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X's and O's - Bo steps up

by Jeff Angus / Vancouver Canucks
Playoff hockey has finally returned to Vancouver, and in Game 1 the Canucks received an impressive performance from rookie center Bo Horvat in his postseason debut.

In addition to scoring the lone Vancouver goal, Horvat – and his linemates – created chances all game long with their speed and ability to get to the net. And, as you will see in a second, Horvat was just a few inches away from having another goal or two.

The goal:

Horvat’s first scoring opportunity (and perhaps Vancouver’s best chance in the game) came about halfway into the 1st period. After a Calgary turnover, Ronalds Kenins quickly turned the puck up the ice to hit a streaking Jannik Hansen.

Hansen, realizing he was in a one-on-two situation against the Flames, slowed up as he gained the blue line in order to allow Horvat to catch up to the play. Hansen doesn’t always get a lot of credit for his vision or playmaking abilities, but he made a few phenomenal passes last night. This was one of them.

Hansen chipped a saucer pass to Horvat, who received the puck in stride after burning by two Calgary players. For a guy who supposedly wasn’t a great skater coming out of the Ontario Hockey League a few years ago, Horvat continues to impress with his ability to create separation with his speed and strength.

Horvat made an incredible play (it looks even better in real time) to take the puck at full speed, pull it to his forehand, and elevate it against Jonas Hiller. Unfortunately for the Canucks, Hiller remained in great position and stopped the shot with his right shoulder.

Here’s a closer look of Horvat quickly corralling the rolling puck. This isn’t a play that many players – let alone 20-year-old rookies – can pull off.

Horvat’s goal came later on in the second period. The play itself wasn’t anything special – the trio of Horvat, Kenins, and Hansen generated a lot of pressure on the forecheck, and Horvat made a power move out of the corner and just whipped the puck towards the Calgary goal.

After his first attempt was blocked, Horvat followed up on the play, gained inside position on Sam Bennett, and fired a double-banking eight ball corner pocket shot that bounced off of two Calgary defenders and through Hiller’s five hole.

If Horvat plays like this on Friday (in a more expanded role, perhaps), don’t be surprised to see him raising his arms in the air again.

The third scoring chance of the game for Horvat came early on in the final period. Once again, Hansen made a very cerebral play with the puck. He backed off the Calgary defense with his speed, froze them with a fake shot attempt, and found Horvat crashing towards the net with a fantastic pass.

Hansen winding up…

…and making a great pass. Once again, Horvat received it on his backhand after gaining position behind a Flame player.

Horvat got a stick on the puck but chipped it just over an outstretched Hiller. If not for Hiller’s shoulder in the first period or a few inches of net on this attempt, Horvat could have been looking at a hat trick in Game 1 last night.

Wednesday night didn’t end well for the Canucks. Calgary stepped up the pressure in the third period and pulled ahead with less than 30 seconds left. But don’t expect Vancouver to dwell on the loss too much. These are two very evenly-matched teams with explosive rookies, underrated veteran talent, and great goaltending.

Onto Game 2 we go.

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