The Vancouver Canucks prepare to leave the ice after a loss to the San Jose Sharks during overtime of Game 4 of their first-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series in San Jose, Calif., Tuesday, May 7, 2013. San Jose won 4-3 in overtime. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Photograph by: Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP
You see it in the fight game sometimes.
A veteran headliner draws someone who lacks his pedigree and the presumption is, based on history, he’ll handle the pretender easily. He has a name. He has a resume. The other guy? Sorry, not in the same class.
But when the bout starts, it’s clear something is wrong. The veteran looks slow and his punches lack their customary snap and power. The other guy looks faster and is completely unconcerned by what his more illustrious opponent is offering. At first the vet looks confused. Then he looks panicked. You see a few glimpses of what he once was but, over the duration of the fight, they are few and far between and when it’s all over, everyone says the same thing: “He was a great fighter but he got old in one night.”
So tell me: Is that what happened to the Vancouver Canucks against the San Jose Sharks?
Here’s a tougher question.
Did O.J. do it?
There are, of course, a hundred ways to analyze the Canucks’ shocking first-round ouster – a four-game sweep which took on a bizarre new twist on Tuesday night — and all will be discussed in excruciating detail over the next 100 days. But for the faithful, the most haunting, the most disturbing has nothing to do with goaltending controversies or Alain Vigneault’s shortcomings or management blunders. Rather, it’s the unshakable image of a Canucks’ team that was beaten in every imaginable area — and a few unimaginable areas: see power plays — against a good but not great Sharks’ team. These are the same Canucks who were one win away from the Stanley Cup two years ago; who looked so confident and so complete a month ago and who were overmatched against the sixth-seeded Fish.
How do you explain it? Seriously, how do you explain it? And let’s for the moment, skip over the more noteworthy aspects of the Game 4 loss because, as infuriating as the officiating was on Tuesday night, the Canucks are delusional if they think they lost this one because a couple of zebras had their heads stuffed up their posteriors.
No, the sweep was about the complete collective and individual failures of the Canucks. As a team, they were too small, too slow and too soft to compete against the Sharks. Their penalty killing, until Tuesday night, wasn’t good enough. Their power play wasn’t good enough. Their offence, please, don’t get us started on their offence. And, unbelievably, their goaltending wasn’t good enough.
That, at least, was the team game. As for the players, where do you begin? The best individual Canuck in this series was, who? Ryan Kesler had a memorable third period in Game 2. Alex Burrows had a strong Game 4. Dan Hamhuis was his steady, reliable self. Jannik Hansen had moments. But, beyond that, it was uglier than brunch with a family of zombies.
The Sedins looked like a spent force and you can reasonably ask if this team can stay competitive with the twins at their epicentre. Chris Higgins provided nothing. As did Max Lapierre. As did Zack Kassian. As did Dale Weise. The defence looked frail and vulnerable. And it all came together in one imperfect storm for the Canucks against the Fish.
Oh, they gave it their best shot on Tuesday night. Calling on institutional memory and residue of so many wins together, they came out in the third period and showed what they once were. They attacked ferociously. The played the game at an alarming speed and with a grim sense of purpose. With five minutes to go they held a one-goal lead. Then the clown-time refereeing tandem of Kelly Sutherland and Chris Lee took over.
Given the circumstances — the score, the point in the game and everything that had gone before — the cross-checking call on Kevin Bieksa that led to Joe Pavelski’s game-tying power-play goal was a joke. And it still wasn’t as bad as the shoulder-to-shoulder hit by Daniel Sedin that turned into a boarding penalty and the series-clinching goal by Patrick Marleau. We’re not going to waste any more time on this subject but, as broadcaster Ray Ferraro suggested during the game, if you’re looking at this from a Canucks’ perspective, they have every right to feel jobbed.
This is another one of those storylines which will be picked apart in forthcoming days. But it’s also going to get lost in the shuffle.
Of more interest to the faithful, of course, is where do the Canucks go from here and if you’re waiting for an answer in this space, well, that’s why the hockey gods created the offseason. The Canucks were exposed against the Sharks. They were exposed as being too small and too soft to compete at the highest level of an NHL which now rewards other attributes.
This team is no longer close. The window is closed. You saw it over these four games; four games in which the Canucks grew old before our very eyes.
As for the rest of the 2013 campaign, the most exciting part is coming up for the Canucks and that’s all you need to know about what they’ve become.
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