For the first time in ages, there’s hope and excitement in the air at Rogers Arena. You could sense it in the way Canucks players and fans reacted to their 2-1 shootout win over the Boston Bruins Wednesday night.
Players celebrating a victory with more gusto than we’ve seen all year. Fans chanting “Bruce, There It Is!” on their way out the arena doors. It’s all felt like the ending of “Return of the Jedi” when the Rebels and Ewoks celebrated blowing up the second Death Star. An uncertain fate might await us all, but for now, we party!
During a week where owner Francesco Aquilini announced an overhaul of the Canucks’ front office, the team’s fortunes on the ice seemed to have reversed entirely.  The power play has been clicking, the penalty kill no longer looks like the worst in hockey history, and games that were unwinnable last month are suddenly within their grasp again.
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The difference between the team from Travis Green’s final days to the one playing the first games of new head coach Bruce Boudreau’s seems like night and day. The Canucks went from getting dismantled by the Penguins on Saturday to outscoring the Kings and Bruins by a combined score of 5-1.
For most of this season the Canucks have employed a defense first, reserved style of hockey, in an effort to make up for the team’s lack of depth on the blue line. Forwards were asked to sit back and attempt to protect the net, which came at the cost of creating scoring chances off the rush.
On the surface, this strategy makes sense. If you’re not good at defense, you should make a cornerstone of a bigger team effort, right? But that plan also involves spending a lot less time using the offensive skills the Canucks are best at, and it’s noticeably affected the confidence of Vancouver’s best scorers.
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Under Boudreau, the Canucks have been far more aggressive and leaned heavily on the skill of the forwards. The “run and gun” style offense was featured quite a bit in Travis Green’s first few years behind the Vancouver bench, but the team had gotten away from that strategy in recent seasons.
Naturally, the side effect of playing aggressive hockey is how it leaves the defence more exposed. But for a team that currently sits 24th in the league in goals scored and was hemorrhaging scoring chances regardless, it makes a lot more sense for the Canucks to return to focusing on using the skills that make them most successful.
And that return to form has not only translated into some more vintage performances from the team’s best players — it’s made the Canucks exciting again.
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The hardest part about following this Canucks season has been the sense of dread that’s hung over nearly every game like a black cloud. It’s been hard enough for fans to watch a losing team while constant rumours swirl around them every single day. It’s even harder when the skaters on the ice are playing a type of low-energy hockey that seems to be sucking the lifeforce out of them on a nightly basis.
But those days seem to be behind them, for now. The team has a head coach in Boudreau who’s willing to try some more adventurous strategies with his new players, lean a bit more on the Canucks’ stabilizing force in Thatcher Demko, and preach a high-energy style of game that fits the likes of Pettersson, Boeser, Hughes and Höglander perfectly.
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Sure, it’s only been two games, and Vancouver has a long ways to go before they can even think about getting back into any playoff conversations. But hope’s returning to Vancouver at just the right time, and regardless of how the team harnesses it over the next 55 games, fans are finally excited to watch them try.
Now, with Jim Rutherford at the helm of the hockey ops department with full autonomy as he searches for a general manager, the Canucks are icing a product that — for the first time in a while — fans can get excited about.