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‘Bring it on’: Canucks coach Tocchet ready to silence doubters

Rick Tocchet doesn’t care that his Vancouver Canucks aren’t favored to win against their next playoff opponent.

“I like to be doubted,” said the head coach.

Analysts have been skeptical of the Canucks all season, Tocchet added.

The team was not favored to make the playoffs, but spent much of the regular season sitting atop the NHL standings. Many thought the Canucks would collapse in the first round, but Vancouver eliminated the Nashville Predators in a tough six-game series.

Now the betting odds are on the Edmonton Oilers to dominate the Canucks in a best-of-seven second-round game that begins Wednesday.

This is very good for Tocchet.

“I think we kind of like that underdog role,” he said. “And I think the players should accept that. I really do.”

Vancouver was the dominant team in the regular season series between the two clubs, with the Canucks sweeping the Oilers 4-0.

While there are lessons to be learned from those games, Edmonton — which advanced to the second round by edging the Los Angeles Kings in a five-game series — isn’t dwelling on the results, said head coach Kris Knoblauch.

“It’s in the past, but obviously with the show being as unbalanced as it was, we need to fix some things and change some things,” he said.

“We got swept in the series and scored pretty poorly, so it would be pretty naive to say we didn’t need to change anything and everything went well and we’re just going to play the Vancouver Canucks how we played.”

After a difficult start to the campaign, Edmonton finished the regular season in second place in the Pacific Division, five points behind Vancouver.

The Oilers continued their playoff momentum, with captain Connor McDavid scoring a league-high 12 points (one goal, 11 assists) in the first round. Zach Hyman also continued his blistering scoring pace, amassing seven goals in the first five games of the playoffs.

The Canucks know the team they face Wednesday is a lot different than the one they beat in the regular season.

“We should be super excited.” It’s a rivalry we love to play against,” said forward JT Miller. “Obviously there are some special players there. We should be very proud of these matches. And I know we have to go back to the first game of this season. And obviously, they’re going to be hungry.

Special teams will certainly play a key role in the second round series.

The Oilers used a powerful power play against the Kings, capitalizing on 45 percent of their chances with the power play. The Canucks’ power play, meanwhile, struggled, operating at just 15.4 percent against the Predators.

Vancouver and Edmonton also relied on tremendous shooting on goal in the first round, with the Oilers eliminating every offense they faced. The Canucks’ penalty kill rate was 90.9 percent.

Things can change quickly between playoffs, McDavid said.

“We are a good power play unit. That being said, they’re going to throw different things at us, we’ll throw different things at them,” he said. “It’s a playoff series. And we will challenge each other. It’s a good PK, we’re a good power play. We will see.”

Wednesday will mark the first playoff game between Edmonton and Vancouver since 1992, when the Oilers beat the Canucks in six games.

Facing a Canadian team in the second round is a bit like the 2022 playoffs, when the Oilers faced their provincial rivals, the Calgary Flames, in a post-season battle of Alberta, McDavid said.

“Two exciting buildings, Canadian cities, so I would expect it to be quite similar to that one,” he said. “It’s obviously a new challenge and I’m looking forward to it.”

Both teams could be without some key players for the first game.

Edmonton forward Adam Henrique missed practice with an ankle injury on Tuesday. For the Canucks, center Elias Pettersson also missed Tuesday’s practice, although Tocchet said he was “just struggling a little bit.”

Vancouver’s star goalie Thatcher Demko is still recovering from a lower-body injury that kept him out of all but one first-round game. Tocchet did not specify whether it will be rookie Arturs Silovs or veteran backup Casey DeSmith in net for the Canucks to start the second round series.

TALE OF THE GAND

Regular season series: Vancouver 4-0

Goals per game: Edmonton — 3.56 (4th); Vancouver — 3.40 (6th)

Top scorers: Edmonton — Connor McDavid, 132 points; Vancouver — JT Miller, 103 points

Starting goaltender: Vancouver — Thatcher Demko, 35-14-2, 2.45 GAA, .918 save percentage; Edmonton — Stuart Skinner, 57-36-16, 2.62 GAA, .905 save percentage

Power play percentage: Edmonton – 26.3 (4th); Vancouver — 22.7 (11th)

Penalty percentage: Edmonton – 79.5 (15th); Vancouver — 79.1 (17th)

The big stat: The Canucks spent 78 percent of their first-round series within a goal of the Predators. The Oilers spent 58 percent of their game on one goal against the Kings.