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THE MOJ: Canucks respond to the challenge with best game of the season

Vancouver grits out win after coach Tocchet calls out ‘5 or 6 guys’ as passengers
Vancouver Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet watches as the team practices ahead of Game 1 of their NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series against the Edmonton Oilers, in Vancouver, B.C., Tuesday, May 7, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Challenge made.

Challenge accepted.

Less than 48 hours after Vancouver head coach Rick Tocchet called out his team by saying there were “five or six passengers” in the 3-2 loss against the Edmonton Oilers in Game 4 of their series, the Canucks responded with their best effort against the Oilers and won Game 5 by a 3-2 score Thursday night in Vancouver.

With the win, the Canucks took a three-games-to-two lead in the series and are now one victory away from the Western Conference Final.

J.T. Miller, who had a subpar performance in game four, rebounded to score the winning goal with 33 seconds remaining in the third period to send Rogers Arena into a frenzy and give the Canucks the win. Miller scored after Elias Lindholm threw a puck at the Edmonton net which deflected off of Elias Pettersson’s skate and hit the far post. The puck then bounced right to Miller, who banged it home.

“I was kind of open for a split second early but I’m glad Lindy didn’t force it there because McDavid was ready to go the other way. It was one of those ones where we got a nice bounce. It went off his foot and the post. I got a little lucky there. It was just nice to get rewarded at the end of the game,” said Miller, who added that it was the biggest goal he’s ever scored in his career.

The Oilers led 2-1 after the first period of play. Evander Kane gave the Oilers the lead at 4:34. Carson Soucy of the Canucks tied the game at 17:27 only to see the visitors regain the lead 23 seconds later on a goal by Mattias Janmark.

With all the focus on Pettersson because of his play in the series, ironically enough it was Phil Di Guiseppe who provided the biggest spark with a goal at 5:14 of the second period that tied the game at 2-2.

Di Guiseppe, along with linemates Nils Aman and Vasily Podkolzin, were outstanding in limited duty.

“Ams and Pods played amazing. They won every puck battle. It felt like any time I was moving my feet they were giving me the puck, so kudos to those guys. They really brought it tonight and I think we did a good job,” said Di Guiseppe, who made the most of the 9:13 of ice time he received.

And make no mistake about it, the performance of the fourth line gave the rest of the team plenty of juice.

“It was huge. I thought that fourth line really helped us,” said Tocchet.

“He’s got the baby legs – that’s a real thing. I swear I’ve seen it a lot now where guys come in and play their best game. It does something to your brain. He was unbelievable,” said Miller of Di Guiseppe, whose wife gave birth to a baby boy (Sam) this week.

On a more serious note, Miller said the play of the fourth line inspired the rest of the team.

“That line created a lot of energy and I think it’s contagious when our team skates and creates stalls with the forecheck. It seems like we do it for the next ten minutes every time. It’s contagious in our lineup and they did a hell of a job of driving play, creating long shifts and then all they had was the punch-out and we got to go right back down their throat,” explained Miller.

Another big reason for the Canucks victory was the outstanding play of the penalty kill unit, which killed off five Oiler power plays. The Oilers had come into the game on a five-for-ten heater in the series but were stymied on this night.

“We made a few tweaks. We had a little bit more pressure. It’s a dangerous power play and we held it together,” said Tocchet.

“The reads were good tonight and I thought we pressured them more than in previous games. We didn’t sit back and give them as much time to set up their plays. Everybody that was out there stepped up big,” noted Dakota Joshua.

Now comes the tough part.

Finishing off the Oilers Saturday in Edmonton.

“The next 48 hours is big in what we do and how we handle the prosperity. We win a big game – we go up 3-2 – but it’s going to be so tough there Saturday night. How we handle these next 48 hours mentally and physically…that’s the key. That’s playoff hockey. How do you do that?” said Tocchet, adding that the process would start as soon as he left the podium.


* It was Di Giuseppe’s third game back after being away for the birth of his son Sam after a complicated pregnancy for his wife Maggie. “It’s been a battle for nine months for her. Obviously it’s my job and I’ve been away a lot and she’s been in the hospital a lot. We’ve had a lot of family come in and out and support us. Like I said before, it takes a village and it’s a blessing we got one,” said Di Giuseppe, who was clearly emotional talking about the subject.

* Lost in the all the post-game hoopla was the fact that Silovs made a huge save on Edmonton’s Connor Brown in the first period with the Oilers leading 1-0. Brown found himself alone in the slot and fired a shot that Silovs stopped with his left pad. “It was huge – that’s a two-goal swing. It was a money save. Like I’ve said, I don’t think the moment is too big for him. It was a solid effort from Artie,” said Tocchet. Silovs made 21 saves for Vancouver while Edmonton’s Calvin Pickard stopped 32 shots.

* The 3-2 win marked the ninth consecutive one-goal game the Canucks have played in the post-season.

* You would think that the Canucks physicality and the number of minutes the Oilers top stars are playing bodes well for Vancouver as the series moves on. As Joey Kenward of Sportsnet tweeted, the Canucks have outhit the Oilers 214-143 in the first five games. Conor McDavid is the most obvious example of big minutes - averaging 25:42 of ice time as compared to 21:50 in the L.A. series. Despite those numbers, Edmonton head coach Kris Knoblauch isn’t concerned. “I think they can handle the high minutes. We’re not practicing in between games. I think they recover. We get all the information from our sports scientist who watches that and is always cautious about the guys being tired and worn down and we haven’t got any of that (type of) information,” said Knoblauch.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.

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