Playoff hockey back in Vancouver as Canucks, Predators collide

League: NHL

Posted on: 21 Apr, 2024 at 01:25 AM

Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The wait is finally over for the Vancouver Canucks and their fans.

When the Canucks face the visiting Nashville Predators on Sunday for Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series, it will be the first time Vancouver has hosted a postseason game since 2015.

The Pacific Division champion Canucks did make the playoffs in 2020, but they had to play bubbled up in Edmonton because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"A bunch of us have been waiting for this for a long time, being in Vancouver," Canucks defenseman Tyler Myers said. "Fans have been waiting a long time to have playoffs back, and when we step out on the ice for the first time in front of the fans, step into that atmosphere that we know is coming, it's just exciting for a player."

Vancouver, which claimed its first division crown since 2013, swept the three-game season series with Nashville, with two of those victories coming on the Predators' home ice.

In the only previous playoff series between the teams, the Canucks beat Nashville in six games in the Western Conference semifinals in 2011, when Vancouver went on to reach the Stanley Cup Final.

To say there will be plenty of pent-up energy in Vancouver would be an understatement. Key for the Canucks will be to harness that energy in a positive way.

"I think for our group, we just have to worry about Game 1. You can't look at the big thing," Vancouver coach Rick Tocchet said. "It's dangerous when you think that way. Honestly, prepare for that first period against Nashville and be ready to play from that first shift. I think when you think big picture, that's when people get nervous. So I think it's just more of a short-term goal for us."

The Predators claimed the Western Conference's top wild-card position thanks to a torrid final third of the regular season, including an incredible 16-0-2 run that lasted from Feb. 17-March 26. All three meetings with the Canucks were before Christmas.

"We're a much different team (now)," Nashville forward Ryan O'Reilly said. "When we played (the Canucks earlier this season), our game was nowhere where it is now.

"We've got something to prove. There's no easy playoff game or playoff series," O'Reilly added. "They took it to us this year and they played us well, and it's a chance for us to go back at them and respond."

The Predators had an eight-year playoff run snapped last season, but after retooling the roster and hiring new coach Andrew Brunette, Nashville rebuilt around goaltender Juuse Saros, defenseman and captain Roman Josi and forward Filip Forsberg.

Forsberg scored a franchise-record 48 goals this season.

Even though the Predators had to settle for a wild card to get into the postseason, they don't plan on backing down to one of the top teams in the West.

"It was a big goal for us to make the playoffs and to prove everybody wrong," Nashville defenseman Jeremy Lauzon said. "I don't think anybody saw us in the playoffs this year and it's awesome that this group made it happen. I think we're a character group and we can surprise a lot of people."

--Field Level Media