Vancouver Canucks were destined for playoff failure
There can be disappointment and anger among Vancouver Canucks faithful that the team they cheer for was dispatched so easily in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. But in no way can there be shock at the team’s early demise at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings. There were simply too many warning signs, too many indications of impending doom in the final few weeks that were ignored by the organization.
Despite finishing with the best record in the National Hockey League regular season, the Canucks sputtered in goal-scoring down the stretch. Lengthy goal droughts from key players were seen as nothing more than guys taking their foot off the offensive pedal late in the season. The players themselves insisted this wasn’t going to be an issue. They were proven scorers who had learned from the trip to last year’s final, and who would surely spring to life when the games started to matter most.
Well, that didn’t happen. A team that was supposed to have superior scoring depth had none at all, and a team that was supposed to be primed for another long playoff run barely managed to avoid a first-round sweep. The brief playoff appearance continued troubling trends: the Canucks failed to extend leads and left opponents lingering in many games in the second half of the season. The team showed an alarming lack of killer instinct, and in the end it ran into a team that offered more resistance than it could handle.
Instead of being able to nurse a 1-0 lead successfully to the finish or finding a way to win tied games in the third period, as they had done so often late in the year, the Canucks crumbled in those situations against the Kings. Over the final 28 games of the season, the Canucks managed to play with a lead larger than two goals only twice. They were the best team in the league at opening the scoring, but they either couldn’t or wouldn’t push to extend leads and left too many opponents hanging around in hockey games. That was certainly the case in the series finale, when L.A. erased a 1-0 deficit in the third period and won the game in overtime.
“We’re all very disappointed with how things turned out,” head coach Alain Vigneault said as he addressed the media in the moments after being eliminated. “We’re a good team but L.A. is a very good team also, and they played better than we did in the series.”
Of all the red flags that had been waved for months around the Canucks, none was a bigger concern than the team’s ineffective power play. Players and coaches had misguided confidence that it would come through at crunch time. And even though it accounted for three of the final four goals the Canucks scored, it went a paltry three for 21 in the playoffs and arrived far too late to the party, after inexplicably and inexcusably giving up a pair of short-handed goals in the second game that allowed the Kings to seize full control of the series.
The Kings were exactly as advertised: a structured bunch that didn’t score much but surrendered even less. And that’s precisely how they knocked off the Canucks. The Kings stuck to their system. They scored just 12 goals over five games, and yet somehow that was more than enough to make it a one-sided series. The Canucks had the same game plan in mind but managed only eight goals in the series and were given a painful lesson by Los Angeles in how to play—and win—low-scoring hockey, particularly as a road team.
The Canucks failed to win a game in three tries on home ice in the playoffs. Again, though, that simply continued a pattern of spotty play at Rogers Arena since the all-star break. The Canucks needed a come-from-behind win over the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets to salvage a 3-4 record on a season-high seven-game homestand in March. And in their final 20 home games (including the three playoff games), the visitors won eight times and left town with at least a single point on three other occasions.
Ryan Kesler failed to score in his final 17 games; David Booth had one goal in his past 16 contests; Mason Raymond finished the year on an 11-game skid; and Alex Burrows scored the series’ opening goal and wasn’t heard from again. Chris Higgins, a strong playoff performer a year ago, had one goal in his final nine games of the season and didn’t pick up a point in the series against the Kings.
At the end, it wasn’t the Kings’ best players who dealt the Canucks the death blow. Brad Richardson and Jarret Stoll scored the goals in the series clincher. The Canucks should have been able to get contributions from their depth guys to match, but didn’t. Henrik Sedin was the only Canucks forward to score in the final three games in the series. And that, ultimately, is what killed them.
“I’m surprised, obviously,” Vigneault said when asked about the inability of so many to put a puck in the net. “I think there is real good potential to score, but goals were really tough to come by in this series.”
For that, the Kings deserve some credit. But that’s only part of the story. The writing was on the wall for the Canucks for much of the season, and they seemed to be the only ones who couldn’t see how this was going to end until early elimination hit them squarely between the eyes.