August 05, 2020

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Ed Willes: Reunion of prolific pair gives Canucks a forceful boost

Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks, right, celebrates his second-period goal on Tuesday with J.T. Miller, left, and Elias Pettersson. The Canucks tied the best-of-five qualifying series with a 4-3 win in Edmonton.
Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks, right, celebrates his second-period goal on Tuesday with J.T. Miller, left, and Elias Pettersson. The Canucks tied the best-of-five qualifying series with a 4-3 win in Edmonton. Photo by Jeff Vinnick /Getty Images Files

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EDMONTON — Tyler Toffoli, by any measure, is a good NHL player who brings a predictable level of production, and that must provide comfort to a head coach.

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He’s consistent. He’s durable. Wind him up and he’ll get you 20 goals. True, he caught a spark playing with Elias Pettersson when he came over from Los Angeles in a deadline trade in what seems like a lifetime ago but was actually February. But his six goals in 10 games with the Canucks were an anomaly.

He’s not an elite goal scorer and never has been in his seven NHL seasons. That’s not a knock. It’s the reality.

Brock Boeser, on the other hand, is a different animal. At 23 and just finishing his third full year, it’s difficult to know what he’ll be, but there is the whiff of something special there, something different from Toffoli.

When you combine that something with Pettersson, you also have the makings of a partnership that can carry a team. That partnership was disrupted by, first, a rib injury to Boeser, then a global pandemic, but it was restored Tuesday night and, suddenly, the Canucks’ play-in series with the Minnesota Wild has a different look and feel to it.

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“Obviously we had some chemistry in the past,” Boeser said following the Canucks’ 4-3 victory in Game 2. “I feel we picked up where we left off. Our top six forwards needed to contribute tonight and I thought we did that.

“It’s unfortunate with (Toffoli) but I’m excited to get back out there with those guys.”

You might say it showed.


Thursday | Game 3

11:30 a.m., Rogers Place (Edmonton) , TV: Sportsnet, Radio: Sportsnet 650 AM

Elias Pettersson looks for a pass from Tyler Toffoli during the first day of training camp at Rogers Arena in July. Losing Toffoli isn’t as big a concern as getting Pettersson firing on all cylinders, writes Ed Willes. Photo by Richard Lam /PNG

While any number of Canucks were deserving of accolades following their series-evening win — Loui Eriksson came out of the press box and played 20 hard minutes, Alex Edler was the best defenceman on the ice, Tanner Pearson scored a crucial goal just 24 seconds in — the reunion of Boeser and Pettersson was the most consequential development for the Canucks.

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True, they didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard — Boeser had a goal, Pettersson had an assist, the first career postseason points for both players. But in terms of impact, their DNA was all over this Canucks victory.

Boeser finished with three shots on goal, all prime scoring chances, and had another goal taken away when Matt Dumba swept away a loose puck on the goal-line in the second period. After copping to a case of the jitters before Game 1, he played a composed, mature game at both ends of the ice.

“He just looks like a more confident player with and without the puck,” said head coach Travis Green.

Brock Boeser scores a second period goal past Alex Stalock of the Minnesota Wild in Game 2. Photo by Jeff Vinnick /Getty Images

Pettersson, meanwhile, has been a standout in both games. The skill level we knew about, but the larger revelation has been his ferocious competitive streak. On Tuesday, he drew three penalties, took a healthy run at veteran defenceman Ryan Suter and cuffed agitator Ryan Hartman late in the game.

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His net drive on J.T. Miller’s second-period goal also seemed to distract Wild goalie Alex Stalock, and his subtle pass to Boeser in front of the Wild net presented his linemate with a tap-in later in the middle frame.

In both games, Pettersson has drawn the level of attention — read: physicality — that’s reserved for the game’s best players but, far from wilting under the heat, he seems to draw strength from it.

“We understand how good he is,” Wild head coach Dean Evason said Wednesday. “There’s no secret there. We have to pay special attention to him and can’t give him the ice that was available to him (in Game 2).”

“I’m always impressed with his skill level,” said Green. “I’ve been anxious to see how he does in this style of hockey. It’s been impressive so far. I have no doubt about him going forward.”

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Elias Pettersson and Jordan Greenway of the Minnesota Wild mix it up in Game 2. Photo by Jeff Vinnick /Getty Images

Still, it’s the alchemy that Boeser and Pettersson produce when they’re together which is the larger story for the Canucks. In Pettersson’s rookie season, the pair were a fixture in the lineup as Pettersson won the Calder and Boeser finished with 26 goals in 69 games.

They also found something with the newly acquired J.T. Miller earlier this season on the Lotto Line (6-40-9, the jersey numbers for Boeser, Pettersson and Miller, respectively) before Boeser went down with an injury in February and his spot was taken by Toffoli.

At that point, the shine was starting to wear off the kid from Minnesota. The rib injury was Boeser’s third straight severe injury in as many years and would have ended his season in ordinary circumstances. He’d also signed a three-year, $17.624-million deal on a cap-strapped team with Toffoli about to enter unrestricted free agency.

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There were reports the Canucks were exploring the possibility of trading Boeser. Given everything in play, that didn’t seem like a reach.

But Boeser used the pause to rebuild his body and confidence. At the Canucks’ training camp he famously declared he was on a mission and he’s backed that up on the ice, looking quicker and stronger than at any point since his rookie season.

“It’s the best player we’ve seen,” said Green.

All this, of course, raises some fairly interesting issues for the Canucks, but those questions can wait. Right now Boeser and Pettersson are back together and it looks like that’s where they belong.

“They like playing together,” said Green. “I think in general good players do blend well. It doesn’t always happen but I think we’ve seen this from the start.”

Even if, like a lot of things these days, it was put on pause.

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