Daniel Sedin broke a third period tie and Ryan Miller made 21 saves as the Canucks knocked off the Flames 2–1 to stave off elimination in Game 5. The series now heads back to Calgary on Saturday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA) where the Flames, holding a 3-2 lead, will look to close it out.
Here are three thoughts about a very entertaining contest:
1. Surprise! The best players play better when they play more.
Prior to Game 4, Canucks coach Willie Desjardins bristled at the suggestion that he needed to find more ice time for the Sedin twins. “[Rolling four lines] has been one of the strengths to our game,” he said when asked that familiar question at a press conference. “And now it’s like everybody wants us to change and be something else. That’s who we are and that’s how we play.”
He wisely softened his position after losing that contest and going down 3-1 in the series.
“You’ve got to adjust to the situation,” he told the Vancouver Sun. “What brought you here doesn’t count. It’s what happens now that’s important.”
If this was the plan all along—to keep the twins fresh for the games that mattered—then well done, Willie. Vancouver needed its best players to be its best players to extend the series and the Sedins delivered a smashmouth performance in the crunch. After their line outshot the Flames 15-8 at even-strength, it's a good bet that we'll see them with another 20 minute-plus workload in Game 6 on Saturday.
2. Youth should be served.
As smart as that decision was, it’s not like Desjardins was rolling sevens all night. Case in point: his inability, or unwillingness, to take the leash off Bo Horvat. The rookie played just 13:07 on Thursday night, scarcely more than fourth line banger Derek Dorsett, but seemed to be the most explosive Canuck whenever he was on the ice. He did exactly what was needed in this one, working the boards, sacrificing his body, landing three shots on net and following them up with grim purpose. Where other Canucks do the ol’ fly-by, Horvat always takes the shortest route and gets to the net to make Hiller’s life miserable.
He also turned in the one truly spectacular individual effort of the game: a blazing end-to-end rush in the first period that put to rest all those pre-draft concerns about his skating ability. It was impressive how quickly he got to top speed ... and the little how’s-she-goin’ that he used to blow by Tyler Wotherspoon was a real piece of work.
Despite that, Horvat played less than three minutes in the first. You can’t be too critical of Desjardins’s choices after a win, but if he wants to bring this series back to Vancouver for Game 7 he might want to keep a close eye on Horvat. If the kid’s going like he was tonight, he deserves top-six minutes.
3. What does Calgary have to do differently to clinch in Game 6 on Saturday?
The Flames wasted Hiller’s best effort of the playoffs in Game 5. The veteran made 41 stops on the night and had few of the shaky moments that left the Calgary faithful clutching their pearls earlier in the series. He proved he can be a difference maker, but the Flames don’t want to have to go back to that well again.
They got another great effort from their blueline corps as well. Don Cherry was ripped on social media for his effusive praise of Dennis Wideman on Coach's Corner, but he was right on the money. The guy has been a beast. Absent the steadying presence of captain Mark Giordano and needing to cover for some less experienced players on the bottom end, Wideman is eating a ton of ice—better than 27 minutes a night—to solidify the Flames’ back end. And Kris Russell? He might be their MVP of the playoffs to this point. He’s not just leading the league in blocks as expected, he’s the team’s top scorer through five games.
But after a game like this, something has to change. It’s not like it’s unusual to see the Flames end up on the wrong side of the fancystats, but they spent too much time on their heels in their own zone and didn’t do nearly enough to test Miller, who had a far too easy night.
So, who needs to step up? The fingers are all pointing at Calgary’s top line. On a night when Matt Stajan’s group provided the only goal—a David Jones snipe that was created after a Stajan hit created an Alex Edler turnover—and the Mikael Backlund line was the most consistently effective, it took close examination to confirm that the trio of Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler were, in fact, participating in the contest. Hudler, the team’s leading scorer during the regular season, was the prime offender. He failed to land a shot on net, which isn’t all that surprising considering that he never got particularly close to it. The unit showed some spark at the end—Gaudreau drew a late penalty with a wicked series of dangles—but by that point they were exhausted from chasing the play all night.
They need to be the ones to set the pace on Saturday. Force the Canucks to adjust to them. You know, be the best players. If they’re not you can bet the Sedins will take charge. And if it comes to that, it won’t end well for the Flames.