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‘Bring it on’: Canucks coach Tocchet ready to silence the doubters

Edmonton, Vancouver set to do battle in Round 2 of NHL Stanley Cup playoffs

Rick Tocchet doesn’t mind the fact that his Vancouver Canucks aren’t favoured to win against their next playoff opponent.

“I love being doubted,” the head coach said.

Analysts have been skeptical of the Canucks all season, Tocchet added.

The team wasn’t favoured to make the playoffs, but spent much of the regular season hovering around the top of the NHL standings. Many believed the Canucks would fall apart in the first round, but Vancouver eliminated the Nashville Predators in a gritty, six-game series.

Now the betting odds are on the Edmonton Oilers to top the Canucks in a best-of-seven, second-round matchup that starts Wednesday.

That’s just fine by Tocchet.

“I think we kind of like that underdog role,” he said. “And I think players should embrace it. I really do.”

Vancouver was the dominant side in the regular-season series between the two clubs, with the Canucks sweeping the Oilers 4-0.

While there are lessons to take from those games, Edmonton — which advanced to the second round by topping the L.A. Kings in a five-game series — isn’t dwelling on the results, said head coach Kris Knoblauch.

“It’s in the past, but obviously, with the series being as lopsided as it was, we need to address some things and change some things,” he said.

“We were swept in the series and outscored pretty badly, so it would be pretty naive to say we didn’t need to change anything and everything went smoothly and we’re just going to play the Vancouver Canucks how we played.”

After a rough start to the campaign, Edmonton finished the regular season second in the Pacific Division, five points back of Vancouver.

The Oilers have continued to roll in the playoffs, with captain Connor McDavid putting up a league-leading 12 points (one goal, 11 assists) in the first round. Zach Hyman has continued his blistering scoring pace, too, amassing seven goals across the first five games of the post-season.

The Canucks know the team they’ll face on Wednesday is much different than the one they beat during the regular season.

“We should be super excited. This is a rivalry that we love playing against,” said forward J.T. Miller. “Obviously, a couple special players over there. We should take a lot of pride in these games. And I know that we have going back to Game 1 of this season. And obviously they’re going to be hungry.”

Special teams are sure to be key in the second-round series.

The Oilers utilized a potent power play against the Kings, capitalizing on 45 per cent of their chances with the man advantage. The Canucks power play, meanwhile, struggled, operating at just 15.4 per cent against the Predators.

Both Vancouver and Edmonton relied on formidable penalty kills in the first round, too, with the Oilers killing off every single infraction they faced. The Canucks penalty kill was 90.9 per cent.

Things can change quickly between playoff series, though, McDavid said.

“We’re a good power-play unit. That being said, they’re going to throw different things at us, we’ll throw different things at them,” he said. “It’s a playoff series. And we’ll challenge each other. They’re a good PK, we’re a good power play. We’ll see.”

Wednesday will mark the first playoff game between Edmonton and Vancouver since 1992, when the Oilers bested the Canucks in a six-game set.

Going up against a Canadian team in the second round feels a bit like the 2022 playoffs when the Oilers faced their provincial rivals, the Calgary Flames, in a post-season Battle of Alberta, McDavid said.

“Two excited buildings, Canadian cities, so I would expect it to be pretty similar to that,” he said. “Obviously a new challenge and I’m looking forward to that.”

Both sides may be without some key players for Game 1.

Edmonton forward Adam Henrique missed practice with an ankle injury Tuesday. On the Canucks side, centre Elias Pettersson also missed practice Tuesday, though Tocchet said he was “just a little bit under the weather.”

Vancouver’s star goalie, Thatcher Demko, is still recovering from a lower-body injury that kept him out of all but one game in the first round. Tocchet has not said whether it will be rookie Arturs Silovs or veteran backup Casey DeSmith in the Canucks’ net to start the second-round series.


Regular-season series: Vancouver 4-0

Goals per game: Edmonton — 3.56 (4th); Vancouver — 3.40 (6th)

Top scorers: Edmonton — Connor McDavid, 132 points; Vancouver — J.T. Miller, 103 points

Starting goaltender: Vancouver — Thatcher Demko, 35-14-2, 2.45 GAA, .918 save percentage; Edmonton — Stuart Skinner, 57-36-16, 2.62 GAA, .905 save percentage

Power play percentage: Edmonton — 26.3 (4th); Vancouver — 22.7 (11th)

Penalty kill percentage: Edmonton — 79.5 (15th); Vancouver — 79.1 (17th)

The Big Stat: The Canucks spent 78 per cent of their first-round series within one goal of the Predators. The Oilers spent 58 per cent of their matchup within a single tally of the Kings.