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Horvat scores twice as Canucks defeat Blues 5-2 in NHL playoff opener

Vancouver captain Bo Horvat twice as the Canucks defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues 5-2 Wednesday in their first-round opener.

J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson and Troy Stecher also scored for Vancouver while David Perron and Jaden Schwartz replied for St. Louis. Vancouver has a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 2 is set for Friday night.

Horvat now has four goals in return to play action while rookie teammate Quinn Hughes logged an assist to reach seven points (one goal, six helpers) in five games.

Read more: Canucks organization lays off a quarter of full-time staff amid coronavirus pandemic

Jacob Markstrom made 29 stops for the win.

The Canucks were making their first playoff appearance since 2015, having defeated the Minnesota Wild in the qualifying round.

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They never trailed in the game.

The teams swapped mirror-image power-play goals in the first period.

Horvat opened the scoring about five minutes in when he one-timed a Hughes’ feed from the top of the left face-off circle past St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington.

Fans prepare to cheer on the Canucks in creative ways, due to the pandemic
Fans prepare to cheer on the Canucks in creative ways, due to the pandemic

St. Louis replied with under four minutes to go. Perron half-slapped a pass from Brayden Schenn from the top of the right circle high over the glove of Markstrom.

Vancouver regained the lead on the power play midway through the second period. Pettersson whipped the puck under the bar off a goalmouth scramble for his second goal in return to play.

The Blues tied it just over a minute later when Schwartz tipped the puck past pinching Canuck defenceman Chris Tanev at the Blues blue line, then barrelled in on a breakaway and beat Markstrom with a nifty backhander through the five hole.

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Vancouver took the lead for good almost six minutes into the third. Stecher raced down the right wing and wired a slapshot from the face-off circle under Binnington’s arm for his first of the post-season.

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Then Horvat, entering the Blues zone with speed, turned Blues defenceman Vince Dunn inside out, raced in and fired a wrist shot past Binnington on the blocker side.

Miller added the fifth goal on the power play with less than 40 seconds to play.

The Canucks are winning with a mix of veterans and playoff newbies.

Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Jake Virtanen, Tyler Motte, Hughes, Stecher, Zack MacEwen, and Markstrom were regulars playing in their first playoff game (although technically they have playoff experience as the qualifying round statistics will count as post-season ones).

The loss continues the Blues’ return-to-play downward spiral.

Sports bars hoping for a Canucks playoff bump despite the pandemic
Sports bars hoping for a Canucks playoff bump despite the pandemic

St. Louis was the best in the Western Conference (42-19-10) and second overall in the league when the NHL suspended play March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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But they were a hot mess in the return to play round-robin competition, blowing third-period leads in every game and scoring just six goals in three contests.

History is on Vancouver’s side. The teams have met three times in the playoffs (1995, 2003 and 2009). Each time the Canucks bounced the Blues out in the first round.

The Western Conference games are being played at Rogers Place, with all players being kept in isolation to avoid contracting COVID-19.