Canucks' biggest issue not Cory Schneider or Roberto Luongo in wake of Game 3 loss
Another post-season opportunity has come and (almost) gone
Vancouver Canucks goalie Cory Schneider takes a water break during Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks in Game 3 of their NHL Western Conference quarter-final series at HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif.
Photograph by: Christian Petersen, Getty Images
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Cory Schneider’s “body injury” has healed. His other wounds, apparently not.
And worst of all, his goal-scoring drought continues.
Schneider, re-inserted as the starting goalie for Game 3 by coach Alain Vigneault for no other reason than because he thought it was the right thing to do, was lit up for three early third-period goals -- two of them by the amazing Logan Couture -- to seal the Vancouver Canucks’ fate, both for the evening and for another abbreviated Stanley Cup playoff run.
Perhaps “run” isn’t the right word.
Because, of course, they are done now. Down 3-0 in the series, with Game 4 here at HP Pavilion on Tuesday, they don’t look remotely able -- certainly not mentally -- to handle what the San Jose Sharks are throwing at them.
The Sharks poured three quick ones past Schneider in the first five minutes of the third period to take a 5-1 lead, bringing Roberto Luongo off the bench in relief, but that was only a mercy hook on Vigneault’s part.
The home side was carving up the Canucks’ team defence with impunity, and Schneider, who had been terrific through two periods -- but as always in the playoffs, with negligible offensive support from his teammates to offset the two basically unstoppable Joe Pavelski goals that had got past him -- seemed to lose his focus and, shortly after, his stomach for the battle.
Couture’s first goal from the deep left wing, five seconds before a penalty to Jannik Hansen would have expired, had no business going in.
“Just missed it. Just whiffed on it,” said Schneider. “I wish I could give you a better explanation. It’s not a good feeling to let your team down like that.”
“That third goal, we almost had the penalty killed there, is probably one that Schneids would like to have back,” said Vigneault, looking pretty despondent in defeat.
Patrick Marleau’s third of the series, nine seconds later, after waltzing into the clear unmarked, beat him through the five-hole, and then Couture uncorked another wrist shot from an angle that most NHL goalies routinely eat up. Schneider didn’t.
“I felt good to start. No excuses. You play in the playoffs, you gotta perform, you gotta execute. I didn’t do it,” he said. “I got caught leaning.”
And so, another opportunity has come and (almost) gone for the Canucks, and for Schneider, who seems unable to get past questions about his cramping up in Game 6 of the Chicago series, two springtimes ago. The past doesn’t seem to want to let go.
And now there’s more of it, piling on.
What he did in the playoffs against the Los Angeles Kings last April, three terrific games in goal despite little run support, was not sufficient.
Taking the starting job from Luongo and leaving no doubt whatsoever, by this regular season’s end, as to his ability to be the Canucks’ future in goal, apparently hasn’t yet wiped the slate clean.
Hence a question asked of him in the Canucks’ room after Sunday’s game-day skate — when he was declared fit to start Game 3 — about unattributed suggestions that he might not have the proper mental makeup to play the biggest games.
How’s that for a kick to the solar plexus?
Schneider, a stand-up guy and articulate to boot, only hesitated for a second, but he must have felt as though he’d been hit by sniper fire.
“Right,” said Schneider, his eyes flashing. “Sure — the injury just can’t be an injury. You tell somebody you’re hurt and they don’t believe you. We don’t view it as a distraction or speculate, that’s your (media) job. I played last year in the playoffs and played in tough games, so I’m not sure where that would come from. It’s not an issue.”
The Canucks had other issues. Goaltending wasn’t among them. At least, it wasn’t until now. It wasn’t before Schneider started Game 3, and it won’t be next season, but Vigneault has a decision to make on Game 4.
Should Luongo have started, based on his work in the first two games? Maybe. Would it have mattered?
The Canucks have now scored a grand total of 17 goals in their last 13 playoff games, 11 of them losses. That is the issue.
It had to change, or they could kiss their season goodbye.
It didn’t. They can.
The Canucks were feisty and willing Sunday, and as strong on the puck as it was possible to be while outweighed by as much as the Sharks outweigh them, but they rarely threatened to score a goal.
In fact, Alex Burrows’ second-period knuckleball that the Sedin twins set up was such an isolated occurrence, it seemed to startle all the Sharks, including goalie Antti Niemi.
And the second one probably ought to have been blown dead for a slashing penalty on Derek Roy before he set up Dan Hamhuis. In any case, it was the kind of goal surrendered by a team, and let go by a referee, that knows the game is already over.
Schneider’s selection to replace Luongo on Sunday was no more mysterious than anything else surrounding his injury, certainly no stranger than his practising three straight days before Game 1, declaring himself fine, then not even backing up when the series began.
“I felt like I could play (Game 1). But I took some time off and that seems to have helped,” he had said at the morning skate, still coy about the exact nature of his injury. “Fortunately we had the luxury of a guy like Roberto here who made it so I wasn’t pressed into action, and that’s not something every team has — and I think Louie’s probably been our best player in the first two games.”
So good, in fact, that Schneider might easily have been left out, if not for the fact that their two home losses (now six of them in a row in the playoffs) seemed to require a shakeup.
A terse, tense Vigneault made the decision to play Schneider sound like a no-brainer.
“He’s good to go,” said the coach. “Cory lost the net to an injury and prior to that his play was real good. We were going to start with him in the playoffs.”
Schneider’s play, his four shutouts down the stretch, the calming influence he seemed to have on the team in front of him — which has occasionally looked jumpy trying to defend a late lead with Luongo in goal, as if it’s expecting an ambush — was more than good.
So he came in for Luongo, exactly as he did a year ago, when the Canucks trailed the Kings 2-0 after a pair of home-ice losses. Both situations were fraught with desperation.
Just once, you’d think, Cory Schneider wouldn’t mind coming into a series when the Canucks weren’t completely backed into a corner.
But he’s never had that luxury, and he didn’t have it Sunday — and he certainly won’t on Tuesday, even if Vigneault sticks with him.
No sure thing, that.
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