Do Canucks have the will? If not, is there any way?
Thirteen goals scored in their last 11 playoff games is more than ‘we ran into a hot goalie’
Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo (left) sits on the bench next to Dan Hamhuis after he was taken off the ice for the extra skater during the final moments of the third period of Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final playoff series at Rogers Arena on Wednesday May 1, 2013. The visiting San Jose Sharks won 3-1.
Photograph by: Darryl Dyck, Canadian Press
VANCOUVER — Thursday at Rogers Arena, Twitter version:
Vancouver Canucks: “We’ve got to be better.”
San Jose Sharks: “We know they’re going to be better, so we’ll have to be better, too.”
That’s it, with seven characters to spare.
Anything else there was to glean from the day-after Game 1, day-before Game 2 practices of this Stanley Cup playoff series had to be pried from between clenched Canuck teeth and sealed Shark lips.
Even a startling statistic like this — 37 hits by the Canucks in the first two periods of the series opener, only three in the third — failed to get a rise out of the combatants.
“I think in the third period, for both teams, there weren’t a lot of chances, weren’t a lot of shots, weren’t a lot of opportunities to get pucks in areas where you could finish a hit,” said coach Alain Vigneault.
“There was a lot of chip-ins, where they were able to get it right out. We sort of did the same thing in our end.”
“I think we got hit with a couple of penalties where maybe we went out of our way to hit guys, and I don’t know if that backed us off a little bit,” said Jannik Hansen, one of the few Canucks who punched considerably above his weight in Wednesday’s 3-1 loss.
“They scored a power play goal late in the second and we definitely don’t want to be giving them those opportunities in the third ... so what exactly plays into us not having more hits in the third, I can’t tell you.”
“Ah, I don’t really pay attention to stats,” said Ryan Kesler, that reliable ray of playoff sunshine.
“Maybe they were breaking out better? I don’t know. Maybe we had the puck more? We weren’t dumping it? There could be a million different (reasons) why we only had three hits.”
There could be.
But maybe there is only one that matters. Maybe, in the words of San Jose defenceman Dan Boyle — scorer of Wednesday’s winning goal — it is simply a matter of ....
“Will,” Boyle said, of the Sharks’ nailing it down in the third.
“Everybody’s going to work hard, but it’s will. It’s times in a game on a shift where it’s that little extra stride that sometimes you cheat on, and you almost have to mentally remind yourself not to cheat. So the word ‘will’ might mean different things to different people, but that’s the key to winning.”
Time and again, through the nine losses in their last 11 playoff games, through the five consecutive setbacks on home ice, the Canucks have had the other team’s will imposed upon them, and have had no answer of their own.
Answers? Honest self-assessment? Not for public consumption.
The Canucks may know where their shortcomings lie, why they have fallen so short, so often, of late. I’m betting Vigneault knows. Whether it is personnel, lack of size, fading stars, chronic injuries or the cerebral approach to problem solving that serves them so well in the regular season but can’t surmount the challenges the opposition throws up once the brutality level gets elevated, the numbers are damning: 13 goals in their last 11 playoff games is more than just “we ran into a hot goalie” or “goals are tough to come by in the playoffs.”
That’s not so say they’re not trying.
Indeed, Sharks coach Todd McLellan seemed to be saying Thursday that his team turned the home side’s early aggression — the Canucks had matched their season high in hits by the end of the second period — against them.
“They had a dump-and-chase game going, they laid pucks in, they were going to come and run, and all their lines were doing that, the Sedins, the Kesler line ... lines that would normally make some plays were really trying to get in on the forecheck.
“I don’t know if we changed our game very much. For us, it was an evenly played game after two. If you were putting ticks up on the board, we had one, they had one.
“We made a few small adjustments, we thought they were almost over-aggressive at times with their forecheck and sometimes you run out of position and it leaves ice open.”
That fits with what Henrik Sedin observed.
“It’s all about better forecheck,” said the Canucks captain. “We’ve got to get three guys in there and try to turn pucks over. Our first guy did a good job, but they got three guys down low and they just bump the puck to the low guy and all of a sudden we’re facing them coming up the ice.
“We made the adjustments after the first and had a good second period, then in the third they got the early goal and it seems like we’re getting a little ... we’re not making the plays we need to make.
“You can say we have to work harder or battle more, but I think it’s more about making the plays you always do. Doesn’t matter if it’s the first game of the season or the seventh game of the playoffs. You gotta make those three-foot passes, using the low centreman, but a lot of times we tend to maybe make the easy play — go up the boards, off the glass, and it’s tough to create any good forechecks when you play that way.”
Up the boards and off the glass? That’s a team on its heels, playing safe, out of inspiration, or will, or gas.
That’s third-period hockey, Vancouver Canucks style.
Can they resolve to be better just by saying they have to be?
Unlikely. Not impossible.
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