Bo Horvat said he is confident in his Vancouver Canucks teammates who could be playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time.
"I think they will be up for it," the Canucks captain said Thursday. "They know what it takes to win, and they know what playoff hockey is like. I think they are going to be ready for it. They have the game to suit the playoffs."
Forwards Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, defenseman Quinn Hughes and goalie Jacob Markstrom are among the Vancouver players who have never participated in an NHL postseason.
Boeser had 45 points (16 goals, 29 assists) in 57 games this season; Pettersson, the Calder Trophy winner as NHL rookie of the year in 2018-19, had 66 points (27 goas, 39 assists) in 68 games; Hughes, a Calder favorite this season, led rookies with 53 points (eight goals, 45 assists) in 68 games. Markstrom was 23-16-4 with a 2.75 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and two shutouts in 43 games.
"I don't think there's much to be said, I think they just know what needs to be done and our main goal at the end of it," Horvat said.
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The NHL season was paused on March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus but under the NHL Return to Play Plan, the Canucks will be one of 24 teams competing for the Stanley Cup. The Canucks (36-27-6; .565 points percentage) enter the Stanley Cup Qualifiers as the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. They will play the No. 10 seed, the Minnesota Wild (35-27-7, .558), in one of eight best-of-5 series, with the winner advancing to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the loser having a chance at the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft in the Second Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery.
"Our main goal is to win playoff games and ultimately win the Stanley Cup," Horvat said. "The organization deserves it, my teammates deserve it, and obviously the city of Vancouver deserves it so that's what we're going to try and do here."
Provided health and safety conditions allow, the opening of training camps in the teams' local markets, which is the start of Phase 3, is scheduled for July 13. Teams will then travel July 26 to one of two hub cities, where they will begin Phase 4, the resumption of play, with the qualifiers starting Aug. 1. The 12 Eastern Conference teams will be based in Toronto, the 12 Western Conference teams will be based in Edmonton.
"It's going to be tough," Horvat said. "Minnesota has a good team and they were just starting to turn it on here before the whole pandemic started. I'm sure they are going to be ready for us just like we are going to be ready for them. It's not going to be an easy matchup. They have some good players over there and they have some good playoff experience so we have to be on top of our game and ready to go for this series."
Horvat, who had 53 points (22 goals, 31 assists) in 69 games this season, hasn't been in the playoffs since his rookie season in 2014-15. He had four points (one goal, three assists) in six games when the Canucks lost to the Calgary Flames in the Western Conference First Round.
"I remember it was the funnest hockey I've ever played," he said. "Just the whole game, the whole everything about it just goes to another level and I find that's when I play my best hockey and I can't wait to get back and start playing playoff hockey again."
Video: NYI@VAN: Horvat finishes slick sequence with PPG
Horvat, who returned to Vancouver on Sunday, skated with the Canucks for the first time Tuesday in Phase 2 of the Return to Play Plan. He said his wife and two-week old baby remained home in Ontario.
"Hopefully by the end of this, I'll be putting him in the Stanley Cup by the end of it and everything will be alright," he said. "It's not going to be easy but at the same time at the beginning of the year we set out a goal to make the playoffs and have a chance at the Stanley Cup and we have that. If I'm going to be away from my family and put my time and effort into coming back and playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I want to go all the way and I want to try and win this thing."
Horvat is also hoping the Canucks will be able to re-sign Boeser, Pettersson and Hughes, who can each become restricted free agents when their contracts expire, and goalie Jacob Markstrom, who can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. The NHL and the NHL Players' Association announced Monday that they have agreed in principle on a memorandum of understanding for a four-year extension of the collective bargaining agreement, through the 2025-26 season.
"I think we're going to do whatever we can to keep our core group together, our young guys, and keep them around because they're such important pieces to our team," he said. "How we're going to do it, I'm not sure. We do have such great young talent and we want to keep our team together as best as possible. Hopefully we can do something to keep this all together because we definitely have a bright future."