in the standings the whole way, I’m sure. We’ve just got to make sure we stay focussed.”
Miller said: “That’s as playoff style as it gets. For us to play the way we did, we all feel really good about ourselves right now.
“This time of year, it’s about finding ways to win. It says a lot about your team that you do whatever it takes. Guys sliding all over the ice, blocking one-timers. I think it’s part of our team’s identity. I think that’s what we need coming down the stretch.”
The Canucks have won 12 of their last 15 games. But what’s especially impressive is how they’ve simplified and intensified their style halfway through this stretch after a pair of desultory losses in Florida three weeks ago.
They’re winning tight games, winning hard games. They’re holding leads and finding ways to win without having to pump five or six pucks into the opposition net.
They still leaned too heavily Monday on goalie Thatcher Demko, whose 36 saves included a backdoor game-saver against Jaden Schwartz with about six-and-a-half minutes remaining.
But the Canucks protected the front of their net, blocked 23 shots and competed evenly against a formidable Blues team that has been the best in the NHL for more than a year and displayed on Monday the urgency of a champion wary of losing a third-straight game.
Zach Sanford made it 1-0 at 3:06 on an awful turnover by Vancouver rookie Quinn Hughes, but the Canucks did not allow another goal in the nearly 57 minutes that followed.
Astonishingly, the Canucks are now just eight points behind the Western Conference-leading Blues.
“We have grown so much, and we’ve grown in our details,” Beagle said. “I think the biggest thing is we’ve learned how to win. And when we get away from it, you can tell, even on the bench, we’re trying to get it back and play the right way.”
But can they play like that for 32 more games just to get to the playoffs?
“Oh, yeah,” Beagle said. “You have to. That’s the standard.”