This first postseason experience for the young core of the Vancouver Canucks has already been quite a trip. They’re not ready to leave the bubble yet.
Christopher Tanev’s wrist shot just 11 seconds into overtime gave the Canucks a 5-4 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Friday night to win the best-of-five Western Conference qualifying round series in four games.
“They learn quickly. They learn on the fly. I’ve said it before: Coaching this group is enjoyable,” Canucks coach Travis Green said.
Tanev’s snipe from just in front of the blue line zipped through traffic and beat Wild goalie Alex Stalock stick side to give the Canucks their first postseason series win since 2013. This is the first time in five years that Vancouver has reached the playoffs.
“We’ve taken it to heart, and we wanted to come out and prove ourselves,” said Bo Horvat, who scored for Vancouver off a feed from Tanner Pearson with 5:46 left in regulation — the third tying goal of the game for the Canucks.
Pearson, Brandon Sutter and Quinn Hughes also scored as Vancouver kept attacking a Wild defense missing stalwart Ryan Suter and wore down Stalock to erase leads of 1-0, 3-1 and 4-3.
Luke Kunin, Eric Staal, Joel Eriksson Ek and Nico Sturm had the goals for the Wild, who squandered their two-goal advantage over a 3:05 span midway through the second period.
Sturm’s first NHL goal gave the Wild the lead back with 52 seconds left before the second intermission, and the 25-year-old left wing’s slick short-side shot that sneaked between Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom’s arm and the post nearly held up as the winner.
“When you have a lead, especially with the type of group we have, you expect to get the job done,” Staal said. “Credit them. They kept coming and kept attacking and were able to cash in on a couple broken plays and a couple good plays.”
Assigned to the early slot in Edmonton on Thursday, the two teams were back in the late-night window they’d been in for the first two games. The puck didn’t drop until 9:01 p.m., about 8 1/2 hours later than for Game 3.
Stalock, who stopped 26 shots, was sharper than Markstrom. He helped the Wild start just the way they needed to after a listless and undisciplined performance the day before.
Canucks defenseman Tyler Myers was called for roughing just 2:48 into the game, and Kunin scored on the power play. That unit had slumbered through Game 3.
The Canucks just didn’t let Minnesota’s leads last long, though, finding holes in the Suter-less blue line with a relentless attack.
“We thought we had the game in our hands tonight. We just didn’t make the plays at the end,” Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon said.
Markstrom was not on his game, giving up sharp-angle goals to Staal and Sturm and allowing several long rebounds, but the Canucks had his back.
“Marky doesn’t give himself enough credit. He’s been a brick wall for us all year,” Horvat said. “Obviously he might want a couple back tonight, but you know what? He’s been our rock ever since day one, and we wouldn’t be in this position without him.”
Suter departed Game 3 early with an unspecified injury. Carson Soucy moved up to the top blue line pair with Spurgeon, and Matt Bartkowski cracked the lineup for the first time in the series. Matt Dumba replaced Suter on the first power play unit. … Oscar Fantenberg was a late scratch on defense for the Canucks, and Olli Juolevi made his debut in his place. … Sturm, who has played in only eight regular season games in the NHL and was a healthy scratch for Games 1 and 2, replaced Ryan Donato on the fourth line for Game 3. … Myers had 18 penalty minutes in the series.
The Canucks advance to the first round and will face either Dallas or St. Louis in a best-of-seven series next week. Calgary, Arizona and Chicago have also qualified. Colorado and Vegas will each be one of the top two seeds.