EDMONTON — The old saying is rather convenient, truth be told.
Is it really better to lose 5-0 and know you didn’t play close to your best game, then to play great and drop a 2-1 heart-breaker?
J.T. Miller wasn’t having any of it.
“I’ve never really hard that saying,” began Miller, who had one shot on goal in 17:35 of ice time in Vancouver’s Game 1, 5-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. “I probably would have rather played a good game and lost 2-1.”
They’ll get their chance Tuesday night, these Canucks, to prove that they are not going to simply be roadkill along the Golden Knights’ path to another Stanley Cup Final appearance. Puck drop is at 9:45 p.m. ET/ 6:45 p.m. PT on Sportsnet.
“I think our team is really excited to play them again,” Miller said. “I think we have to show confidence in our game and have a good start. We want this to be a hard, long series, and we don’t want it to be easy for them. We just have to respond.”
This is how playoff hockey goes, isn’t it? One team pushes, the other pushes back, and the battle escalates until one team simply cannot find a response. They shake hands, and that team goes home and sets to figuring out how to get to the level of the team that knocked them out.
Vancouver had that response in their Qualifying Round against Minnesota, and even summoned up back-to-back wins after letting the St. Louis climb back into their Round 1 series by winning two straight. Now, they’re being tested again by a Vegas team that brings more of everything than the Wild, or even the Blues brought to the earlier series.
“Their team is a challenge,” said head coach Travis Green. “They went to the Final two years ago, and had a hard loss last year. We’re going to have to raise our level of play from Game 1.”
His job will be largely as a psychotherapist, with some Hockey 101 thrown in, as he prepares a game plan that suits his team, while convincing them that they can compete with a Vegas team that won Game 1 for fun.
“The X’s and O’s part, after one game, we’re always talking about different things in our game. I do believe we have to play better, bring our best game to the table. It starts right there, being ready to play tonight and trying to get the series tied,” said Green, who will need more from Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, who combined for zero shots and a minus-eight in Game 1.
“It’s easy to analyze and say, this guy didn’t get a shot, that guy didn’t get a shot. It’s not just our top guys,” defended Green. “Our whole team… we have to raise our game right throughout our lineup. Sometimes you don’t get a point or a shot, and it doesn’t mean you didn’t play well.”
In Vegas the Canucks have drawn the best team in the tournament, a club that has gone 8-1 since the season was restarted. Where some clubs (St. Louis, Edmonton, Pittsburgh) never found their game after the pause, Vegas head coach Peter DeBoer gets some credit for finding the secret sauce that has his team on top of their game.
“We were good before the pause,” began DeBoer. “We had been playing really good hockey for a good four to five weeks going into the pause. Even though we had a four month break we felt good about our game. We got back to it quickly once we got to camp.
“It helped having guys in town, but it goes beyond that. It was the motivation of the guys in town and that was because of the belief prior to the pause that we had a chance this year.”
On the 40th anniversary of his father Peter and Uncle Anton’s defection from Czechoslovakia to join the Quebec Nordiques, Vegas centre Paul Stastny was asked how he knows this Vegas team is capable of making a long playoff run.
“The chemistry inside the locker room. All 31 guys we brought here, it just seems like we all click on and off the ice. Pete’s done a good job figuring out roles for everyone, and everyone is involved,” said Stastny, 34, who should pass his father’s 977 NHL games played mark next season. “Over the course of the playoffs you need everyone to step up. Ever since Pete came in we’ve changed a few things system-wise, on the ice. When it comes to fruition, you start believing in it.
“That’s why we’re confident in our team. We try to set the tempo the way we want to play.”
It’s a tempo the Canucks are going to have catch up with, starting tonight.