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Ottawa Senators' Cody Ceci, left, celebrates after scoring a goal as Vancouver Canucks' Dan Hamhuis looks on during second period NHL action at the Heritage Classic at B.C. Place stadium in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday March 2, 2014.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

  • Senators defeat Canucks 4-2 in roof-closed Heritage Classic in Vancouver
  • Canucks grab early 2-0 lead but lose it just as quickly
  • Eddie Lack starts for Vancouver over Roberto Luongo, igniting controversy

The enduring images from the Heritage Classic in Vancouver, played indoors at BC Place as rain spat down outside Sunday afternoon, are snapshots of a not-long-ago great hockey team in a spiralling decline.

There was Canucks starting goaltender Roberto Luongo, in a black toque and a dour face, on the bench, rendered a spectator for a game he had looked forward to all season. It is the latest humiliation of Luongo in Vancouver, a difficult-to-understand diminution at the hand of coach John Tortorella who instead gave the nod to rookie backup Eddie Lack.

Then there was Daniel Sedin, the former star scorer who has not notched a single goal in 2014, crunched into the end boards by Ottawa Senators defenceman Marc Methot. Minutes later Sedin would hobble the long walk to the dressing room with a television camera chronicling the limping journey at close range.

At the second intermission – in a song choice one presumes was unintentional -- local greybeard rockers the Odds took to the stage and played It Falls Apart, a catchy number that was something of a Cancon hit in the mid-1990s and on Sunday afternoon it was melodic as ever even if the lyrics were the soundtrack no one in Vancouver wants.

There was, too, the swaths of cotton batting around the hockey rink that provided a fairly reasonable facade of winter, and the 54,194 fans who filled most of the seats at BC Place, crackling with occasional bursts of energy, especially late in the game, but just as often largely lifeless.

The fans did, however, express their feelings about the team's netminding, bellowing loud Luuuus – and a smattering of boos – when Lack was announced as Vancouver's netminder in the starting lineup. Later, with the Canucks down 3-2 midway through the game, the crowd urged: "We want Lu! We want Lu!"

The calls for the man who a couple weeks ago booked a shutout for Team Canada at the Winter Olympics was hardly an attack on Lack and instead the expression of anger and confusion for Canucks devotees who had paid a couple hundred bucks apiece to see a spectacle and were instead treated to a team unravelling. If the rumoured trade of Ryan Kesler does occur by Wednesday, Sunday would be the last time the heart of this team appeared on home ice.

The feeling of something ending was palpable, a present receded into past, made more visceral by all the reminders of long ago draped around the Heritage Classic. There was the standing ovation of the 1994 Canucks before the game, the first time this hockey team came within one game of winning the Stanley Cup, and the constant evocation of the 1915 Vancouver Millionaires, century-ago winners of the Cup in hockey's nascent era before the creation of the National Hockey League.

At the end of the hockey game – which will live on in some corner of the annals as the biggest indoor hockey game ever played in North America – it was the Canucks as losers, going down 4-2 as another thread of a tattered season broke.

Vancouver opened strong, a 2-0 lead in the first period, but as has been the case so often this season, the Canucks blew it, and this time quickly.

The Senators had it tied at two by the first intermission, and booked what would prove the winner midway through the second, an important victory for Ottawa as it tries to scratch into the playoffs, and likewise a bad loss for Vancouver, as the Canucks fade.

Afterwards, the result was a footnote.

"I'm not talking," said Luongo in the locker room after the game. "Sorry man."

Lack sat at his locker, surrounded by a massive crush of reporters, the rookie's face blank, drained. The pulse of tears did not feel far away. "I was told to play," Lack said. He tried to focus. He heard the crowd. Lack couldn't understand how he got the nod, even if he has had a hot hand in two games this past week. "He has been," said Lack of Luongo, "the best goalie this franchise has had."

Tortorella stood by his call, saying he would do it again and insisting Lack gave Vancouver a better shot to win. Tortorella considered the operatic recent history Luongo was wrung through here and acknowledged the goaltender was hurt by the latest snub but said the veteran could handle it.

"This is part of the business," said Tortorella.

The business of the Canucks – and the speculative future of Kesler – turns away from the ice and to the front office, as general manager Mike Gillis weighs the future. The mighty team of three years ago, so achingly close to the Stanley Cup, is history.

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