Travis Green twice called the Vegas Golden Knights a popular pick to get to the Stanley Cup Final during his near 10-minute Zoom press conference Saturday.
This was more than the Vancouver Canucks coach showing respect to the next opponent.
This sounded like Green calculatingly talking as the underdog in their best-of-7 Western Conference Second Round series entering Game 1 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city for the West, on Sunday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“Going back to the beginning of the season when we met as a team and had open dialogue, I don’t think anyone picked us to make the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs, yet inside our locker room to a man we felt that we were capable of making the playoffs,” Green said. “The belief started there. But obviously you’ve got to go out and play and prove as the season has gone on. We’ve slowly done that. I like our game now, and I can tell you we believed in ourselves yesterday and we believe in ourselves today.”
Vancouver, the No. 5 seed in the West, is loving life in the bubble as the underdog, thriving with few outside expectations and the opportunity to knock off some of the giants of the NHL, its belief and confidence growing with every win.
The Canucks eliminated the St. Louis Blues in six games in the first round, taking out the defending Stanley Cup champions, who had the best points percentage in the West during the regular season (.662), with a 6-2 win Friday.
Now they get to try their hand at defeating the Golden Knights, the No. 1 seed in the West, who are 7-1-0 in the postseason, having won all three of their games in the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, and reached the Stanley Cup Final two years ago.
The Canucks’ approach against Vegas will be the same as it was against the Blues.
“You want to prove people wrong,” captain Bo Horvat said. “A lot of what drives people is proving people wrong and proving to yourself that can do it. I think we’ve done a good job of that so far. We have a lot of confidence in the group going forward here. Obviously, we know we’re going to be playing a really good hockey team. We just played a really good hockey team.”
The Canucks are a really good hockey team. That’s the point. You don’t win in six games against the Blues, scoring nine of the last 11 goals in the series, if you’re not.
“I think it gives our group a lot of confidence knowing that we can beat a team like that,” Horvat said of the Blues. “They’re the defending Cup champs. They know what it takes to go all the way, and for us to play as well as we did and knock them off, obviously it feels really good. But it’s a long road ahead of us. We still have a lot of games to win here.”
Notice he didn’t say there were a lot of games to play here. He used the word win. That’s an example of Vancouver’s belief.
“This team is a special and dangerous team,” center Jay Beagle said.
It’s a team that has proven a lot already in this postseason, especially considering the Canucks started with 10 players who had no NHL postseason experience. They proved their resilience against the Blues by winning Games 5 and 6 after losing Games 3 and 4.
Jacob Markstrom, a 30-year-old in his first NHL postseason, is already 7-3 with a 2.44 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage.
“It’s so much fun to play hockey right now,” Markstrom said. “We still have a lot of ways to go before anyone is satisfied, but it sure is a good feeling right now and it’s a steppingstone, but we need to take a couple more steps.”
The Canucks have proven that their depth scoring is strong. They used 20 skaters against the Blues and had 10 goal-scorers, including five players with at least two goals and three players with a game-winning goal (defenseman Troy Stecher had two), and 14 players with at least two points.
“Every team has players that score more, get more attention, get more notoriety, make more money,” Green said. “That’s the way sports are. But when it comes to winning, teams that do well have a strong understanding of what it takes, that you need everyone contributing some way or another. Obviously, scoring is one way that you can contribute. A lot of times in playoff hockey you’ll see that there will be contributions throughout your lineup. We got it the last few games.”
They’ll need more of to keep winning, to keep proving people wrong, because the Golden Knights are, as Green made sure to mention a few times, a favorite to at least reach the Final.
“They’re the No. 1-ranked team on this side, so we’ll have our hands full,” Green said, “but we’ll be ready.”