Win over Maple Leafs more than just a memorable moment for Canucks

Justin Cuthbert
·4-min read

Big picture, the randomness in hockey isn't a great thing. 

Its trait volatility, something incredibly specific to the sport, is the primary reason why we often miss out on the dream, powerhouse matchups in the championship moments that help boost other leagues and sports to new heights. Counting on superstars or super teams to be there in the end is impossible in hockey, because a single bounce can loom larger than one player or one impact performer's overall influence. 

What's expected is far more likely in, say, basketball or football, sports where points or positioning are things earned with virtually every possession or snap. In these sports, the totality is far more likely to be reflected accurately in the final score, while in hockey only specific, often random moments — or what we know as, goals — count.

But what hockey lacks in terms of regularity, it makes up for, at least in part, with moments.

Moments like the one the Vancouver Canucks provided on Sunday night versus the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Bo Horvat orchestrated the most memorable moment of the Canucks' season. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Bo Horvat orchestrated the most memorable moment of the Canucks' season. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Going solely by the data, the Canucks got smoked. In fact, if we arbitrarily assigned 10 goals to the game, the numbers provided by Natural Stat Trick would indicate that seven should belong to the Maple Leafs, leaving Vancouver with three. 

When in reality, the Canucks won 3-2 in overtime, having owned the fifth of five single moments that factored into the final score with Bo Horvat's bonus-time winner.

However, one of many instances of an NHL team defying the odds doesn't make this a "moment," or a victory the Canucks and their fan base will remember for some time. 

What makes Sunday's win special, of course, are the circumstances surrounding the team's return to the ice following a near-month long absence after a COVID-19 variant tore through their facilities, and spread throughout their homes. 

The reason for the underlying performance disparity, or at least the factor that was far more influential than the fact the Leafs are the first-place team in the NHL's North Division and the Canucks are far more likely than not to miss the postseason, is that, on Sunday, Vancouver was something far less than an NHL team.

The Canucks were missing multiple regulars still sidelined by the virus that infected 22 players, while those who were available for head coach Travis Green were clearly still sapped by either its effects or the inaction after being rushed back into competition after spending weeks away from the rink. 

This wasn't a fair fight, even in the slightest. 

And yet, the Canucks won it anyway.

Filmmakers won't likely be rushing to produce a script on this regular-season victory, but it seems likely that the win will have a lasting, perhaps galvanizing impact on what's left of the Canucks' cursed 2020-21 campaign. 

Emotions were high and intense last week when the players first returned to team facilities following their individuals battles with the illness. J.T. Miller's calls for a little compassion bought the team another 48 hours from the NHL — and two additional practices — but the task for his teammates remains to navigate an impossible schedule over the next month while still on the mend from an illness unlike any of them have likely ever experienced, and are still experiencing.

A result similar to what might have been ultimately deserved may have crushed the spirit of a team that could be considered fragile, both physically and emotionally. 

Instead, the Canucks have something to build on as they look to tackle the obligations bordering on inhumane. 

"I couldn't be prouder of the guys in that room," Horvat said in the post-game press conference, moments after his game-ending strike.

"The way they manned up tonight, stuck with the process, and willed their way to that win. To score that goal for the guys — not only for the guys, but the organization and our families — it felt great." 

It's entirely possible that fortune doesn't follow them into the next game, that the adrenaline wears thin and the Leafs exact revenge on the second half of a double header to be played, perhaps again lopsidedly, Tuesday night.

But after each battling their illness alone, and to different degrees of severity, the Canucks know now, having returned to the rink and grinding out a win together, that the worst part is over.

And that they have each other to rely on when confronting the immense challenge that lies ahead.

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