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I Watched This Game: Deafening crowd fuels Canucks comeback over Predators

"As I was stepping on the ice, I got chills" — Canucks take Game 1 against the Predators in front of mind-blowingly-loud Rogers Arena.
The Vancouver Canucks scored three straight goals in the third period to take down the Nashville Predators in Game 1.

Dakota Joshua said it was a “spectacle.” Quinn Hughes called it “electric.” Rick Tocchet described it as “incredible.”

There’s another word for Rogers Arena during Sunday night’s Game 1 between the Vancouver Canucks and the Nashville Predators: loud.

It was earth-shakingly, eardrum-rattlingly, spend-the-next-week-deafenedly loud. Canucks fans welcomed the return of Stanley Cup Playoff hockey back to Vancouver with a jet airplane roar. 

It was obvious an hour before puck drop that there was going to be a different atmosphere in the building. It was enough that even a stoic professional like Elias Lindholm had to take a moment to keep his composure.

“It was goosebumps, for sure,” said Lindholm. “Just being in the warm-ups, people standing up and you’re fired up. You have to control your emotions a little bit during the warm-up and, obviously, when you go out there for the anthems.”

The atmosphere was ramped up expertly by the in-arena entertainment crew with pump-up videos, music, and lights. And then the opening chords of “Where the Streets Have No Name” by U2 resonated through the building and the fans erupted to welcome the players onto the ice for the start of the game. 

“As I was stepping on the ice, I got chills,” said Tyler Myers. “It was everything we thought it would be and more.”

“You think you know what to expect until you get out there,” said Joshua. “You don’t.”

The actual puck drop made it clear that this was going to be a different environment when the fans roared as loud as a regular season goal celebration for J.T. Miller winning the opening faceoff.

Miller got legitimately emotional talking about the crowd.

“I mean, when we came out on the ice today, it was probably one of the more special things I've been a part of other than the birth of my children and my wedding,” said Miller. “It's hard not to get choked up when you see that. I mean, that literally is everything — that emotion and that noise and the towels. I mean, if you can't get up for that, then you've got something wrong with you. That was amazing. 

“And then once the first couple of shifts subsided, it was nice to kind of settle in and play a game but I think I got a different perspective on what hockey means to the people here.”

For Hughes, who was playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in front of fans for the first time in his career, he couldn’t help but drag his sibling rivalry into the mix.

“I couldn’t really believe how loud the fans were,” said Hughes. “I’ve seen some playoff games — I went to New Jersey and the Garden last year and watched but it wasn’t anything like what we just witnessed. 

“It was pretty special, especially for me being here for five years and seeing some of the lows that we’ve hit. To be able to come out here and see the support and see how much it means to the city and the people here was pretty special.”

The fans delivered for the team and then the team delivered for the fans when I watched this game.

