Vancouver Canucks goalie Cory Schneider is beaten for a goal on a shot by San Jose Sharks centre Joe Pavelski (top left) during the third period in Game 4 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series between the Canucks and Sharks at HP Pavilion on Tuesday, May 7, 2013 in San Jose, Calif. The Sharks won 4-3 in overtime to sweep the best-of-seven series four games to none.
Photograph by: Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP
SAN JOSE, Calif. — And there it was, Vancouver Canuck fans: evidence that it was still there.
Buried deep, perhaps.
Too late, of course.
Unavailable when it was really needed, a lot of the time.
But in there, somewhere, was the Canuck team that will put up a fight, make you pay for a penalty, dazzle you with Sedinery, and annoy the heck out of you with the sneakily-skillful play of Alex Burrows.
In there was a defence corps that will jump into the play and make things happen, speedy wingers who will win races and even a few puck battles. A goaltender who, even on a night when he doesn’t have anything like his best stuff, will beat the puck to death in hand-to-hand combat and make enough big saves to still have a chance.
Alas, also in there is the team that can’t hold a lead.
The team that will take the bad penalty. The goalie who will make a dozen terrific saves and then lose on a softie. The team that has antagonized enough referees over the years to be on the wrong end of the call late in the game in the other team’s building, when the blood is rushing to everyone’s heads, including those of the officials.
So in the end, they lose it because of a shove in the back by Kevin Bieksa -- oh, rich irony -- that goes bad and leads to the tying goal, when they had victory in their clutches. They lose it because Daniel Sedin, of all people, is whistled for boarding in overtime, a call that goes into the books alongside the all-time wrong-headed judgments, a shoulder-to-shoulder hit that caused San Jose’s Tommy Wingels to veer off balance and go headfirst into the boards at angle that didn’t resemble the direction of the contact.
“I shouldn’t say it right now, but,” said Daniel’s brother Henrik, “it’s a bullshit call.”
It was, and it handed the Sharks’ ever-dangerous power play -- with five goals already in Games 3 and 4 -- one more chance in overtime, and a Joe Thornton shot that Cory Schneider should have controlled instead escaped him and lay in the crease for Patrick Marleau to sweep home.
Sweep being the operative word.
What the Canucks showed Tuesday night, in losing 4-3, was exactly what’s been missing for quite some time.
“We worked our butts off tonight,” said Alex Burrows, the best Canuck by quite a margin. “Everyone really competed and wanted it. That’s why it’s very disappointing.
“To see a call of boarding on Danny Sedin, I’ve never seen that in my eight years here. But we should have killed it. We can’t blame it on the officials.
“They (Sharks) are not only good players, they’re getting bounces, pucks coming right back on their sticks ...”
The heads hung low in the room afterwards, but really, as well as the Canucks played, there’s a pretty good case to be made that the Sharks weren’t quite all there, because it’s darned near impossible to keep the thought out of your head that, at 3-0, the series is in the bag.
There’s another good argument to be made that any object dropped from as great a height as the Canucks is bound to bounce a little, and this was the bounce.
So the Canucks are, mercifully, out of their misery now.
Soon, they will have gone to a far, far better place: the golf course. Perhaps there, they can figure out how to put the little round thing into the receptacle.
And while they’re working on it, the brain trust of the hockey club can begin to unravel the mysteries of a group of players that, not very long ago at all, was considered one of the National Hockey League’s best.
Until Tuesday night, it hadn’t looked even a bit like that sort of group. And even then, even with their best effort, the Canucks lost.
Beaten in four straight, pushed around and out of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second consecutive year in the first round, they left it way too late to save their playoff lives, or their honour, or probably their coach.
Mostly, through this series, they looked defeated. Out of answers. Outmanned and overmatched.
The Sharks beat each of the Canucks’ goaltenders twice. They put the Sedin twins in cold storage for most of the series, although the twins created plenty of havoc when it seemed their fortunes might finally be turning in Game 4.
But for the most part, the Sharks couldn’t have cared less which Vancouver line matched up with which of theirs. Ryan Kesler on Joe Thornton? Yeah, whatever. Henrik on Logan Couture? Knock yourself out. Derek Roy on Joe Pavelski? Good luck with that.
In the end, what will probably stick in the memory will be the penalties, and those two pucks Schneider ought to have smothered, and didn’t.
And Henrik swearing. And Danny, when it was over, being handed a game misconduct for abusive language. Those two nice boys ....
Evidently the truth was no defence.
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