Fan-free playoff hockey still proving plenty intense

Staging games in empty arenas after a virus-forced hiatus of more than four months, the NHL skated into this unprecedented postseason with plenty of questions about just how intense the action on the ice would be.

Four days into a most unusual Stanley Cup tournament, this much is clear: Playoff hockey is still playoff hockey, even without the roar of the crowd. The Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks, their qualifying round series even at one win apiece, have proven as much.

Both contests at Rogers Place in Edmonton have been testy, with the two teams jawing at each other at the end of Game 2.

”The guys play the exact same way. I spoke to several people before this, and they said, ‘Do you think it’s going to be playoff hockey?”’ Wild coach Dean Evason said. ”These guys, they’re kids, and even if they’re older guys, they’re kids. They’re playing the game for the right reasons. They’re the best in the world for a reason, because they absolutely love to play and they love to compete, and when that puck’s dropped in a playoff atmosphere, we’re all battling to win the Stanley Cup, which they’ve thought about their entire lives. There’s going to be that excitement level and there’s going to be that battle level that we’ve seen already.”

Even more strange with this postseason has been the bubble-city setup that has stationed both of these teams at the Sutton Place Hotel. The Wild routinely walk by the Canucks on their way to eat.

”It’s definitely different. You’re in an absolute war with a team, and then you ride the elevator with them,” Canucks defenseman Tyler Myers said on Wednesday.

Game 3 is on Thursday (2:30 p.m. EDT, NHL Network). The Canucks are banged up, with four forwards iffy. Tyler Toffoli and Adam Gaudette were hurt in Game 1 and held out of Game 2. Michael Ferland and Antoine Roussel left Game 2 with injuries.

The Canucks will likely go as far as their talented top-six group of forwards will take them, with the ”Lotto Line” of J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser making a significant impact so far.

Pettersson has impressed the Canucks with his tenacity, too, the frequent target of not-so-friendly hits from the Wild.

”I’m always impressed with his skill level, and I’ve been anxiously waiting to see how he does with this type of hockey, and it’s been impressive so far,” Canucks coach Travis Green said.

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