VANCOUVER -- One year ago, on March 10, 2020, the Vancouver Canucks won a 5-4 shootout thriller against the New York Islanders, pulling themselves back into playoff position with a big win that launched them into a road trip to Arizona and Colorado.
Newest Canuck Tyler Toffoli scored another goal and Brock Boeser had just returned from a rib cartilage injury. Thatcher Demko was finding his game after struggling initially to replace injured goalie Jacob Markstrom.
The city was buzzing about the game and playoff possibilities for the Canucks.
Two days later, with the Canucks in the desert, the National Hockey League shut down indefinitely for the incoming coronavirus.
Exactly a year later, the Canucks play the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night, without fans in Rogers Arena, desperately trying to catch up in the standings in a season shortened by the ongoing pandemic.
And knowing what we know -- and what we’ve endured to get to this point -- this is far preferable to a year ago.
“Going back to that time, it feels like so much has happened since then,” Canucks coach Travis Green said after Wednesday morning’s skate. “From a professional standpoint... that takes care of itself. We control what we can. Everyone's personal lives really got turned upside down. Thinking back to then... it was a scary time, wondering, a lot of question marks in your lives. And not just for us as players and coaches that work in the NHL -- and we're lucky to do so -- but society in general.
“The world's trying to adapt and making the best out of a tough situation. I think that's one lesson you can take from it: Society is strong and we'll come out of this. Persevering is important, not just in sport but in life. It does seem like a long time ago but in the big picture, a year isn't that long. Hopefully we're on the way out of this now with the vaccine and the way the world is adapting to it.”
The NHL, of course, remained closed until July, when 24 teams went to training camp for an extraordinary summer Stanley Cup tournament that was played in “bubbles” in Toronto and Edmonton without a single player or staff member testing positive for COVID-19.
The Canucks won two playoff rounds in August -- their first post-season success since the 2011 team lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
“When you talk about it being one year, it makes you realize it was a pretty long year as I'm sure it was for everyone around the world,” defenceman Tyler Myers said. “I just remember it happening very quickly. We heard some things about the NBA just before we got cancelled. Quite a few of us were out at dinner in Arizona when we finally got confirmation what was going on. And even then, we didn't really know what that meant. A lot of us -- we talk about it today -- thought we'd be back two or three weeks later. All of a sudden, we're playing in a bubble in the summer. It just threw everyone into some very strange times, and it's still strange looking back on it.”
From a hockey standpoint, last March and August were like the good old days for the Canucks, who began the 2021 season 6-11-0, eradicating the positivity from last season and making it extremely unlikely that Vancouver will return to the playoffs this spring.
But the Canucks are on a three-game winning streak for the first time since January, beating teams from Montreal and Toronto that had embarrassed them during Vancouver’s opening month.
And a regulation win Wednesday over the Canadiens would move the Canucks within a single point behind Montreal in the North Division standings. The Canadiens have a whopping five games in-hand, but the standings are the standings and a single point would put a little pressure on Montreal.
“We’re going into these games knowing, feeling, like it’s a big game,” Green said. “We’re into the second half now. We didn’t get as many wins as we wanted in the first half, so every game is important.”
Demko will start in goal for the seventh time in eight games. Since winning the battle for the starting job over Braden Holtby one month ago, Demko’s save percentage of .935 ranks fourth in the NHL among goalies who have played at least five times. His save rate over the last five games is .963.
Centre Elias Pettersson, out with an undisclosed injury, won't play until at least next week.