It took Tyler Toffoli just nine seconds to help stitch together the Vancouver Canucks’ frayed confidence.
Toffoli, returning to the lineup after missing 10 games with a foot injury, took a seeing-eye pass from Elias Pettersson and scored nine seconds into his first shift, giving the Canucks the important opening goal just 1:29 into Game 2 of their second-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Canucks had done their best to keep Toffoli’s return a secret, going as far as burying his stick on the bench prior to the warmup. Playing on a line with Pettersson and Tanner Pearson, his teammate with the Los Angeles Kings when they won the 2014 Stanley Cup, Toffoli finished with a goal and two assists as Vancouver used a 5-2 win to tie the best-of-seven series at a game each.
Toffoli, who was hurt in the opening game in the play-in series against Minnesota on Aug. 2, also had three shots on net and a blocked a shot in 14:35 of ice time.
“Coming into the lineup you want to do what ever you can to help the team win, especially in the playoffs,” said the 28-year-old from Scarborough, Ont., who was acquired in a February trade with the Kings.
“Right from the first shift we started off well and continued.”
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Canucks coach Travis Green said Toffoli had limited practice time with the team.
“Toff is just so smart with the puck,” Green said. “He does a lot of good little plays with the puck, puts himself in a good spot. He came to play.”
‘Mentally, we needed to get a win’
The Canucks just didn’t lose Sunday’s opening game, they were beaten 5-0. Vancouver was outshot 39-26 and the Knights had 54 hits.
Another beating at the hands of the Knights wouldn’t have knocked the Canucks out of the ring, but they would have been on the ropes.
“We needed to win, there’s no doubt about it,” Green said. “You go down two [games] against that team early in the series, it would be tough. Mentally, we needed to get a win.”
Captain Bo Horvat broke a five-game point drought with two goals. Heading into Wednesday, he led all playoff goal-scorers with eight. Pettersson had a goal and two assists and is second in playoff scoring with 16 points in 12 games.
Pearson scored into an empty net for his fourth of the playoffs.
The Canucks were faster and more confident with the puck. They carried the play into the Knights’ zone and didn’t panic on defence.
40 blocked shots
One eye-popping statistic was Vancouver’s 40 blocked shots, a franchise playoff record. Defenceman Chris Tanev led the team with six blocks while forward Jay Beagle had five. Of the 18 Canucks dressed, 16 had at least one block, while seven had three or more.
“That shows how unselfish we are as a team,” said goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who stopped 38 shots. “Everyone sticking together and doing the dirty work.
“I know it’s not fun and [you] see the ice packs after games. As a goalie I appreciate that.”
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Green said a big blocked shot can send a jolt of adrenaline through a team.
“You can hear it on the bench when guys block shots,” he said. “From the outside it looks easy to stand and block a shot. It’s not. It hurts sometimes.
Forward Mark Stone said Vegas needs to get more shots to the net.
“Shoot quicker, find those lanes,” he said. “You just have to keep wearing them down. The quicker you move the puck, get them moving, that’s when you create lanes.”
The noise the Canucks heard from the Vegas bench during the opening game loss left a ringing in their ears.
“We knew how it felt while they were winning, laughing and having a good time,” Horvat said. “We kept that in the back of our mind.
“We wanted to come out strong and have a statement. It was a lot quieter over there. We’re going to try and keep it that way.”