After the initial disappointment subsided, my first reaction to the Canucks’ elimination from the Playoffs is that the guys should hold their heads up high and return to Vancouver as winners, not losers.
The Canucks played a good and hardworking series, but at the end the better team won. If back in September, you ask me where Vancouver would end up in terms of standings and playoff results, I would have said that first in their division and a second round finish were admirable goals.
However, once the team swept the Blues in the first round, the expectation sky-rocketed and it suddenly seemed inevitable that Vancouver would finally bring the Cup to West Canada, after 39 years.
But if you look at the teams the Canucks would have had to defeat, was it really a fair expectation? Even if we were able to defeat the young Blackhawks, would we really be able to defeat the Red Wings, the Penguins/Capitals or the Bruins/Hurricanes?? Maybe. Maybe not.
Perhaps the first game in this series was the perfect foreshadowing of things to come for the Canucks. The Canucks played excellent when the scores were even, and they scored first and had a three goal lead only to be tied before the game was over.
In fact, the Canucks scored first in all of the first four games of the series, but came out dead-even. Just like tonight, it seems like every time the Canucks scored a goal, the Blackhawks were quick to reply with one or more goals in bunches.
So, why couldn’t the Canucks keep any leads against the Blackhawks??!!!
First, I think the Blackhawks, offensively are a much better team than the Canucks, especially in their speed and ability to finish. Toews, Kane, Havlat, and Sharp played much better offensively than the Sedins, Kesler, Burrows and Sundin.
The ability of Chicago’s defense to start off an attack, feeding timely passes for odd-man rushes, was also the main key to their success.
Secondly, the Blackhawks’ inexperience made them vulnerable to play a defensive game against the Canucks, hence allowing many first goals. However that same inexperience made them fearless when they were down by two or three goals to go all-offensive, which on most nights resulted with goals in bunches.
Third, since the first two games, the Blackhawks were able to get into the heads of the Canucks, threatening them that no lead was safe against Chicago with their ability to bounce back and tie any hockey game. It resulted in the Canucks collapsing into their own zone after they scored a goal, and taking penalties or simply chasing around the fast-moving Blackhawks.
Last but not least, the Canucks were out-coached. Despite getting the team its division championship and into the second round of the playoffs, Alain Vigneualt hasn’t been good with the mental-aspect of the game throughout the entire season.
On paper, the Canucks’ roster is filled with skills and experience, they should have been able to do much better. Yet, the team’s psyche is weak, and at times you can see the Canucks are so fearful when they have a lead, that they spend way too much time in their own zone defending.
During the four consecutive, four-game winning streaks starting in February, every time the Canucks won four straight, in the fifth game, they would go into a shell and play such a defensive-minded game that was the total opposite of what gave them the edge in the first place.
This mental problem haunted the team to a point that they were not able to play a simple confident style of hockey. And in this series, ever since the fifth game at home, the heart-breaking OT-loss initiated a complete breakdown of confidence which, unfortunately, the coach wasn’t able to address.
However, they did play a good game tonight. The players tried very hard not to show their fear and played a good offensive style of hockey. If you look at the score board, five goals on the Canucks side rarely result with a loss.
Obviously, the mental weakness crept through the entire roster of Vancouver, and even Luongo wasn’t sure if he could stand firm for a win against the Blackhawks, especially when the Canucks have a lead.
Vigneault shouldn’t be blamed for Chicago’s successful mind-games, the lucky bounces, or even the Blackhawks ability to score quickly. But it is his job to address any issues affecting his player’s performance. A good coach should be able to motivate his players to get through these mental challenges, but a great coach will also change his game plan to throw his opposition off. Unfortunately for the Canucks, Vigneault is neither.
Another point worth mentioning is the ability of role players to step up. Specifically, Blackhawks forward Dustin Byfuglien, who wasn’t even sure if he’d make the team for the playoffs.
He stepped up his play to another level, scoring timely goals, throwing his body around, finishing off checks, screening and interfering Luongo, and even contributing on power-plays. On the contrary, the Canucks’ role-players were much less effective, except for a beautiful goal by Hordichuk, setup by Rypien, in a losing effort in game five.
At the end, aside from having the better goalie, who also experienced a breakdown in the most crucial game of the season, the Canucks were outmatched by the Blackhawks in most elements of the game.
So it’s really not surprising that they lost this series. Afterall, the Blackhawks were a better team during the regular season, with more wins and more points than the Canucks. Vancouver was actually the underdog in this series, but like I said, the series against the Blues may have given unrealistic expectations for everyone.
Anyways, hats off to Mike Gillis for putting together a great team for this season’s success. Bringing in players like Ryan Johnson, Darcy Hordichuk, Kyle Wellwood, and Mats Sundin provided the Canucks with what they needed to at least have a chance at the Cup this year.
In Johnson, the Canucks were able to come out on top in most nights in the face-off circle, and the team was able to block many shots because of Ryan. Wellwood stepped up his play tremendously despite a drastic drop in goal production since his scoring frenzy early on in the season.
Wellwood’s soft hands and play-making ability were very effective even in his new role as a third-line defensive centerman. Hordichuk provided grit and sandpaper which made the Canucks tougher to play against.
Sundin, despite playing below expectation, showed his character by quietly working hard to elevate his game and condition. Although he wasn’t able to carry the team on his shoulders, he did a great job as a second-line centerman, making plays and scoring goals even in this possibly last game of his career.
Honorable mention to a great season for our MVP, Ryan Kesler, and Alex Burrows. Although both Frick and Frack weren’t able to elevate their game back to their regular season form, they both played a strong playoff series, and I think we will see much improvement from them come next season. I still believe in “Clutch” Burrows.
As for the Sedins, wow, what a difference they’ve been in this year’s playoffs. I know they haven’t been very successful on the score-sheet, but their improvements in puck possession and physical play during the playoffs were unseen in the past.
If the twins do decide to sign back with us next season, I think they will be even better in any future playoff appearances. Finally, the Twins have matured to what we all hoped they would when they were drafted ten years ago.
For the D’s, there’s tremendous hope in Edler, as he was perhaps the best defenseman in both series’. He is slowly maturing into a combination of Salo and Ohlund, and if we give him a few more seasons, he has a good chance to become our top defenseman.
Ohlund, who may also be leaving the team after the Summer, played extremely well in the first series, and wasn’t as good against the speedy Blackhawks, but I’d just like to say “thanks” for all his efforts throughout the years for the club, and good luck in the future.
Last but surely not least, our Captain, Luongo. Don’t cry, you have nothing to feel sorry for, it’s a team game, and by no means your fault only. You were the best goaltender during the playoffs, and this last game will only be the experience you need for your future success.
I know this for sure. All great players go through tough times like this in order to succeed, and I hope you will see that the Canucks do have a decent chance for the Cup, and sign back with us by the end of next season, if not earlier. Don’t forget that you are the reason why the team was even in the playoffs!!!
Come on guys, hold your heads up, so we didn’t win the Cup this season, it’s not the end of the world. There’s always next season, right? As they say, there can only be one Stanley Cup champion, and the rest of the 29 teams are losers, but in the mind of this hockey fan, the Canucks are already a winner. Go Canucks Go!!!