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Canucks: Playoff time needs to be now time for Elias Pettersson

Elias Pettersson feasted earlier this season on the Predators. Yes, Nashville is greatly improved. But you can’t help but notice the four goals in three games for the star earlier this year.

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At the NHL All-Star break, Elias Pettersson was on top of the world.

He had 64 points in 49 games.

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He would be named third star for the month of February.

He was scoring highlight-reel goals, like the nifty finish from in tight on Jan. 8 at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin, taking a rebound off his own initial shot and deking around and behind the star goalie before tucking the puck inside the near post.

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It’s the perfect goal to illustrate how well things were going for Pettersson at midseason. He scored 14 goals in 13 January games.

But since then, things have often looked like a struggle. The Canucks ended up being consistent through his slump because they had star efforts from Quinn Hughes and J.T. Miller, but this is a different time. Nashville is a one-line team.

The Canucks need to be a two-line team, with Pettersson flying.

For a time you wondered if the weight of his looming contract negotiation was taking a toll; he always insisted it wasn’t, though he did also admit that the noise disappearing after he signed his eight-year contract extension March 2 was a relief.

He scored a nifty goal against the Los Angeles Kings on March 5, just days after signing his new deal, suggesting maybe he had been carrying a mental load, despite his claims to the contrary.

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But that goal stands out because it’s a rare thing for him since the All-Star break: he scored just seven times through February, March and April.

This is now, though. Whatever the struggles, mental, physical or simply bad luck, that he was going through, he has to cast them aside.

The Canucks’ strength this season was defending, and scoring goals from everywhere. Ten players scored into double digits. That matters.

But in the playoffs you only go as far as your stars.

Pettersson feasted earlier this season on the Predators. Yes, Nashville is greatly improved. But you can’t help but notice the four goals in three games for Pettersson earlier this year against Nashville.

The Canucks need that Pettersson to re-emerge.

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Given Pettersson’s second-half scoring slump, is it any surprise that the Canucks were just 25th in the NHL in goals-for after the All-Star break?

He’s been a big-game performer in the past: look at the 18 points in 17 games during the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. Pettersson told Postmedia News earlier this week that those games are long in the past, in an environment that just can’t compare with normal times.

The outsider analysis is allowed to push back on that: give yourself some credit, Pettersson, sure it was a terrible environment, but that’s proof in point. He performed at his peak despite everything.

Other players crumbled. He didn’t.

As a young man, before his NHL rookie season, he was, literally, the golden boy for Vaxjo in the Swedish Hockey League.

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After setting a new U-20 scoring record in the top Swedish pro league, he led his team to the playoff championship, scoring the winner in the championship-winning game and being named playoff MVP.

Remember the photograph of him being painted all in gold?

He can be that guy again. He’s not forgotten how to play the game.

He just needs to push through.

Meanwhile, just as the Canucks’ offence slumped over the second half, the Predators’ attack surged.

Nashville scored the fifth-most goals in the NHL after the All-Star break. That’s how they secured the second wild-card spot as convincingly as they did.

They’ll be a big challenge for a Canucks’ defence that finished the year having given up the fifth-fewest goals.

The Nashville defensive record is just as impressive, though. Since the All-Star break, they’ve given up the sixth-fewest goals. That was better than even the Canucks, who had a respectable go themselves, blighted really only by their defensive collapse against Minnesota in mid-February.

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Take away those 10 goals against and Vancouver would be in the same range as Nashville.

Nashville has the second-best power play since the All-Star break.

Anyway, the point is these Predators are more dangerous than you think.

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