With the Vancouver Canucks now officially eliminated from the playoffs, being swept in four games by the San Jose Sharks, hockey pundits across the league have begun dissecting the team in hopes of analyzing just what went wrong.
It is the second year in a row the Canucks played a great regular season, both times finishing atop the Northwest Division, only to be knocked out with relative ease in the opening round by an underdog opponent. It was another California team, the Los Angeles Kings, that manhandled the Canucks in 2012, the 8th seeded-team in the West upsetting the #1 seed four games to one.
For the dejected Vancouver team and their fans, the soul-searching begins all too soon for another summer. Where did yet another promising season go so horribly wrong?
Was it the goaltending?
Was it the offense?
Was it the coach?
On paper, the Canucks looked more than capable of making an extended postseason run. The Sedins could effectively drive the offence, the blueline was as deep as any other team in the league, there were not one, but two, potential number one netminders with Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo, and Alain Vigneault, the 2007 Jack Adams winner as the NHL’s top coach, was a brilliantly savvy mastermind behind the bench.
There is plenty of blame to go around, more than can be pinned on one player or position, as it seemed like all facets of the Canucks machine were incapable of firing on all cylinders. The team looked disjointed. Lost. Again, just like they did in 2012.
So, how could so many different aspects of a team fail all at the same time?
In one word: confidence.
Simply put, the Vancouver Canucks teams that lost to the Sharks and Kings, despite being nearly identical in terms of personnel, were not the same teams that steamrolled their way to a President’s Trophy and the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011.
In fact, they haven’t really been the same team since those same 2011 finals, when they were dealt an emotionally devastating Game 7 loss by the eventual champions, the Boston Bruins.
Despite the finals going all the way to the seventh game that year, that series was dominant and decisive win for Boston. Not only did the Bruins beat the Canucks on the scoreboard, but they also beat them physically. The big, bad Bruins crashed and banged their way to victory, overpowering a Canucks team that was comparably lacking in size, strength and, above all, “fight.”
There is no single video clip that better summarizes that series as this scene of notorious Bruins agitator Brad Marchand punching a submissive Daniel Sedin:
Sedin was clearly trying to draw a penalty, but with the Stanley Cup on the line, that’s when a team most needs their top players to scrape and claw and battle with their last breaths to attain victory. It was something that the Bruins and their leaders did immeasurably better than the Canucks.
Beyond beating them physically, the argument could be made that the Bruins beat them mentally as well, because the Canucks have never been the same team after that loss.
Sure, talent alone will get a team through the regular season with varying levels of success, but when the playoffs roll around that’s when teams need to dig deep and find confidence in themselves that they have what it takes to make a long playoff push.
The 2012 Kings, despite coming into the postseason as the 8th seed, oozed that confidence. The 2013 Sharks, despite years of playoff disappointments, are still digging deep and showed immense confidence in their opening round sweep.
The same can’t be said about the Canucks, either last playoffs or this one. It’s something that’s been stripped from the roster, and the absence of it has cost them for two consecutive years.
The worst part for Vancouver is that a team-wide lack of confidence is not something that can be easily fixed. You can trade players, but you can’t trade an attitude in the dressing room. But with another humiliating playoff loss doled out to them, there will almost certainly be broad and drastic changes coming to the Canucks organization as they attempt to do so.