Bo Horvat, with his four goals and array of pretty moves, was the Vancouver Canucks’ headliner and best player through the first two games in the Western Conference First Round.
The narrative has changed since with the St. Louis Blues winning Games 3 and 4 on Sunday and Monday to even the best-of-7 series and shutting out the Canucks center and captain in the process.
But nobody, least of all former Canucks center and captain Henrik Sedin, would be surprised if Horvat is again the best player in the series in Game 5 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city for the West, on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, FS-MW).
“He shows up, he plays hard and he’s got those offensive skills,” Sedin said. “When he’s on, those are the moves he’s going to make.”
Those moves were on display in Games 1 and 2, when the Canucks had more open ice to work with, more room to pick up speed through the neutral zone.
From his couch in Vancouver, Sedin watched Horvat in Game 2 dangle and turn Blues forwards Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz inside out on his way to scoring maybe the prettiest goal of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
As Horvat started up the ice in the shorthanded situation, Sedin could have predicted what was coming next.
“He can beat guys 1-on-1,” Sedin said. “He’s as good as anyone in those situations in the League when he’s on.”
The goal that left jaws dropped around the League and became an instant hit on Twitter. But it didn’t surprise Sedin, who played with Horvat for four seasons before retiring after 2017-18.
“His offensive skills, 1-on-1, beating guys and being strong on the puck have always been there,” Sedin said. “When people talk about Bo they talk about almost a defensive centerman, but here in Canada people are very fast to put a tag on someone when they play in the [World Junior Championship]. They put the tag on Bo that he’s good defensively, he’s steady, he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. But I’ve always seen Bo as a better offensive player than a defensive player.”
Horvat also put those 1-on-1 skills on display in Game 1, when he danced by Blues defenseman Vince Dunn for a power-play goal.
“When he gets pucks in the right spot and he has his speed, he does that fake and he goes inside,” Sedin said of the 25-year-old. “There’s a lot of times when it doesn’t work out, but like any young guy in the League now, he tries things a lot, and so far in the playoffs here it’s worked out.”
Center Elias Pettersson and rookie defenseman Quinn Hughes grab a lot of attention, but Horvat is the Canucks’ leader and arguably their most impactful all-around player.
That much has been evident against the Blues.
He was dynamic, effective and productive in the first two games, scoring in overtime on a breakaway for a 4-3 win in Game 2. He didn’t have a point in the Canucks’ losses in Games 3 and 4.
“There’s nothing that you don’t see with him,” Sedin said. “He is who you think he is and that’s all you have to have from a leader.”
Canucks coach Travis Green echoed that.
“The good thing about Bo is you can be honest with him,” Green said. “He can be honest with his game.”
Sedin said, “I think Travis put it the right way there. You need to handle every player differently, and some players you’ve got to sugarcoat things, you can’t be direct, you’ve got to tell them things in different ways to try to get them to understand. You can tell Bo when he’s been terrible, and he knows himself that he hasn’t been good enough. That says a lot about him.”
Horvat’s play is not in question even after Games 3 and 4.
“I’m not worried about Bo Horvat, he’s playing well,” Green said. “He had a couple phenomenal games. I don’t think he has to put the team on his back every game either.”
Horvat couldn’t do it the past two games with Vancouver chasing the puck most of time and getting outshot 86-64, including 37-23 in Game 4. He was held to two shots in each game, none at 5-on-5 in Game 4 despite winning 15-of-21 face-offs.
Horvat is not at all deterred.
“You want to help your team on the scoresheet too, but nobody is going to score two goals every single night,” Horvat said. “You’ve got to find ways to be impactful in other ways, whether it’s blocking shots, being good defensively, winning face-offs in my case. I’ve just got to stick with my game and bury my chances when I can.”
Sedin said he expects Horvat will do so if he gets them, especially if he can find some time and space in open ice like he had in Games 1 and 2.
“When he’s on and he feels he can succeed, those are the moves he’s going to make,” Sedin said. “I’ve seen it before, so I’m not surprised. He’s got those offensive skills and he can play with anyone with his speed.”