The mood afterwards was morose. The Vancouver Canucks had clung to threads of hope, fractional odds of making the postseason, and when it counted, they folded.
Oh, there are still fractional odds, near zero now, but the season is essentially over for the Canucks, and it ended ugly on Saturday night at home, a 5-1 punch-up at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks. Coach John Tortorella could not do what he was hired to do, coax some fire out of a veteran group. The team was flat, and its best players did little. All that remain are six games and questions, the future of the coach, the future of the general manager, the future of a roster of underperformers.
In the locker room, a large scrum of reporters crowded around Daniel Sedin, in the absence of his brother, injured captain Henrik. Daniel has scored a single goal in 2014 and Saturday night was a non-entity. “It’s tough,” he said. Nearby sat Ryan Kesler, his hockey pants on, his shirt off, disbelief on his face, a tattoo of his children’s names and a Superman symbol with a K instead of an S on his right shoulder.
“We find a way to lose this game rather than a way to win,” said Kesler. “Good teams find a way to win.”
There had been some chatter that the Canucks have somewhat revived themselves since their terrible implosion against the New York Islanders earlier in March. But such talk was empty. The Canucks did fine against weaker opponents but never once outplayed a better team. And when they faced a truly good one, a Stanley Cup contender, this incarnation of the Canucks could not keep up.
Saturday was the 11th time this year the Canucks have played one of the big three in the Pacific Division, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose – and Vancouver has won just a single game in regulation. Everyone knew the easy days of the Northwest Division would be only happy memories as the Canucks moved to the Pacific this year but few likely imagined it would be this bad.
Now, few can imagine what sort of retooling is necessary so the Canucks can contend in the Pacific, and whatever version of the team it is it feels a long way off. The Kesler trade that did not happen at the trade deadline will soon be again the potential pillar around which the Canucks future pivots.
“We’ve got to find how to play against them,” said Tortorella after the game of the team’s Pacific rivals.
The Anaheim game was the season in miniature. There was a missed opportunity early, a near-shorthanded goal. Then, down 2-1, a botched power-play, a sinkhole all year. Through the 20 minutes of the second period, the Canucks outshot the Ducks – but could not score and ceded another goal.
At points, it felt like Anaheim was toying with Vancouver. With about eight minutes left in the first period, the top lines of each team on the ice, Corey Perry came around the Canucks net and sent a shot off the post. He collected his own rebound and had the luxury of space and time in front of the net to take another go, with attempt No. 2 dinging off the crossbar.
The hopeful talk of making a last-minute run for the playoffs was exposed as vacant on Saturday night – but the thing is, the Canucks have not been in real contention since November, when they spiralled out of the Pacific top three and never got back. The Canucks, for most of the season, were looking at seventh or eighth in the West.
Now, they are looking to welcome back former coach Alain Vigneault and the playoff-bound New York Rangers on Tuesday and count out the string, six to go before it’s over. It is a season of what-ifs, what might have been.
“Through the second period, we were right there,” said Tortorella of Anaheim. “We were right there.”