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Dakota Joshua a snippet of positivity as Canucks start road trip with ‘long way to go’


VANCOUVER — They didn’t clinch the way they wanted to on Saturday, didn’t play the way they’d have liked on Sunday.

But there was Dakota Joshua’s pair of goals and enough other snippets of positivity for the Vancouver Canucks in their 3-2 Easter victory over the Anaheim Ducks for the team to feel good about cresting 100 points and fully earning a National Hockey League playoff berth for the first time since 2015.

When the Canucks made the pandemic playoffs in 2020, they did so on points-percentage after their regular season was halted at 69 games. On Saturday, they backed in on a two-game losing streak and without playing when the St. Louis Blues lost 4-0 to the San Jose Sharks.

But at least they won on Sunday, generated a couple of goals on their struggling power play and ended a tumultuous nine-game homestand — more a bumpy, off-road endurance race than a conventional marathon — at 5-3-1 and still ahead of the Edmonton Oilers in the Pacific Division.

Few teams have been happier to leave on a road trip than the Canucks, who spent the final 24 days of March at home.

“Yup,” veteran centre J.T. Miller confirmed. “We’re home for three weeks and my kids are on a two-week break from school, so, yeah, I’m ready.”

With eight games until the Stanley Cup tournament begins and, based on their homestand, lots of prep to do, the Canucks open a three-game excursion Tuesday against the champion Vegas Golden Knights.

“Whatever people were saying, it was good that the players didn’t hear the outside noise and they believed in themselves (to) get 100 points,” coach Rick Tocchet told reporters Sunday afternoon. “But we’ve got a long way to go and we know we have to play better. We can’t sit on, ‘Hey, we’re a playoff team and we’re a 100-point team.’ 

“You can enjoy it for a moment, but we’ve really got to work on our game. I congratulated the players today; I thought they did a hell of a job this year to get us to this situation. But now, it’s go time. Now we need some guys to find their game. Our team’s got to find our game. So that’s the next thing.”

All but one of the Canucks’ five wins at Rogers Arena were against teams that won’t be playing hockey in three weeks. All four losses were against teams likely to be challenging for the Stanley Cup.

Vancouver probably wouldn’t have beaten 30th-place Anaheim were it not for Joshua, the emerging power forward who scored twice within the shadow of the net in his second game back after missing more than six weeks with a broken finger.

Joshua’s first goal came with his stick reversed between his legs as the 27-year-old American backed his way to the top of the crease and made it 2-0 on a power play at 9:24 of the second period. And his second goal was the game-winner, a point-blank conversion with 2:13 remaining in regulation time after both Anaheim defenceman chased Canuck Conor Garland behind the net. Garland’s spinning, backhand pass was as pretty as Joshua’s first goal.

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“I don’t know if I’ve tried it a whole lot,” Joshua said of his Mario Lemieux-like finish in the second period. “But back in the day, I used to be on the power play so I know some things to do out there, and I was just lucky enough to have that one go in. It’s a different speed at this level, but yeah, I feel comfortable and confident in my game to be able to make plays down there, for sure.”

Joshua later clarified for Sportsnet that by “back in the day” he meant all the days that preceded his NHL career, which really lifted off only after Canuck general manager Patrik Allvin took a chance on the former Blue in free agency two summers ago.

Joshua said he actually scored on the same between-the-legs shot during an American Hockey League game with Springfield, the Blues’ minor-league team in Massachusetts, during his final season with the organization.

“It was Springfield versus Syracuse,” he said. “I can’t remember if it was on the power play but it was the same spot, right there.”

The winger said he was an offensive player at college during his four years at Ohio State, and in the United States Hockey League during two seasons in Sioux Falls, S.D.

“And then obviously as a kid, I was a points guy,” he said. “That’s how it is with everyone. Everyone is a points guy, but at this level (in the NHL) you have to be able to do something else.”

With 15 goals and a team-leading 205 hits in 55 games, Joshua has been something else for the Canucks all season. In the two months before he was injured on Feb. 13, Joshua, Garland and Teddy Blueger were one of the most productive third lines in the NHL.

It wasn’t by accident that Tocchet gave Garland a promotion with Joshua to Miller’s wings after Brock Boeser was moved from that line to try to help Elias Pettersson get going offensively. 

Boeser scored Vancouver’s first goal on Sunday, his 38th of the season, on a power-play rebound. And minor-league callup Arturs Silovs stopped 20 of 22 shots in his first Canuck game this season.

“It’s pairs, right?” Garland said. “That’s kind of how Toc’s always been. When we were in Arizona, I was paired with (Nick) Schmaltz for most of my time there and we had really great chemistry. But my first couple of years here, we just blended lines all the time, so it was hard to find chemistry. I would say a lot of guys would say that. It was hard to find anyone to really get a run with. But Toc has always been about pairs and I’ve been paired with Dak basically the whole year. So that’s how you find chemistry.”

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Asked about changing centres, to Miller from Blueger, Garland said: “Teddy’s a terrific player. Very valuable. But Millsy is a top-five player in the world, I think. Not many guys do what he does. He makes plays and tries plays and he can score from anywhere. Since I’ve been here, I’ve probably liked playing with him the most. It was nice to play with him again.”

Clearly, Garland wasn’t afraid of inflating Miller’s ego by calling him a top-five player in the world.

“He’ll be mad I didn’t say top-three,” Garland joked.

Joshua said it “helps a lot” to move to a new line with Garland, with whom he has built chemistry and confidence. The Canucks’ success has helped everyone’s confidence this season.

“Very exciting for the team, the city, the organization,” Joshua said of securing a playoff spot. “We can feel and tell how important it is. . . for everybody involved. There was a goal of ours that we started off with and. . .  just to get into the dance is the first step, and then you go from there.”

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