Logan Couture #39 (left), Joe Thornton #19, Dan Boyle #22, and Joe Pavelski #8 of the San Jose Sharks skate back to the bench after Joe Pavelski scored a first period power play goal against the Vancouver Canucks.
Photograph by: Christian Petersen, Getty Images
SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Vancouver Canucks, who should have won the Stanley Cup two years ago and until last week still talked about winning one, have been reduced to seeking a moral victory, a sliver of respect before their National Hockey League season is taken from them.
Rarely have the Canucks looked as flimsy as they were Sunday when, playing for their playoff lives, they were easily beaten 5-2 by the San Jose Sharks.
Rarely have the Canucks been pushovers.
But they're now likely to be thrown out of the Stanley Cup tournament in the minimum four games, swept for the first time in any round since 2001 when Vancouver was still struggling as a franchise for respectability and footing.
But even then, overmatched by a Colorado Avalanche team on its way to the Stanley Cup, the Canucks battled fiercely through every shift.
Sunday, they hardly battled at all when they fell behind 3-1 early in the third period on Logan Couture's demoralizing, weak goal. There was no push back or resolve, only unravelling exemplified by a lack of discipline that fed the Sharks' power play.
And while it's easy – and accurate – to blame rust-encrusted goalie Cory Schneider and coach Alain Vigneault for playing him instead of Roberto Luongo when netminding had been down the list of Vancouver's concerns, the Canucks' problems in this series are far deeper.
They have been inferior to the Sharks in every area.
Barring divine intervention, the Canucks will not be the fourth NHL team out of 173 to overcome a 3-0 deficit and win a playoff series.
They're just too far behind the Sharks, literally and figuratively.
The Canucks will try Tuesday to win Game 4. But they're also now playing for pride and self-respect.
“I think there's always (pride),” Canuck Daniel Sedin said. “You never want to lose four in a row. After losing 4-1 last year, we're too good a team to let this happen. But it goes back to penalties. It's costing us games. Even when they don't score, they get a lot of momentum.”
The Canucks lost in five first-round games to the Los Angeles Kings one year ago. No one thought they could do worse against the Sharks.
“If you look at 3-0 deficit, for sure, it's very daunting,” pointless winger Chris Higgins said. “But we just want to come back and win one game.
“For sure, I'm disappointed (how I've played). When you're losing, everyone in the room would say that. It's been tough. We really haven't had much sustained offensive pressure. We're not getting shots through. That's a perfect storm for not creating offence.”
The Canucks are 1-9 in 10 playoff games since getting within one victory of their first Stanley Cup two years ago. In these 10 games, they've scored 16 goals and managed as many as three in a game only once.
There's lots of blame to go around, from the general manager's office to the coaching to the players. And while the usual slings and arrows are aimed at Daniel and Henrik Sedin, a huge factor in the Canucks' inability to match the Sharks on the ice is the failure of Vancouver's secondary players to make a dent.
We're not talking about the fourth line or third defensive pairing, but key regular-season contributors like Higgins and Jannik Hansen, Derek Roy and Mason Raymond.
The lack of impact from Higgins and Hansen is especially surprising – and debilitating – because there is usually grit and intensity to their games, elements that are rarely attributed to Roy and Raymond.
This quartet, who combined for 37 goals and 92 points during the regular season, have one assist against the Sharks: Roy's meaningless set up Sunday of Dan Hamhuis.
San Jose third-line centre Joe Pavelski, by contrast, leads the series in scoring with six points. Depth forwards Raffi Torres and Tommy Wingels have contributed to goals and been factors each night, and converted defenceman Brent Burns' two points includes the set up on Torres' overtime winner in Game 2 on Friday.
The Sedins and Ryan Kesler, who was unable Sunday to come close to matching his monster performance in Friday's 3-2 loss, have been outperformed by Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau.
But the disparity in performance has been far more damaging to the Canucks in the second tier of forwards.
And then there is the blueline, one of Vancouver's strengths and perhaps the area the Canucks should have had an advantage over San Jose.
Sharks' Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Dan Boyle have been the best defencemen in the series, and San Jose blueliners have contributed nine points to the attack.
Compare that to Vancouver's defence, which was second in the NHL in goals this season and for years has one of the highest-scoring bluelines in the league. In three games against the Sharks, it has contributed Hamhuis' goal and an assist attributed to Bieksa on an own-goal by San Jose.
Second-best on offence and scoring depth, second-best on special teams, second-best at defensive play and intensity and consistency. And now second-best in goal. The Canucks are still playing only because there have been just three games.
in the future.
“It was a long road over the summer. I feel a lot better now. I’m more relaxed, in a better place mentally and physically.”
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun