Quinn Hughes lived up to the hype in his first NHL postseason series to help the Vancouver Canucks advance to the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The rookie defenseman, a finalist for the Calder Trophy awarded to the player voted as the best rookie in the NHL, scored his first postseason goal and had an assist as Vancouver eliminated the Minnesota Wild with a 5-4 overtime win in Game 4 of their best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers series Friday at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
“You guys all know how good he is,” defenseman Christopher Tanev said of Hughes. “He’s going to be the best defenseman in the League — if he’s not there next year or the year after, he’s going to be there soon.
“The way he skates, the way he moves the puck, he’s a special player and he’s going to be the best player around for a long time coming. We’re happy he’s on our team.”
The 20-year-old had multipoint games on back-to-back days to close out the series, including assists on all three Canucks goals in a 3-0 win in Game 3 on Thursday. The young core of Hughes, center Elias Pettersson and right wing Brock Boeser combined for 13 points (four goals, nine assists) and helped the Canucks earn their first postseason series win since 2011, when they lost in the Stanley Cup Final to the Boston Bruins in seven games.
Vancouver will now face the loser of the round-robin game Sunday between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference First Round in Edmonton, the Western Conference hub city. With the Edmonton Oilers and Nashville Predators eliminated from the Qualifiers on Friday, the Canucks will be the No. 5 seed in the conference.
Tanev, who skated with Hughes on the same defense pair most of the season, scored the series-winning goal at 11 seconds of overtime in Game 4. Hughes, who led all rookies with 53 points (eight goals, 45 assists) and 25 power-play points in the regular season, credits Tanev for helping him not only become an NHL All-Star in his first season but also be a part of a postseason run.
“I don’t think you can put a price on it — I think [Tanev] does a lot of things in the ‘D’ zone that I’m not capable of doing,” Hughes said. “As we’ve played longer and longer together, my offensive game has gotten better. Chris is the heart and soul of this team. It was awesome to see him score there. He’s been big for me not only on the ice but off the ice as well.”
Hughes was held off the scoresheet in Game 1, when the Canucks were shut out, but responded with an assist in Game 2. He led the Canucks with six points (one goal, five assists) in four games against the Wild, setting their rookie record for most points in a single postseason series. Four of his points came on the power play.
But Hughes doesn’t plan on stopping here. He said he’s focusing on continued improvement and setting the bar high for the playoff games ahead.
“I think I liked my game in all the games,” Hughes said. “It’s hard maybe sometimes being off 4-5 months coming right back into it — especially playoffs. … As we go further and further, I think we’ll just get better.”
“It’s a huge win for the team and the organization. We expected this, and hopefully we’re not done.”