VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The Vancouver Canucks returned to the ice after a COVID-19 outbreak prompted nearly four weeks of worrying, wondering and waiting.
They were finally able to play for the first time since March 24 — and celebrated their first game back with an overtime victory.
Bo Harvat scored his second goal of the game 1:19 into the extra period, giving the Canucks a 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday night.
“This isn’t just your regular win during the regular season,” coach Travis Green said. “It’s a special win. We’ve gone through a lot here with our group over the last few weeks.”
Horvat also had an assist, Nils Hoglander had a goal and an assist, and Braden Holtby made 37 saves for the Canucks, who had at least 21 players and four members of the coaching staff test positive for the coronavirus.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our guys in that room,” Horvat said, “the way they manned up tonight and stuck with the process and willed their way to that win.”
Green thought it was fitting that Horvat, Vancouver’s captain, sent the team to victory in its return.
“He was phenomenal,” Green said. “What are you going to say? Two goals and an assist. You want guys to step to the plate and when your captain’s right at the front of the line leading the way, there’s a reason why he’s wearing a ‘C’ on his jersey.”
No Canucks players remained on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list Sunday, but some of Vancouver’s regular starters remained out of the lineup, including goalie Thatcher Demko, defenseman Nate Schmidt and forwards Tyler Motte and Jake Virtanen.
“It was a hard game,” Green said. “You’re playing a really good hockey team on the other side. I’m proud of our group and how we stuck with it and won tonight.”
William Nylander had a goal — the 100th of his NHL career — and an assist for Toronto in his first game after missing five due to COVID-19 protocols.
“I think I had a little stretch before I went into quarantine where I could have scored that 100th goal,” Nylander said. “So it’s nice to get that one early.”
Auston Matthews added his league-leading 33rd goal in his return from a nagging wrist injury for Toronto, and John Tavares added a pair of assists. Jack Campbell stopped 21 shots as the Maple Leafs remained atop the all-Canadian North Division and hold a 4-2 edge in the season series with three games to go.
The teams play again in Vancouver on Tuesday night.
“I think it was one where we all just decided to go out there, you give it absolutely all you have, stick together and we believed we were going to have a chance to win,” Holtby said. “It was a fun one to be a part of.”
Toronto nearly sealed the game in the final seconds of regulation. Matthews sent a short pass to Mitch Marner in tight and the right wing sailed a shot off the crossbar and post with about 20 seconds left. The goal was waved off on the ice, but went to a video review — which confirmed there was no score on the play.
Hoglander tied it for Vancouver at 12:03 of the third when he took a crisp pass from Jalen Chatfield and scored his eighth goal of the season. Chatfield’s assist was his first NHL point.
With just under five minutes to go, it briefly appeared as though Vancouver had taken the lead when Jayce Hawryluk rang a shot off the crossbar. He celebrated as though the puck had gone in, but it was quickly waved off by the officials and the play continued.
A nasty hit 10 minutes into the second period saw both sides lose a key player when Vancouver’s Alex Edler took out Zach Hyman in front of the Maple Leafs’ bench. Hyman dropped hard to the ice and stayed down for several minutes before the play ended and a trainer came to his side. Hyman went directly to the locker room and did not return.
The Leafs’ bench was angry with the play and it was reviewed, with officials determining Edler had committed a knee-on-knee hit. He was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct — and Toronto took advantage.
Matthews scored with 19 seconds left in the man advantage to give Toronto a 2-0 lead.
The Canucks responded just 86 seconds later when Horvat scored his 15th of the season.
Nylander ripped a shot past Holtby to open the scoring 3:45 into the first to put Toronto in front 1-0.
Jimmy Vesey and Travis Boyd played their first games against Toronto since being waived by the Maple Leafs last month. … Vancouver LW Tanner Pearson returned to the lineup for the first time since injuring a leg on March 17.
The Canucks celebrated head equipment manager Pat O’Neill, who was working his 3,000th game. The team played a video with congratulatory messages from his daughters and a number of former Canucks players, including Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Markus Naslund, Trevor Linden and Pavel Bure. O’Neill is the fifth trainer in league history to achieve the milestone.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports