Vancouver Canucks goalie Eddie Lack is pinned down as the New York Rangers Daniel Carcillo, 13, celebrate his goal.
Photograph by: Mark van Manen, PNG
VANCOUVER - Desperation and urgency were palpable as the Vancouver Canucks faced the New York Rangers Tuesday night. But then you walked past the whimpering ticket scalpers and went inside Rogers Arena, where the strongest sense was one of resignation.
It has been a long time since the Canucks were in this position, playing out their final games hopelessly – if not quite yet mathematically – short of the National Hockey League playoffs.
In both 2008 and 2006, the only years since Y2K the Canucks failed to make the Stanley Cup tournament, the team fell out of a playoff position at the end. Their games meant something until the final days of the season.
But this year is worse: with the Dallas Stars winning 5-0 earlier Tuesday in Washington, the Canucks were six points out of a playoff spot with six games to go and needing to catch not one team but two, both of them holding games in-hand. Then they lost 3-1 to the Rangers.
There was an inevitability about the outcome even as the first puck was dropped.
“We've never really been in this situation before, and it's not where we want to be,” Canuck defenceman Alex Edler said amid a despondent dressing room. “There have been a lot of losses; it's been tough. We're going to battle to the end but we need a lot of help here.”
There entire labour force of China couldn't help enough to get the Canucks into the playoffs.
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The Phoenix Coyotes, technically ninth in the Western Conference but tied with Dallas on points, play two more games before Saturday, when the Canucks play next against the Los Angeles Kings. By then, Vancouver could be 10 points out with five games to go.
“I think I've played two meaningless games throughout my career,” winger Daniel Sedin, a 13-year veteran, said about the prospect of being eliminated with a week to go. “It's not a position you want to be in, and I think it's unacceptable for this team to be in this position. But we are we are because we haven't won enough games and haven't played well enough. Between Game 40 and Game 60, it cost us the season.”
The Canucks are 11-21-4 since the middle of the season. In the last three months, they have beaten two teams that held playoff positions Tuesday night.
They stayed in the vapor trail of the playoff race in March by beating the Buffalo Sabres, Nashville Predators, Florida Panthers, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets and, to their credit, the Minnesota Wild.
But against quality teams, the Canucks lack of quality has been exposed.
It's not about determination or will. Canuck players want to win. Most of them, Sedin noted last week, have done nothing but win in Vancouver over the years. But the Canucks' talent, depth and execution are not where Vancouver needs them to be to win. So they haven't won.
The Canucks tried to take the game to the Rangers. Vancouver's first line of Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows led from the front, generating terrific scoring chances for Kesler on the trio's first two shifts.
But when New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist blockered Kesler's shot on a 2-on-1, then was strong at his near post as Kesler cut hard to the net two minutes later, you could see how this was going to go. How they've all gone recently when the Canucks play good teams.
Outchanced and outshot, New York went ahead 1-0 at 4:59 when a puck off the end boards hopped past Canuck goalie Eddie Lack, chaos ensued, and three fourth-line Rangers stood untouched at the crease and swung pitchforks at the puck until finally dislodging it from Lack, allowing Daniel Carcillo to score his fourth goal in 54 games.
Kesler had two chances to score and didn't, Carcillo had one chance and did. The whistle could have gone as Lack played the part of pinata, but it didn't.
And when Canuck fourth-liner Tom Sestito took a tripping penalty 190 feet from his net, the Ranger power play went 1-for-1 to make it 2-0 at 14:43.
And that was the game.
Yes, Kesler scored in the middle period and the Canucks continued to hammer away. But they weren't coming from two goals down to beat the Rangers, who are 27-1-1 when leading after two periods. Vancouver is 3-24-1 this season when trailing after 40 minutes.
It only seemed like the Canucks had a chance. Against the Rangers and in this playoff race the last few weeks. Irreparable damage was done between Dec. 29 and March 8, when the Canucks went 5-16-4.
“You battle all year to get a chance to play in the playoffs,” Burrows said. “That's what it's all about. But when you're on the outside looking in, you've got to keep playing and be a pro and work for each other. You've got to do that for your teammates and the organization that believes in you.”
Soon they'll have to do that when the games mean nothing.
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