Game 7 notebook: Losing Boeser adding ‘fuel to the fire’ for Canucks vs. Oilers

Vancouver Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet discusses how the team will prepare for Game 7 against the Edmonton Oilers with forward Brock Boeser sidelined in hopes of players stepping up to fill the void and make the most of the opportunity.

VANCOUVER — After making it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs’ second round without their star goaltender, the surprising Vancouver Canucks must play their biggest game in 13 years on Monday night without their leading goal scorer, too.

Canuck coach Rick Tocchet confirmed Monday morning the news that broke Sunday that winger Brock Boeser, who scored 40 goals in the regular season before adding seven more in 12 playoff games as one of Vancouver’s top-three skaters, will be unable to play due to a blood clot.

It is another gut-punch to an organization whose fans are accustomed to body blows and bad luck during a fruitless 54-year wait for a Stanley Cup.

Facing a heavily favoured Oilers team that has trailed three times in this series, the Canucks can advance with a win at Rogers Arena to their first conference final since 2011 — and just the fourth in franchise history. Vancouver is 3-0 in conference finals, mirroring its 0-3 heartache in Stanley Cup Finals.

“It’s a very tough situation,” Canucks winger Dakota Joshua said of Boeser’s indefinite absence. “You hate to see it. He’s our longest-tenured Canuck. But it just adds all the more fuel to the fire to get this done for him. No one’s cheering us on more than him tonight. And … we don’t want to let him down as well, so we’ll be battling for him out there.”

Teammate Tyler Myers said: “Brock is a great person. Him and I have gotten really close over the last five years during my time here. Never mind the hockey side of things … great guy to have in the room and definitely will be missed. Whenever any guy loses time — and, obviously, he feels awful about it — you just rally around him. You support him, and you also help the next guy coming in. He’ll be fine. We’ll help him along the way.

“Brock’s been a great player for us. You know, we would love to have him in the lineup, for sure. But it’s (things) like this you have to be ready for, you have to expect it at unexpected times.”

The Canucks have played since the opening game of the Stanley Cup tournament without Vezina Trophy-finalist goalie Thatcher Demko. First Casey DeSmith and, for the last nine games, Arturs Silovs has filled in admirably for Demko. Silovs, the 23-year-old minor-league callup who has now played as many NHL playoff games as he had NHL appearances the last two years, starts again Monday night against Oiler Stuart Skinner.

But the Canucks have no one to replace Boeser. Apart from leading the team in goals, tied with J.T. Miller at 12 points in 12 games, Boeser has evolved into a key two-way player.

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With linemates Miller and Pius Suter, Boeser has been deployed for much of the series against Connor McDavid’s line.

“I had Brock Boeser sometimes checking … all year against some of the best players and playing when we have an empty net,” Tocchet said. “Like, if I said that a year ago, people would think I’d be crazy. That’s how much he’s … evolved.”

With a few players missing from Sunday’s practice and no morning skate on Monday for the Canucks, it’s challenging to predict what Tocchet will do with his forward lines. It appears Ilya Mikheyev and Sam Lafferty are coming back into the lineup for Game 7, and key centre Elias Lindholm practised Sunday between wingers Joshua and Conor Garland.

“You’ve got to lean on some other guys,” Tocchet said of game-planning for McDavid. “Some other guys are going to have to take a piece of the pie on that. There might be some different combos at different times.”

One of the Canucks’ most consistent traits this season has been resiliency. Only once has the team lost more than two consecutive games, and it usually responds admirably after poor performances like the 5-1 loss in Game 6 on Saturday.

“I think it’s been great,” Tocchet said. “From my end, being the head coach, we’ve had some ups and downs — a lot more ups this year — but the response from these guys, like, that’s what I’m more proud of — their response (when) things don’t go your way. That’s a credit to them.”

