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Playoffs qualified, division title achieved, but can they win a round?


What does it take? How much does playing at home matter for the Vancouver Canucks who found some success in the bubble?

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It’s one thing to make the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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It is, of course, another thing to not just make the playoffs, but also to win your division.

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Neither, though, are really all that instructive in winning a post-season round in the playoffs.

The last time the Vancouver Canucks made the playoffs, they won a round. A number of key figures in that bizarre 2020 summertime campaign are still key figures in this year’s team, like Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, Thatcher Demko and Quinn Hughes.

There are others in the current Canucks’ dressing room who have had success elsewhere, like Cup-champion Ian Cole.

But they all say whatever has gone before, throw it out the window.

“The bubble was awful,” Pettersson said. There’s just no comparing then to now.

He had 18 points in 17 games that summer, but what’s in front of him and his teammates now is a new challenge.

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“No, we don’t take that (experience) into account,” he said. “Also that was four years ago. This is almost a whole new team.”

Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet can certainly appreciate where Pettersson is coming from. He coached the Arizona Coyotes in the bubble as well. His team won their play-in round series versus the Nashville Predators, then got thumped in the first round by the Colorado Avalanche.

Tocchet said he doesn’t take away from what the Tampa Bay Lightning achieved by winning the Cup that year, they went through a grind to take their championship, but for many teams, it just didn’t have any spark.

He was proud of how his team performed in knocking off the Predators, but in the end it just wasn’t the same experience.

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“It’s tough. To me, it wasn’t playoff hockey, but they were still competitive games. You can take something from it, 100 per cent. But … the noise factor and … there was some games where I don’t think anybody wanted to be there. So that’s why it’s hard to really judge that.”

That noise factor is something that Boeser is looking forward to. At home, the fans and the players will bring a level of energy that just didn’t exist playing in those bizarre 2020 games in Edmonton.

“I think we just got to look at it like our first time,” he said of 2020.

The playoffs this time around are a whole different beast, he agreed.

“I think just with fans and the momentum shifts and all that it’s something new to us and something that we’re gonna have to embrace.”

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He was in the building for the Sedins’ career finale in 2018, an environment that most observers would say was close to a playoff atmosphere. Boeser’s face lit up and he stood a little taller, the memory clearly giving him a dose of energy when it was put to him as a possible comparator.

“It’s just gonna be a new experience, but … we have heard it loud in this building, like when we play the Leafs. And yeah, just looking back at Daniel and Henrik’s final game that was crazy. I wasn’t playing in it but just keep watching it from upstairs was pretty cool. So yeah, I’m definitely getting excited.”

To win that first round, Tocchet said, it’s all about focusing on Game 1.

He’s played in a lot of playoff games. He’s won Cups and Canada Cups. He’s learned a lot about hockey since becoming a coach too. And the playoffs are the ultimate in the game-by-game approach, he said.

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“Every game is different. And I think you can’t worry about, you can’t look at the series. You got to look at Game 1. There’s adjustments made after Game 1. There’s a lot of things that happen after Game 1,” he said.

“How do you win a series I think it’s, ‘How do you win Game 1?’ It’s how you approach it. Then it’s, ‘How do you win Game 2?’ ”

He can’t wait for the chess match.

“I always find in the regular season, my theory is like 90 per cent you worry about yourself, 10 per cent the other team. Maybe even less than that,” he said. “Playoffs, it starts to go like 80-20. Now you’re looking, ‘OK, we got to get this guy or this line. We might want to switch this guy on this line.’

“You do a lot more of that in the series but you got to be careful, you don’t over-coach in the series too … You don’t over coach just because of one game.”

pjohnston@postmedia.com

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