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Short-handed Canucks finally return home to face Panthers

Sportsnaut
Jan 18, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 18, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Facing the league-leading Florida Panthers on Friday night would be a tough task for the host Vancouver Canucks in the best of conditions. With the way they have been hit by a COVID-19 outbreak, it might take a Herculean effort.

Barring a shocking surprise, the Canucks will suit up for their first home game since Dec. 14 without No. 1 goalie Thatcher Demko, No. 2 netminder Jaroslav Halak, leading scorer J.T. Miller, captain Bo Horvat and scoring forward Conor Garland all due to COVID-19-related issues.

Horvat, Garland and Halak are stuck in the United States after testing positive on their last road trip — unable to return to Canada within 10 days — while Demko and Miller tested positive on Thursday.

“I know government rules and that, but I have a hard time understanding how COVID in the States is different from COVID in Canada,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said. “When they cross the border, all of a sudden it turns into a 10-day quarantine here. A five-day quarantine in the States isn’t as good as a five-day quarantine in Canada? It’s just frustrating.”

The Canucks, who finished a difficult road trip with a 3-1 victory in Nashville on Tuesday, will try to extend their two-game winning streak with either Spencer Martin or Michael DiPietro in goal.

“It’s some good players, unbelievable players, that we don’t have in the lineup right now,” Vancouver defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson said. “But at the same time, I think we’ve been going through that all year. It just seems like we’ve been getting through it and somebody else steps up, and that’s what somebody’s going to have to do again (Friday).”

The Panthers arrive in Vancouver after posting a 6-0 road victory over the struggling Edmonton Oilers on Thursday.

It was a strong bounce-back effort for the Panthers, who saw their four-game winning streak — and 8-0-1 run — snapped two nights earlier when they lost 5-1 at Calgary.

The game against the Flames kicked off a five-game road swing that also includes contests against the Seattle Kraken and Winnipeg Jets. The goal was to restart the road swing at Edmonton, and the Panthers did the job, albeit after needing a strong early effort from goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.

“Everyone played really well after that first period,” Florida forward Carter Verhaeghe said. “Bob kept us in, and all the boys wanted to rally around him. The power play was good tonight, penalty killing, too.”

Even though Bobrovsky collected his first shutout of the season, Spencer Knight will likely take the net against the Canucks.

Aleksander Barkov led the way for Florida on Thursday with two goals and one assist, but interim coach Andrew Brunette pointed out that Barkov played a huge part in keeping Edmonton’s dynamic duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl off the scoresheet.

“He rose up to the challenge,” Brunette said of Barkov. “They have two of the top players in the league, and I think he played his best game for the last few games. It was really good to see him get rewarded with a couple goals and a three-point night. He was outstanding. He showed why he’s arguably one of the best players in the league.”

The Panthers, who have scored 61 goals in their past 11 outings, will be looking to improve on the one part of their season that has been a disappointment. Florida has a middling 6-5-5 road record.

–Field Level Media