Elias Pettersson saw the pitch but decided not to swing.
Showing the same silky moves he uses to elude defenders, Pettersson deftly dodged the issue.
“I don’t want to go into the Calder debate,” said Pettersson, who led the Canucks with 28 goals and 66 points last year in his first NHL season. “It’s not up to us who wins the Calder.
“He played phenomenally during the regular season. I’m happy with my season too.”
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The two players will have a chance to settle any scores when the Canucks play the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues in a Western Conference quarterfinal. The best-of-seven series begins Wednesday.
Blues centre Ryan O’Reilly knows controlling Pettersson is essential.
“He’s an elite scorer,” said O’Reilly, last year’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner who led the Blues with 49 assists and 61 points during the regular season. “You see the way he reads the game and the positions he puts himself in. He’s always a threat.
“You’ve always got to be aware of him, make sure any chance you can step in his way and make it difficult on him.”
Pettersson is one of nine Canucks who had their first taste of NHL post-season play during Vancouver’s win over Minnesota in the qualifying round. The Canucks won the best-of-five series 3-1, with Pettersson collecting a goal and three assists.
“They are Stanley Cup champions for a reason,” Pettersson said about the Blues. “They are a great team that plays hard.”
A tale of two teams
The two teams come into the series on different emotional levels.
Vancouver is riding the high of winning the franchise’s first post-season series since 2011. The Canuck roster mixes young players like Pettersson, defenceman Quinn Hughes, and forward Brock Boeser with veterans like captain Bo Horvat, forward J.T. Miller and defenceman Chris Tanev.
Head coach Travis Green said his team has been on a steep learning curve.
“For the present it bodes well for our group because we are still playing,” he said. “We have learned a lot as we’ve gone, even in four games.”
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The Blues, who led the Western Conference with a 42-19-10 record when the NHL paused its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, lost all three of their games in the round-robin series.
“We didn’t play our best hockey in those games,” head coach Craig Berube said. “We played periods of good hockey. We didn’t play 60 minutes of hockey.
“They know now you’ll go home if you don’t play well. I think that makes you dial it in a little bit more.”
Much like the Wild, the Blues are a big team with an aggressive forecheck.
“They are a big, strong team,” Vancouver’s Loui Eriksson said. “It’s going to be a challenge. I think it was good to play Minnesota. Everyone got used to the physicality of the game and the tempo.”
Special teams could be a factor. The Blues had the third-ranked power play during the regular season while Vancouver was fourth. The Canucks’ penalty kill was ranked 16th while St. Louis was 18th.
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Against the Wild, the Canucks power play was four-for-19. The Blues were one-for-12 in the round robin.
Vancouver took 22 penalties in the first round, with defenceman Tyler Myers being sent off nine times.
“We’ll talk about discipline,” Green said bluntly.
The Canucks won two of three games against the Blues during the regular season. One of the wins was in a shootout and the loss in overtime.
It was after the Blues won 2-1 in November that Binnington was asked about Pettersson winning the Calder.
“There’s a little bit of that bad taste in my mouth about the outcome last year,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “But he’s a talented player.”
Asked if he should have won the award, Binnington said “yeah,” but added “they’ve got a good young team and some elite talent. He’s one of those guys.”