Players get pumped up to face their former teams.
Players get pumped up to face their former teams.
Adam Gaudette’s celebration after he scored in the fifth round of the Tuesday shootout to give the Ottawa Senators a 4-3 victory was one for the highlight reels. The former Vancouver Canucks forward went 20 games without a point and wanted to make a point with his play from him and not a gift from Gab.
“It was a long time coming,” Gaudette simply stated. “It was good to prove I can be relied on in those situations.”
It’s different with coaches.
The marquee won’t read ‘Boudreau versus Evason’ on Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. Bruce Boudreau will never come out and say something to stoke the competitive fire on a personal level because it has to be “we” and not “me” when the Canucks open a critical two-game road trip.
Matching coaching wits with Dean Evason, his former assistant who took over as bench boss when Boudreau was dismissed on Valentine’s Day in 2020, is the challenge.
A victory over the National Hockey League’s fifth rated offense that sports a trio of 30-goal forwards and six 20-goal gunners — led by sophomore Kirill Kaprizov’s club-record 43 goals — would be the reward and a reminder of Boudreau’s ability to run a bench with success.
He had guided the Wild to a 7-3-1 surge to pull within three points of a wild-card spot, but was also in the final year of his contract and management made the firing move.
Vancouver Canucks at Minnesota Wild
5 p.m. PT, Xcel Energy Center. TV: Sportnet Pacific. Radio: Sportsnet 650.
Under Evason, the Wild then went 8-4-0 and scored 43 goals, second most in the league, before the season was put on hold by COVID-19. When it was summarized, the Wild was eliminated by the Canucks in four games of the best-of-five qualifying round at the Edmonton playoff bubble.
Fast forward and the tall task for the Canucks in starting the trip on a high note won’t be easy.
Despite their impressive 20-14-4 road record and pushing the Wild to overtime in a 3-2 road loss on March 24 in which Thatcher Demko made 33 saves, defending has to be at a premium and mistakes at a minimum.
The Wild is on an incredible 16-2-4 run and 10-0-1 streak on home ice. Kevin Fiala has 14 points (7-7) during a torrid seven-game surge and it’s a coin toss to whether Cam Talbot or Marc-Andre Fleury gets the net.
“The goaltending has been real good and Fiala has carried us a few games, but most importantly, we have dialed in to playing the right way,” Evason said Wednesday. “It’s limiting turnovers and simplifying by getting pucks deep and the right time and not playing run and gun.”
The Canucks will counter with Demko and Spencer Martin, who have been recalled again under emergency purposes, as Jaroslav Halak deals with a hand injury. He made 14 saves in the first period Tuesday before taking a slash to his blocker glove.
The Canucks also need to get it done in regulation time because they’re 4-7 in overtime and 3-4 in the shootout. Minnesota is 9-3 in extra sessions and 5-4 in shootouts.
Boudreau can take comfort in the fact his resilient club doesn’t stray too far when it gets off its game. A seven-game win streak to start his Canucks’ tenure, and six consecutive wins before the Senators setback Tuesday, speaks of the buy-in and the will and the want to make this more than just playing meaningful games in April.
It will mean everything if they can continue to gut it out and somehow get to May.
“We’ve responded in the past and that’s the kind of mentality we need,” said Boudreau. “This group has fought for almost five months and they’re not going to quit now.
“We’ve become less of a perimeter team. We’re going to the net, staying at the net and trying to get inside the defense and getting a lot of traffic. That creates opportunities for you. It’s hard to score from the outside and you have to get into the dirty areas.”
One player to watch on this trip is Conor Garland.
The diminutive speedster with the big heart to drive the opposition crazy and drive the net with darts and dashes, could be the wild card after enduring an agonizing 19-game goal drought. He responded by playing a better team game in hope that it would transcend to offense. He has eight points (3-5) in his last seven games.
“His tenacity has really shown through and when he gets the puck behind the goalie, he’s not doing seven turns, he’s doing one and taking it to the net and looking for the play,” said Boudreau. “He’s doing what he does because he’s a tough guy to handle down low. He it’s opening up everything for his linemates. ”
OVERTIME— In starting the scoring sequence Tuesday on Travis Dermott’s third-period equalizer, Quinn Hughes tied the franchise assist mark of 55, set by Dennis Kearns in the 1976-77 season. Hughes needs three points to top the 63 points set by Doug Lidster in the 1986-87 campaign.
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