The seemingly unthinkable happened Sunday night in Vancouver as the Canucks dropped their opening round playoff series to the Los Angeles Kings. This is the Canucks team that was sixty minutes away from winning it all last year, a team that featured the two reigning Art Ross Trophy winners, a Hart Trophy winner and two excellent goal tenders. It was a team that won the President’s Trophy for the second straight year.
Surely they weren’t really going to lose to the eight seed in five games were they?
As Canucks fans drown their sorrows, shave their playoff beards and put away their sweaters for the summer they may be left scratching their heads over this one. Confusion may be setting in. Needless to say the Stanley Cup playoffs can and are a sometimes cruel mistress but the fans in Vancouver should not be surprised by this result.
Looking back on the last few months of hockey the Canucks did not play all that great. Sure they won games, and maybe those wins blinded us, made us not see the devil in the detail. That devil was trying to show us that they were struggling on offense, their power play was falling apart and they had no consistency – juggling lines from game to game.
We didn’t worry, surely when the playoffs arrived they would flip the switch right?
These are not things we saw last year. The Canucks dominated every aspect of the game last year and made very few, if any lineup changes during the season.
People will be quick to point out the loss of Daniel Sedin, and that certainly played a role in the loss to the Kings. But even before he got hurt the Canucks were not playing the type of game they had the past few years.
Beginning in January, Vancouver was hanging on.
We wanted to believe that the Canucks sudden lack of goal scoring was them getting ready for playoff hockey. We now know that was not the case. They just got a good taste of playoff hockey and were not able to swallow it.
Granted, trying to score goals in the Western Conference was tough this year as 10 of the top 15 defensive teams resided in the West. We should have known that the defense would get even tougher in the playoffs.
The Kings were one of those teams.
In these five games their defense packed the middle of the ice, forced Vancouver to the outside where the Canucks were forced to take low percentage shots against one of the league’s top goaltenders in Jonathan Quick. The Kings played their game and played it well and ended up with a well deserved victory.
The Canucks did not really have any answers the past few months, and definitely had none this last week. They are going to have to find the answers moving forward.
Now armed with the clarity of hindsight we should not be shocked that the Canucks have been eliminated. We should have known they weren’t long for these playoffs but we didn’t want to believe it. When they were squeaking out games we all assumed that they were waiting for ‘meaningful’ games to begin.
Perhaps those games were meaningful. Perhaps they represented a sign of what was to come.
So now here they sit, wondering where to go next. All indications point to another tough Western Conference next year and Vancouver is going to have to make changes to compete. They are in desperate need of secondary scoring, they could use some more defensive depth and have some serious decisions to make about their goalie and the man behind the bench.
While the fans in Vancouver are missing out on the excitement of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they will be in for a very entertaining summer.
The good news? At least now, watching the rest of the playoffs will be stress free.