It wasn’t exactly the best way to go out. After a fairly convincing win in Game 5 to prolong the series, the Vancouver Canucks proceeded to blow a 3-0 lead in Game 6 to the Calgary Flames, losing to a final score of 7-4 and ending their post-season.
“It’s just so disappointing. We were up by three, we were up again and they just found a way. It’s disappointing,” Canuck Shawn Matthias told The Vancouver Sun after Game 6. “It’s not the way we wanted to end our year and it hurts. Everyone is really disappointed in there. It’s a tough one.”
The Canucks’ play in their first round series against the Calgary Flames was anything but consistent. The Canucks played some of their best hockey of the series in Game 2 before going on to play two of their sloppiest games of the year in Games 3 and 4. Within games their play was inconsistent as well, Game 6 being a prime example. The Flames however, were a different story.
“You have to give them credit because they played the series the way they played the whole season,” forward Radim Vrbata told The Vancouver Sun of the Calgary Flames. “They never gave up. Even though they were down 3-0, they found a way to get back.”
There are, as usual, several aspects of the Canucks’ playoff performance that can be debated. Should Ryan Miller have started Games 5 and 6 if he was not yet 100% healed from his injury? Did coach Willie Desjardins make the right decision in putting Jannik Hansen with the Sedins rather than Vrbata? Was the interference call made on Canuck Brandon McMillan in Game 6 that led to Calgary’s go-ahead goal justified?
And then of course, you could talk about all the ifs. What if Eddie Lack had played Game 6 instead of Miller? What if the Canucks had not lost Alex Burrows and his strong net presence to injury? What if the Canucks had played Games 3 and 4 the same way they played Game 5 – confident and defensively strong (they only allowed the Flames three shots in the third period)?
Those questions aside, this series showed several things about the Canucks. In Games 2 and 3, the Canucks showed that they could be physical, but whether or not they could be physical and keep their emotions in check was another question. While the Canucks had the second-best penalty kill in the NHL during the regular season, it struggled during the first round in which the Canucks took multiple (and often avoidable) penalties, with the Flames scoring five of their 18 goals on the power play.
That was not the only aspect of the Canucks’ play that was strong in the regular season, but buckled under pressure in the post-season. The Canucks won all but one of their six road games in March (the one loss being in a shootout) as they closed in on clinching a playoff spot. However, they could not win any games in Calgary this series, losing all three games at the Saddledome.
There were defensive issues as well; while many have praised Alex Edler’s rebound from his dismal season in 2013-14, as well as the calm and controlled demeanour of the 25-year old Chris Tanev, sloppy plays and a landslide of giveaways became characteristic of the Canucks’ defenders in this series. With veteran defenders Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis both falling apart at various points as well, there seemed to be little leadership for the Canucks’ defence corps.
On the more positive side, rookie Bo Horvat had an impressive series. Playing as the fourth line centre, Horvat scored the first goal of the series in Game 1 and collected three assists, two of which where on the first career NHL playoff goals of Ronalds Kenins and McMillan. Horvat continued to prove successful at the faceoff dot, being trusted with taking a significant number of the Canucks’ defensive zone faceoffs.
20-year old Horvat has basically secured a position as a Canuck mainstay, which is promising, especially with the aging Canucks core (in particular leaders like the Sedins, Burrows and Bieksa). As Squire Barnes of Global BC said, “What they wanted to do at the outset of the season was they wanted to rebuild without crashing out, they wanted to rebuild but still be a playoff team, and transition that old guard into a new core group.”
The Canucks did not have a bad season per say, the ending was just not as pleasant as most would like.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Desjardins told Canucks.com. “101 points this year was a good run. I thought our fans were great, we wanted to get back there for a Game 7 because they’ve been so good, they deserved a Game 7. It just didn’t go our way. I knew coming in it was going to be a hard series, and leaving I knew it was a hard series.”
It is expected that there will be further change in the Canucks organization during this off-season, as the Canucks continue to rebuild their team. Eyes will turn to GM Jim Benning in the next few months as the NHL Entry Draft and free agency season nears.