Scenes from morning skate: It’s go time as Canucks and Preds prepare to open the playoffs

Photo credit:© Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
5 days ago
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At long last, Stanley Cup Playoff hockey returns to Rogers Arena. After a nine year absence, the Vancouver Canucks (50-23-9) will hit the ice tonight in front of their home fans when they host the Nashville Predators (47-30-5) in Game 1 of this Western Conference first round match-up.
It’s the first meeting between these teams since December 19th and the Preds’ first visit to Vancouver since October 31st.

What we saw

Fifteen Canucks took to the ice as part of the team’s well-attended optional skate this morning. JT Miller, Filip Hronek, Dakota Joshua, Nils Höglander, Pius Suter, Sam Lafferty, Ilya Mikheyev, Phil Di Giuseppe were out along with presumptive healthy scratches Vasily Podkolzin, Nils Aman, Noah Juulsen and Mark Friedman. Rick Tocchet suggested Sunday morning he had to make a final check on the availability of at least one player, but expected to line-up tonight the way the team practiced on Saturday.
The club also had three goaltenders on the ice with Thatcher Demko warming up in one end while Casey DeSmith and Arturs Silovs shared a net at the other end.
Demko gets the start in goal. He was 2-0 with a 2.00 GAA and a .915 save percentage in his two appearances against the Predators this season.
Conor Garland holds the hot offensive hand as the playoffs begin, riding a five-game point streak (4+3=7) into action tonight. Garland scored his 20th goal of the season in the team’s regular season finale in Winnipeg on Thursday night.
The Canucks swept the season series from the Predators with two wins in Nashville and a 5-2 victory on home ice. Elias Pettersson led the Canucks with four goals against Nashville while Quinn Hughes led all skaters with six points. Colton Sissons had a pair of goals for the Preds in the three head-to-head meetings.
While the Canucks finished 10 points ahead of the Predators in the overall standings, the Preds (61) actually had one more point than the Canucks (60) since Christmas. After a 5-10 start to the season, the Predators went 42-20-5 the rest of the way including a 16-0-2 stretch from mid-February through late March.
Juuse Saros, the busiest goalie in the NHL this season, starts for the Preds. He was 35-24-5 in his 64 appearances with a 2.86 GAA and a .906 save percentage.
Filip Forsberg finished the year sixth among all NHL goal scorers with 48 on the season and was fifth with 347 shots on goal. Forsberg has 22 goals more than the next highest-scoring Predator Ryan O’Reilly who finished 26 on the season.
Roman Josi led all NHL defencemen with 23 goals and with 85 points finished third in scoring behind Quinn Hughes (92) and Cale Makar (90).
Head coaches Rick Tocchet and Andrew Brunette were teammates briefly with the Washington Capitals in the 1996-97 NHL season.
Today’s referees: Steve Kozari and Kyle Rehman (with Michael Markovic as the stand-by official)

What we heard

Rick Tocchet on the Predators trying to play the underdog card heading into this series: “We’re in the same boat. Nobody expected us to be here. I hear what they’re playing, but we can play the same game. Nobody expected us to win the Pacific Division and all that stuff. So it’s all internal pressure that we handle inside. And that’s the way we have to play it.”
Tocchet believes he hasn’t seen the very best from his Canucks yet and hopes to see it in the playoffs: “I think we can play better and I think that’s going to come. I think there is better hockey in us. And to win in the playoffs, you better have it. Every player should have that belief that I can play better. There is a percentage of better hockey I can play. I think you have to have that attitude.”
Dakota Joshua on the emotions heading into tonight’s playoff opener: “Very exciting time and we’re happy that the time has finally come. It should be a great atmosphere tonight and I know everyone can’t wait to get out there. I’m sure the emotions will be pretty high to start. Getting the first few shifts under you will hopefully settle things down. But that comes with the environment and that’s why we play the games to get to these moments, so it should be a fun one.”
Carson Soucy, who played a pair of Games 7 for Seattle last season, on playoff hockey: “It’s the best. Especially Game 7 against Colorado last year leaving the rink that was one of the best feelings in hockey. And that was only round one. Each and every win. Each and every game. Even after a loss, if you played well there’s still that sense of accomplishment of being proud of the group. But, yeah, winning a playoff game. There’s not much that beats it.”
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