EDMONTON – The Vancouver Canucks waited 1,926 days to play a National Hockey League playoff game and now have to wait at least another two to score a playoff goal.
The Minnesota Wild shut out the Canucks 3-0 here Sunday in the opener of the teams’ five-game qualifying series in the Stanley Cup tournament.
Remarkably, the goalie stumping the Canucks was Alex Stalock, the 33-year-old career backup whose only other NHL playoff start was six years ago with the San Jose Sharks.
Stalock made 28 saves and outplayed Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom, who has the potential to give Vancouver an advantage in this series but allowed two power-play goals to leak through him in the first playoff start of his NHL career.
“It was not the start we wanted,” Markstrom said. “And me personally, not the start as well, letting in those two goals. I felt good but those two goals, obviously, you want them back. Their goalie didn’t do any mistakes tonight and I did two, so we lost the game.”
Well, there was more to it than just that.
The Canucks’ young guns up front, Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, struggled to make an impact and Pettersson, especially, was abused physically by the Wild. Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, kid.
Vancouver had some good spells at even strength in the first half of the game and rookie defenceman Quinn Hughes was excellent. But the Canucks’ top two forward lines, which are going to have to make a difference in this series for Vancouver to win, were largely inert.
There is going to be a spotlight on Pettersson, Boeser and Hughes — all emerging stars in their first playoffs — but the Canucks’ more experienced players need to get up on stage, too.
Minnesota’s power play generated goals in each of the first two periods before Jared Spurgeon scored his second of the game into an empty net to clinch it.
Given the unpenalized hostile acts that were to follow, the tripping penalty called against the Canucks’ Alex Edler at 2:47 looked awfully light in hindsight. But it instantly looked costly.
Just three seconds after the faceoff, Kevin Fiala blasted an unscreened 45-footer that rattled between Markstrom’s left arm and torso.
The goalie stopped far more difficult shots about a minute later when he stuffed Eric Staal on a backdoor setup and robbed Zach Parise on a rebound. But Stalock looked impenetrable, and when Pearson’s slash halfway through the second period gave the Wild power play another chance, Spurgeon made it 2-0 at 10:24.
Penalty-killer Tyler Motte drifted away from the Minnesota pointman and then Spurgeon was able to slide a low shot under both a sprawling Edler and his goalie. It was a poor play by Edler, but Markstrom didn’t come close to sealing the bottom of the net.
The Canucks generated the second-most power-play opportunities in the league during the regular season, but when they finally got a chance on the man-advantage in the final five minutes, Vancouver failed to force a save by Stalock.
Spurgeon scored from his own end into an empty net with 47 seconds left.
Minnesota, whose team is heavy with veterans late in their careers, has won only two playoff rounds in 17 years since rallying to eliminate the Canucks in the second round of the 2003 tournament. The Canucks haven’t won a playoff series since losing the Stanley Cup Final to the Boston Bruins in 2011, and have been almost entirely rebuilt since last making it to the playoffs in 2015.
No wonder the Wild and Canucks opened with the fury of teams trying to wipe away their past and not squander this extraordinary summer opportunity.
Hockey in August? It looked like April.
Minnesota defenceman Matt Dumba worked over Pettersson in the opening minute and when the next shift began with a faceoff, the Canucks’ Micheal Ferland risked his livelihood to fight tough Minnesota forward Marcus Foligno.
Ferland was playing his first real National Hockey League game since December, his third since October, when he suffered a concussion fighting former Los Angeles Kings heavyweight Kyle Clifford off a faceoff. Yes, you can judge the recklessness of Ferland’s decision Sunday. You can also judge how much this tournament still means to the players, regardless of the calendar.
The intensity was just like that 2003 series when Vancouver and Minnesota were divisional rivals who hated each other. The result was the same, too.