  • Like Casey Kasem, the Canucks delivered the hits all night long but particularly in a raucous first period, with the Predators giving as good as they got. The two teams combined for 12 hits in the first five minutes alone. Unlike Casey Kasem, the Canucks came just short of 40 hits:the final tally was 39 hits for the Canucks to 32 for the Predators. 
  • “We keep joking there wasn't even a puck out there in the first,” said Miller of the hit parade. “We knew it was going to be like that, I mean, with the fans like that. Physicality is a part of our DNA as a hockey team and it fit nicely tonight.”
  • Miller was barely joking about the puck not existing in the first period. The two teams racked up the hits but shots on goal were only 6-to-4 for the Predators. One of those shots, however, led to an absolutely incredible save by Thatcher Demko. Anthony Beauvillier darted up the left wing and redirected a pass from Luke Evangelista but Demko went into the full splits to not only save the puck but also save all of us from the narrative about the former Canuck opening the scoring for the Canucks’ opposition in Game 1. 
  • The Predators still opened the scoring in the first period thanks to some blown coverage on a defensive zone faceoff. Elias Pettersson was waved out of the faceoff circle and replaced by Sam Laffery and the swap seemed to leave the forwards unsure who was taking who. As the wingers, Pettersson and Nils Höglander were responsible for the points but Lafferty, left spinning off the faceoff, went with Höglander to the right point, leaving Jason Zucker open at the side boards. His shot beat Demko on the short side through traffic.
  • “Lafferty’s the centreman, so that’s Laff,” said Tocchet on the goal. “He went out as the right winger and he’s got to be the centreman. If he stays there — I’m not saying he would have prevented a goal but maybe. Laff’s got to play centreman, not wing.”
  • With the Canucks struggling to get pucks on net, Tocchet started blending the lines right from the first period, though he seemed to always retract to the starting lineup after. He even sent out the Lotto Line for a couple of first-period shifts, looking for a spark. That’s a tactic to keep an eye on as the series progresses. 
  • Narrative City came calling in the second period, as the much-maligned Elias Lindholm came through in the clutch with the Canucks’ first goal of the playoffs. It was a smooth breakout from Nikita Zadorov up to Dakota Joshua, who sent Lindholm in on the left wing. Lindholm unleashed hell like he had been signaled by Maximus Decimus Meridius, firing a flaming arrow under Juuse Saros’s right arm. 
  • Beyond the goal, Lindholm was a two-way beast all night, hard-matching against the Predators’ top line all night and winning the match-up two goals to none. “Lindy did awesome,” said Miller. “I don’t know what the chances were but they obviously limited most of the high-danger stuff, if not all of it.”
  • “Lindy, I don’t even know what his stats are, but if you really watch him throughout a game, he does so many little things that go unnoticed,” said Tyler Myers. “People don’t appreciate it as much as they should. He’s an incredibly solid, stable player. He’s really fun to be on the ice with and whether he gets points or not, he drives a lot of our system.”
  • The Canucks got into some penalty trouble in the second period, though not for boarding or charging like one might expect in such a physical game. Three straight penalties in the second turned the momentum back in favour of the Predators. They were legitimate penalties, though sometimes confusing, with even Carson Soucy startled when it was announced that he was being penalized, not for what seemed like a pretty obvious trip, but for holding.
  • “They were unfortunate penalties, I don’t think we were undisciplined,” said Tocchet. “I thought it was a well-reffed game. It’s just, things happen sometimes.”
  • Ryan O’Reilly gave the Predators the 2-1 lead on the power play, taking advantage of an over-aggressive penalty kill. He got the puck at the left faceoff circle and Tyler Myers had to choose between taking away the shooting lane or the passing lane to the back door. He chose passing lane and O’Reilly rifled the puck top corner past Demko’s glove.
  • The Canucks considered challenging the goal, as Luke Evangelista contacted Demko’s glove while trying to tip the puck. It was awfully close, but it looked like the puck was already past Demko when Evangelista made contact and the Canucks didn’t want to risk a delay-of-game penalty in a one-goal game. Instead, like they were a loved one he let go, Tocchet trusted his team to come back.
  • “I did swear: ‘Are you effing sure?’” said Tocchet about trusting his video coaches with the decision not to challenge. “I don’t like doing that to the guys because it’s pressure on them, but it’s on me.”
  • The Canucks were still down by one goal almost halfway through the third period but they never seemed to panic, showing more maturity than you might expect for a team with limited playoff experience. 
  • The third-period comeback started with what at first appeared to be a goal by Quinn Hughes. After Brock Boeser sent a shot wide off the rush, the puck came back to him and he gave it to Hughes for a point shot through more layers than a lasagna. The goal was initially credited to Hughes but, upon further review, Pius Suter got a piece of the puck to redirect it under Saros’s glove. 
  • “I thought Sutes tipped it actually, I'm pretty sure he did. I heard something when it went by me, but I think he might have got it,” said Miller. “But, I mean, that's exactly what we’ve talked about: low to high, shoot the puck with traffic. I mean, this is one of the better goalies in the league and if he can see it, he's going to stop it. That's something we've been preaching and I'm glad we got rewarded.”
  • 12 seconds later, the Good Job Lads — Garland, Joshua, and Lindholm — came through with the go-ahead goal. Lindholm crashed in on the forecheck to free up the puck, then Garland swooped in to grab it and feed it to his good buddy in front of the net. Joshua’s finish was exquisite, as he dragged the puck towards himself, then snapped it away from himself, making like he was on a paleo diet and going against the grain.
  • “I couldn't be happier for him,” said Miller when asked about Joshua. “You know, he's such a big part of this hockey team and I don't even know if he knows how good he is, man. He's so good at a lot of things and I'm just really happy for him to get rewarded tonight, he played great.”
  • After Joshua’s goal, the Canucks clamped down on the game like they were part of the Robot Mafia. They gave the Predators little to work with and when they did get chances, Thatcher Demko was solid as a rock. It’s the same thing we’ve seen from the Canucks all season long, except the building was louder.
  • Joshua wrapped up his first playoff game with the Canucks by firing into the empty net for the 4-2 insurance goal. He finished the game with two goals, one assist, and six hits. He even went 100% in the faceoff circle — he won one-out-of-one faceoffs but it still counts.
  • One win down; fifteen to go.