The Canucks dressing room was awash in disappointment following their five-game ouster by the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday, but few likely could match the sting felt by veteran defenceman Sami Salo.
At 37, Salo, saw another opportunity to taste the ultimate success in the Stanley Cup playoffs turn to dust before his eyes. The Turku, Finland native was with the Canucks last season when they fell agonizingly short, losing Game 7 of the final to Boston. This year was supposed to be another long journey in the post-season, but it didn't happen and he surely knows the chances are running out.
Salo, who played his 100th playoff game on Sunday and leads the club in that category, acknowledged the disappointment might be close to a year ago.
“It's pretty close,” said Salo, blinking back tears for a moment. “We'll see how it is in a couple days, but it's very disappointing.”
Where did it go wrong for a team that won its second consecutive Presidents Trophy, for the top point-getter in the regular season? Most expected the Canucks to build on going deep in the playoffs last season, but there seemed to be no such benefit.
“The experience last year should have grown this team a lot, but going down the stretch we didn't play our best hockey and never really got going in the playoffs,” said Salo, who finished the series with no points and a minus-3. “The last couple games we played a lot better but we never really got to the point where we were like what made this team successful last year and the early part of the season.”
What went awry, really, since February?
“It's tough to say,” he said. “We had a lot of meetings down the stretch, we made a lot of mistakes the last 15-20 games just not playing the way we needed to play. We got a lot of wins, but going into the playoffs, even if you're only a little off your game, you can't just press a button.”
Like many in the Canucks' room Salo pointed to losing the first two games to the Kings at home as putting them in a near-impossible hole.
“The first two games we made a lot of mistakes that are not common with this team,” said Salo. “We took a lot of undisciplined penalties and for sure didn't battle as hard as we needed to take advantage of home ice. We gave them a lot of momentum by doing that.
“Nobody really performed at their level, except the goalies. That was a big hole for sure.”
Salo agreed to come back on a one-year deal this season for reduced pay, from $3.5 million to $2 million. It was a home-town discount and an acknowledgment of a career of frequent injuries and stretches of missed games.
But Salo was solid all season and played the most games (69) since 74 in the 2003-04 season. He had nine goals and 25 points and still has a big cannon from the point on the power play. He was a bargain at $2 million and certainly knows it. Salo, who turns 37 in September, also knows he's going to keep playing.
“I'll take some time, but the body has been feeling really good all year and that's been a driving force for me,” he said. “I think the only thing I know is I'll be playing somewhere, where it will be the future will tell. I haven't given it any thought during this season. We'll see.”
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