- Vancouver Canucks defeat Nashville Predators 2-0
- Vancouver’s victory marks fifth regulation win in 31 games in 2014
- Rookie Eddie Lack books his fourth shutout
As the midday point of a quiet game ticked by, and the Vancouver Canucks pressed for but could not register a goal, the home crowd was briefly roused: Go Canucks Go. The refrain, set to the beat of a single drum at Rogers Arena, was repeated a half-dozen times before fading back to silence.
First, the Canucks top line made a push, trying to extend its small scoring run in recent games. Then it was the third line, and Zack Kassian in the slot, a spinning backhand that looked like a threat but slid wide. The crowd found some cheers in its lungs before going quiet again, as the game played on, tied at zero.
The 2013-14 hockey season isn't officially doomed in Vancouver but on Wednesday night, as the Canucks returned home for a pair of games, the tone in the building was unmistakable, mirroring the statistical odds. The Canucks entered the evening with their chances of making the postseason pegged at 1.4 per cent – better than that of the opponent, the Nashville Predators with a 0.3 per cent shot.
Swathes of seats in the lower bowl of the arena, upwards of a thousand, were empty and the 17,000-plus who did attend saw a game of little import played with the electricity of a monotone. No wonder: the Canucks have essentially given up, even if they say they haven't. In the first 10 minutes of the game, Vancouver managed to get one shot on goal. Nearly a third of the second period passed before the Canucks got a puck on net.
A goal, finally, came in the third period, six minutes in. Nicklas Jensen scored on a sharp shot from the slot, squeezing it in by the post and beating Nashville goalie Carter Hutton. It was the 21-year-old Dane's third goal in his seventh game with the team this month. A second goal came a minute later on a power play, Alex Edler from the point on a one-timer, only his sixth of the season in a miserably weak offensive campaign.
"Eddie! Eddie!" came one final burst from the crowd as the game ended, a salute to the rookie Lack who started his 12th consecutive game. It was something to celebrate, a win, and a shutout.
So, for one evening, the odds of the Canucks making the playoffs do not collapse to nothingness. That comes later. The scratch chance to play some more hockey after the 82 games of the regular season rests on the unlikely outcome of winning almost every game remaining. Vancouver entered Wednesday night's game with 72 points and will probably need 93 to make the postseason, requiring a record of 10-0-1. If the teams in the West chasing the last berths do less well, 91 points might be enough, but that's still 9-1-1.
"We're still in the race," said Canucks captain Henrik Sedin hopefully earlier in the day. "We know we have to win a lot of games." Coach John Tortorella spoke the same kind of words, saying them but not entirely believing them, saying them because they have to be said, because what else would you say, that you're giving up? "We need to get a streak going," said Tortorella. "Or we're done."
But words are words and then there is effort and fire, which was lacking Wednesday. Even with a rare win in regulation, only the team's fifth in 31 games in 2014, one statistic that encapsulates everything that's gone wrong.
While the rapid decline of Vancouver gets a lot of attention, the shocking swiftness of the fall, the fading of hockey in Tennessee is another story of woe, even if it's not quite as bad and in slower motion. It was three years ago, when Vancouver nearly won the Stanley Cup three years ago, that Nashville too reached its best, two wins in the second around against Vancouver, the first time the Predators had made it that far. There was hope for more. It has not emerged. Nashville got back to the second round the year after but won only one game, and then Ryan Suter was lost to Minnesota and Shea Weber got his huge contract.
Now, Nashville is about to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive year, for the first time since the early 2000s. It's put the job of the team's coach, Barry Trotz, in jeopardy who is in his 15th year running the Preds bench, the only coach the franchise has known, the current longest-serving coach in the league. Everything comes to an end.