It's time for the Canucks to bring in the intensity as the playoffs begin
Game 1 - Minnesota Wild vs. Vancouver Canucks - Sunday August 2 - 7:30 p.m. - Sportsnet, Sportsnet 650
It's still a bit hard to believe that the playoffs have arrived!
I was a few minutes late in turning on my TV for the Rangers/Hurricanes game this morning and was amazed to see that I'd already missed a goal and a fight in the first three minutes or so. Looks like the guys are raring to go, and fully understand the urgency of getting out to a good start in a short best-of-five series.
Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli were on Saturday's Canucks Zoom call. They took notice.
Maybe it's good for the Canucks to have a day and a half to observe before their own first game. Travis Green also makes a good point — that energy and emotions will need to be maintained for the full 60 minutes — or more.
Don't forget, playoff overtime rules apply in the qualifying-round series. That's 5-on-5 sudden death. Play till somebody scores, as long as it takes.
I was on the Canucks' Zoom call on Friday. Spirits were high all round — Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Travis Green all seemed like they were in great moods.
Green said everybody on the team is healthy. At practice on Friday, he skated 14 players with the main group — the 12 who made up the top four lines in the exhibition game against Winnipeg, plus Jake Virtanen and Loui Eriksson. Zack MacEwen skated with the Black Aces.
I asked Green about his overall impression of the game experience on Wednesday night.
"It was definitely different to start," he said. "Ice conditions seemed okay to me — probably the players would have a better sense for that than I would, actually.
"During one of the breaks I talked to Newell Brown about, that it didn't feel a whole lot different. I thought our group, you know, stayed up in the game. There was a lot of energy, it felt like, on our bench. I think our guys were excited to play.
"I was actually after happy with it. It is different, without a doubt. You don't have the crowd cheering and you've got the noise coming in, and the music. I thought the NHL did a great job."
When teams arrived in the bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto on Sunday, they were asked to stay with their groups for the first five days or so, to maintain a sort of group quarantine.
That time has passed now — and as of Friday, there have been no positive test results.
I asked Quinn Hughes if there was a bit of a sense of relief from being through another stage of the quarantine process, and if he was expecting to see more mixing and mingling between players going forward.
"Yeah, it is nice to get those five or six days whatever it was over with," he said.
"You can be a little bit freer and go to dinners and do stuff like that. But as far as seeing other guys and other teams — I've got buddies, you know, Matthew Tkachuk and a couple guys in Chicago that are friends of mine.
"So of course you want to see those guys but at certain points, you're here with your teammates and it's a serious atmosphere here, you know, to win hockey games.
"If there's time for that on an off day or anything, I'm sure it'll be fun. But at the same time, I think this is a real good opportunity where we can hang out with our own team. You're not always on the road for three or four weeks at a time, everyone has family. So, to see some of the older guys and hang with those guys — it's a great opportunity for everyone.
"I think it's been good, to just kind of hang out with our own team. But I'm sure when the opportunity comes, we'll be allowed to do that as well."
Of course, the Minnesota Wild is one of the other five teams also staying in the Sutton Place Hotel with the Canucks.
Wild beat reporter Sarah McLellan did a nice job of getting her team's perspective on the unusual situation in this article.
She also mentioned that the Wild are completely healthy, and that coach Dean Evason won't be announcing his starting goaltender until after he informs both goalies on Saturday.
McLellan has already been in Edmonton for two weeks, in a hotel room. She just completed her 14-day quarantine and will be reporting live from here on out.
So will I. I've been here since Wednesday, covering the Western hub for the New York Times. My first story went live on Saturday.
I made it to three of the six exhibition games — and it was a really special experience. Feels so great to see live hockey again — and I'll watch as much as I can while I'm here.
I'll leave it there for now. Enjoy the game!!