VANCOUVER – Rarely has a desperate team felt as big a boost as the Vancouver Canucks likely did Wednesday morning simply by a player not being hurt.
Captain Bo Horvat, who hobbled off the ice in Monday’s loss to the Winnipeg Jets with what appeared to be a serious foot or leg injury, skated with teammates and is expected to play Wednesday night in the rematch as the Canucks try to climb back to .500 before their absurd pandemic schedule continues with a six-day break in late March.
Horvat was joined in the morning skate by another injured centre, Brandon Sutter, so the Canucks could have at least two of their top-four pivots available Wednesday night after finishing Monday’s 4-0 loss with none.
No. 1 centre Elias Pettersson hasn’t played since March 2 and remains out with a reported wrist injury until at least March 31, when the Canucks end their schedule break against the Calgary Flames. They’ll play seven road games in 12 days after that.
Horvat skated with recent regular partners Brock Boeser and Nils Hoglander, while Sutter centred the fourth line. Coach Travis Green has shifted wingers J.T. Miller and Adam Gaudette back to the middle during the injury crisis, which has seen centre Jay Beagle miss six games.
Horvat playing would be only the second-most surprising thing about his week. The most impressive feat is that it would be the powerful centre’s 241st consecutive NHL game, including playoffs.
The 25-year-old captain doesn’t initiate as much contact as he could, but always plays in hard areas. He has been matching up for years against the league’s best centres, and with 14 goals in 36 games is on pace for his fifth straight 20-goal season despite the truncated schedule.
“That’s part of leadership – playing when you’re banged up, playing when you’re hurt,” Green told reporters after the morning skate. “Teammates see that when you play hurt. There’s a lot of stuff that goes on underneath where guys are banged up and there’s definitely guys that probably have a higher tolerance to pain than others and can play through more. Bo is a big strong guy. He’s built probably for taking a bit more of a beating than a smaller guy.”
Green was non-committal about whether Horvat and Sutter will play Wednesday, but it sure looks like they will. Horvat hasn’t missed a game since Jan. 20, 2018.
“That’s awesome,” veteran defenceman Nate Schmidt. “It’s a demanding league, especially this year. This year is very demanding on your body with all the games that we’ve played and whatnot – more demanding than it has been. You jump in from the beginning and there really isn’t a stop. We have a little bit (of a break) after this game but that’s been the first time all year. It’s kind of like you pick your head up for the first time and you’re fighting for air for a second. It’s been a tough year, so I’m really impressed that (Horvat’s) gotten this far. Hopefully – you said 240 – it’s 241 tonight.”
Thatcher Demko starts in goal for the Canucks for the 10th time in 11 games.
The Canucks have played more games than anyone in the North Division since the NHL dared them to open the season with 16 games in the first 27 days – with 10 on the road, four sets of back-to-backs and never more than one day between games to rest or practice.
The consolation prize for that torture test (the Canucks started 6-11-0) is a spring break for the team. The rest of the division will be making up games in-hand on Vancouver, which is why Wednesday night’s game feels critical to the Canucks’ unlikely playoff hopes.
“They always say rest is a weapon, but I always add: ‘When you earn it,’” Schmidt said. “I think that our group’s got to go and earn it tonight.”