Just Win, Baby

An Oilers team rues the fact it had Vegas by the throat last season and let the Golden Knights off the hook in Round 2, faces the same opportunity Monday night in Vancouver. You can slice this thing up any way you want after six games, but here is the Oilers’ reality:

They need to win one game against a Canucks team that does not have No. 1 goalie Demko, its longest-serving player and leading scorer in Boeser, in a series ghosted by Elias Pettersson and in which Quinn Hughes’ impact has been minimal (0-4-4).

If you think you’re a Stanley Cup contender, and you cannot win this game on this night, it might be time to re-evaluate.

“We need to not let down, not take a step back and think it’s gonna be easy,” said Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch, when asked about facing the Canucks without Boeser. “I’ve seen so many times before where a team is missing a key player and how everyone steps up their game.

“It’s a very powerful thing for a team.”

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How They Line Up

The Oilers will go with their Game 6 lineup, Knoblauch said. That means Corey Perry, whose wealth of experience — including multiple Game 7s — was exactly why he was acquired, will watch from the press box. Sam Carrick will once again centre Edmonton’s fourth line, with Derek Ryan sliding into Perry’s spot at third-line right wing.

Here’s how the Oilers are expected to look:









As for the Canucks, the loss of Boeser will force change, with Phil Di Giuseppe likely to start the night on J.T. Miller’s left side. Here’s how Vancouver could go:

Di Giuseppe-Miller-Suter








Game 7 Lessons

The Canucks have used 12 players in their post-season run who had never played an Stanley Cup playoff game in front of fans before this spring. Half of their team has never experienced the emotional and physical cauldron of a Game 7.

“It’s the biggest moment of most of our lives,” Joshua said. “You know, you can’t really put into words until you’re out there, what it’s going to feel like. But, you know, seize the moment.”

“I don’t think you want to make the moment too big,” Myers said. “It’s the same approach that we’ve had all series, all year, you know, making sure that you stick to your base and your system and the way you need to play it. You don’t want to feel like you have to do more than you (normally do). Just stick to what got us here. Don’t worry about anything else.”

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A “Player Game”

McDavid lost a Game 7 in Anaheim in 2017, and won one at home against Los Angeles in 2022. But he was undefeated on Brian and Kelly McDavid’s Newmarket, Ont., driveway as a kid.

“It’s something that you dream about, playing Game 7,” a super-calm McDavid said Monday morning, meeting the press in the Oilers dressing room. “Especially as a Canadian kid — and an all-Canadian series — knowing what it means to both fan bases, knowing what it means to the country. It’s exciting.”

These teams have met six times in the past 13 days, studying video of each other throughout. By the time we get to this point, it becomes X’s and O’s, and more about executing the accepted methods each team has developed for beating the other.

There’s one puck they both wish to possess. What you do with it when it’s on your stick, how players react in the heat of the moment, is far more important than any pre-game speech delivered by some guy in a suit.

“These are player games,” Knoblauch said. “Us coaches, we’ve prepared the players. We’ve talked about what the opposition does, what we need to do. There’s very little left for us to (say).

“The players know what they need to do, and I don’t think there’ll be very much for me to tell them.”

Inside Noise

The Canucks won’t have Boeser. But they will have the fans who have been about the loudest in the league during the first Stanley Cup playoff games in Vancouver since 2015.

“I knew they were great fans,” Tocchet said. “I didn’t (expect) this. I mean, around town and stuff, it’s pretty special. If you had a Stanley Cup for the fans, they’re right up there. They’re pretty damn good. The way they cheer guys — Petey (Elias Pettersson) the other night or Millsy, Garland … Silovs — and it pumps the guys up. Does it give us an advantage? I don’t know, but it sure gives you some more juice.”

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Who Wants To Be A Hero?

Tocchet on Game 7s: “It’s the role players, man. It’s the guys … they’re good players (but) they come from nowhere and they do something. That’s who you look for, too. Whether it’s Edmonton or us, there’s going to be a guy, a role player, that’s going to be a big key tonight. I don’t know who it’s going to be, but there’s potential for a lot of guys to be that guy.”

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