Canucks looking to build momentum against Leafs

NHL

While the wisdom of having the Vancouver Canucks play roughly a third of their schedule in a month just to finish the regular season can be debated, no one can deny how impressive their return to action was on Sunday.

Playing for the first time since March 24 due to a severe COVID-19 outbreak, Vancouver erased a 2-0 second period deficit at home and defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 when captain Bo Horvat scored his second goal of the match 1:19 into overtime.

Horvat and the host Canucks aim for a sweep of the two-game series when the teams meet Tuesday night.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our guys and the way they manned up tonight and stuck with the process and willed their way to that win,” Horvat said.

Horvat was involved in all three goals for Vancouver, scoring the first late in the second period and then drawing the secondary helper at 12:03 of the third period when Nils Hoglander equalized with his eighth marker of the season.

But Horvat wasn’t the game’s first star. That went to goalie Braden Holtby, who stopped 37 of 39 shots in a performance more reminiscent of his days with the Washington Capitals than anything he’s done with the Canucks.

Prior to that effort, Holtby ceded at least three goals in six of his previous seven starts, including four in three straight games. Even after stoning Toronto, Holtby’s save percentage is still just .899 and his goals-against average remains a puffy 3.44.

However, normal starter Thatcher Demko, who was one of 22 players to test positive for COVID-19, wasn’t available to return. So Holtby played and helped Vancouver grab two points.

“You’ve got to tip your hat to the goalie,” Leafs center Auston Matthews said. “Holtby played unreal tonight. He made some unbelievable saves.”

It may take that type of consistent effort for the Canucks to make up 10 points on fourth-place Montreal in the North Division. Sunday’s contest was the first of 19 games in 32 days, including 12 games in 19 days in May.

Meanwhile, Toronto picked up a point but saw its skid reach four games. While the first-place Leafs remain four points ahead of Winnipeg in the North, they also need to find traction at some point during a five-game trip that takes them to Winnipeg for two games and then to Montreal to wrap it up.

Toronto will also be without right wing Zach Hyman, who absorbed a knee-to-knee hit from defenseman Alexander Edler in the second period Sunday and left the game. Hyman, the team’s fourth-leading scorer with 15 goals and 33 points in 43 games, will be out for at least two weeks.

“He’s such an integral part of our group,” center John Tavares said. “The elements he brings to our team, you can’t replace that. He plays such a key role for us.”

Edler earned a five-minute major and game misconduct for kneeing. He was suspended for two games on Monday.

This will be the seventh meeting between the teams this year. Each has won three times.

–Field Level Media

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