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Lack of audience could bode well for young Canucks less familiar with playoff intensity

The sound of silence may benefit the Vancouver Canucks when they open their best-of-five Stanley Cup qualifying series against the Minnesota Wild Sunday night.

For the nine Canucks who have never appeared in the NHL’s post-season, the intensity of the playoffs and the sudden momentum swings will be a new experience. Not having fans in Edmonton’s Rogers Place due to COVID-19 concerns will help eliminate any extra nerves or jitters generated by a large, hostile crowd.

“Of course it’s going to have an effect,” said forward Elias Pettersson, 2019’s Calder Memorial Trophy recipient as top rookie, who placed second in Canuck scoring this season with 27 goals and 66 points. “Fans make the game so much more exciting, they bring so much energy.

“It is what it is, we just have to deal with it.”

WATCH | Horvat, Sutter familiar with playoff pressure:

Bo Horvat and Brandon Sutter of the Vancouver Canucks say when the puck drops all other distractions will be tuned out. 1:07

Defenceman Quinn Hughes, a nominee for this year’s top rookie, has experienced big crowds while playing in the NCAA playoffs with the University of Michigan.

“You’re missing a fun aspect going into those hostile environments and trying to get a win,” said Hughes, whose 45 assists left him tied for the team lead. “At the same time, it’s our job and we have to be prepared for anything.”

Forward Jay Beagle is one of three players on the current Canucks who has won a Stanley Cup — Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson were both members of the 2014 Cup-winning L.A. Kings.

Beagle says crowd noise can impact players, especially rookies, in a tight playoff game.

“I don’t think any player gets intimidated by the crowd, but it definitely can swing momentum and make you feel like you’re on your heels when they are really coming at you and the crowd is into it,” said Beagle, who won with the 2018 Washington Capitals.

“It can make you feel like the ice is tilted against you. I’ve had that happen in playoff series where you feel like the whole team is skating uphill.”

Unique atmosphere

Head coach Travis Green said there will be a learning curve for some of his players.

“Until you’ve played in a playoff game, you [don’t] understand the intensity level and the emotions in the building [and] what it does to a team or a player,” he said.

Vancouver had a taste of playing in an empty arena in their 4-1 exhibition loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday.

Captain Bo Horvat called the experience “way different than playing in front of a crowd,” and it forced him to alter one of his warm up routines.

“Usually in my pre-game I throw a couple of pucks to fans,” he said. “I wasn’t going to be throwing them to the arena staff.”

WATCH | CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo previews Canucks vs. Wild:

In part 7 of 10, Rob Pizzo breaks down the young (and healthy) Canucks as they prepare to take on the Wild.  1:06

Green had to remember to keep his voice down.

“You’re a little bit mindful to not yell quite as loud,” he said. “We talked to our team about staying off the refs. You hear a lot out there.”

The Canucks, who are making their first playoff appearance since 2015, were seventh in the Western Conference with a 36-27-6 record for 78 points when the NHL paused its season March 12 due to the coronavirus. They were 3-6-1 in the final 10 games.

The Wild had one less point and were 10th in the West (35-27-7).  After struggling early in the season, Minnesota was 8-4-0 in the 12 games after coach Bruce Boudreau was fired and replaced by Dean Evason.

Since losing to Boston in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup final, Vancouver has not won a playoff series and has won just three playoff games.

Minnesota played in six straight playoffs before missing the cut last season.

Few picked the Canucks to make the playoffs this year and Green said the team relishes its underdog image.

“I think our group had a lot of belief in themselves right from day one,” he said. “We’ve got a team that’s excited to play and they want to win bad.”

Minnesota goaltender Devan Dubnyk said the Wild are a better team than their record shows.

“We expect to beat anybody we go up against,” he said. “I think we have shown over this last stretch that we know we can.”

WATCH | Canucks fall to Jets in exhibition tune-up game:

Nikolaj Ehlers’ 2nd period marker stood as the game winner in the Winnipeg Jets 4-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks. 0:55

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