“They’re doing their job”: Canucks’ Hughes speaks on Preds targeting him

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Vancouver Canucks captain Quinn Hughes has taken a beating during the playoffs thus far.

There’s a target on his back and the Nashville Predators have found success in stapling the 5-foot-10 defenceman whenever they get the chance.

“I don’t know, I think that they’re doing their job. They play hard and that’s why they’re here and they’re a good team,” Hughes said when asked if this was the most physical punishment he’s ever sustained while playing hockey.

Hughes admitted with a chuckle that the double hit he took in the first period of Game 3 knocked the wind out of him. He skipped a shift directly after the collision.

“I feel really good,” the captain insisted. “I feel excited for tonight… for the opportunity and try to take advantage of it.”

The Canucks have the chance to win a playoff series on home ice for the first time since 2011.

Hughes has four points through four games and made an incredible play to set up the tying goal in Game 4. However, he hasn’t been the same consistent play-driving monster that fans have come to expect. His ice time has also been down as the team attempts to shield their star from taking too much of a beating.

If they do eliminate the Predators tonight, the Canucks could have up to a week off. That would be huge to let Hughes and other ailing players recover.

No matter if they clinch their ticket to the second round tonight or not, the Canucks are going to need to better protect Hughes throughout the playoffs.

“I think first two games I didn’t get hit here and I felt like I played really well. Obviously, a little bit of a different story in Games 3 and 4,” continued Hughes. “Game 3 we had 12 shots on net and really defended the whole game and then Game 4, I think a similar game as well where they probably taking it to us, so I think if we can play a little bit better then those things will be limited.”

The team’s head coach has a similar view on the best way to protect his captain.

“Keep the puck more in their offensive zone,” said Rick Tocchet when asked how the team can reduce the physical beating Hughes has been taking. “When you’re one-and-done, teams get it and now they’re on the go. Whether they rim it in or chip it in, then all of a sudden your defence are under heat.”

“And then moving the puck quicker, our D, instead of massaging it, I think right there is a recipe where they’re not going to be on us as much.”

Tonight will be a good test for the Canucks to see if they can force the game into the Predators zone for long periods, ideally reducing the load their defence takes on.