Canucks vs. Predators Game Day: Landing knockout punch takes tact

The Canucks need more than one line Tuesday to send the pesky Predators packing. They need more shots, more players in the fight and more resiliency.

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Vancouver Canucks vs. Nashville Predators

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Round 1, Game 5, NHL playoffs

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When and where: Tuesday, 7 p.m., Rogers Arena
TV: SN Pacific. Radio: Sportsnet 650

The buzz: The longer it goes, the harder it gets.

There’s a franchise history here of how hard it is to escape the opening round of the playoffs. A most memorable run to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final started by blowing a 3-0 series lead to the Blackhawks. It was Chicago captain Jonathan Toews who stated: “We haven’t exposed them for who they are yet.”

And they did.

The Canucks were hammered in Games 4 and 5, and lost Game 6 in overtime. They needed the extra-session heroics of Alex Burrows to ‘Slay the Dragon’ in Game 7 to move on and not have the team dismantled in the off-season.

Getting to the Cup Final meant not tripping over the first series’ hurdle. What does this all mean for Tuesday at Rogers Arena? It means everything.

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The Canucks have been outplayed for large stretches of their first four games against those pesky Predators. Their shots have been limited. Quinn Hughes has been targeted. They’ve had to use three goalies.

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Brock Boeser, right, and linemate J.T. Miller have been a dynamic duo in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Photo by Derek Cain /Getty Images

They needed the late-game, goalie-twice-pulled scoring magic of Brock Boeser on Sunday to force OT and prevail 4-3 to take a 3-1 series’ stranglehold.

It wasn’t pretty. They opened the scoring but struggled to accumulate shots. Their 71 shots through four games are an NHL-low for a first-round series.

If anything, the Canucks have been true to their season-long mantra of resilience.

“There have been times where we’ve shown a lot of character,” said Boeser. “That prepared us for this moment. The message is you can’t give up until the final horn and we didn’t give up there.”

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Boeser’s efforts at 17:11 and 19:52 of the third period capped an unforgettable night.

“We’ve had a few scenarios this season where we’ve got some 6-on-5 goals,” added Boeser. “We kind of know the looks that we want. Sometimes they go in and sometimes they don’t. Luckily, they went in tonight.”

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Boeser finished with eight shots and 12 attempts Sunday and joined select company. Geoff Courtnall (twice), Trevor Linden, Pavel Bure and Doug Halward have also recorded post-season hat tricks.

All that good got them to a place where Elias Lindholm scored at 1:02 of overtime on a sweet feed from Conor Garland. Lindholm was a monster in the faceoff circle by going 15-for-20 (75 per cent), but a short memory will go a long way in Game 5.

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The Predators have plenty of pluck. They get through the neutral zone in waves and cause plenty of havoc. They make zone entries difficult, close down lanes and willingly drop in front of shots. They won’t be an easy out and have too many with playoff experience.

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Elias Pettersson and Nils Hoglander need to connect and contribute Tuesday in Game 5 at Rogers Arena. Photo by Derek Cain /Getty Images

The hope: More than one line can bend the twine. J.T. Miller and Boeser were fabulous Sunday. Miller had three assists and went 12-for-21 in the circle (57 per cent).

Elias Pettersson had another rough night. Nothing to show on the board with no shots and not even a shot attempt. Looks rattled. Needs a goal in the worst way. If his line scores Tuesday, it might get him more engaged.

“If there’s one thing, he’s thinking too much and all these different things,” Canucks coach Rick Tocchet said Monday. “Just keep moving your feet. If he does, everything with come. Watch (Connor) McDavid or (Nathan) McKinnon, they move their feet constantly and are threats everywhere.”

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The fear: Hughes was the meat in a Predators’ forechecking sandwich in Game 4. In a 12-second span of the first period, he was hit hard twice, went to the bench in discomfort and missed a shift. The Canucks need to hold up the Preds better. And Hughes needs to make adjustments.

The wounded: Canucks: Thatcher Demko (knee, week-to-week), and Casey DeSmith (undisclosed, day-to-day). Predators: Spencer Stastney (upper body, day-to-day).

The quote: “We’ve got some work to do. We’re losing battles. We’ve got to get some guys in the fight.” — Tocchet

The lineup: 

Di Giuseppe-Blueger-Lafferty

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The prediction: The Canucks can’t let the Predators off the playoff mat. They strike early, get another power-play goal and seal it with an empty-netter in a 4-2 win.

(What’s your prediction for tonight’s game? Tell us in the comments.)

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