SAN JOSE — They yanked the stunned starter and changed defensive pairings, but couldn’t change what has crippled the Vancouver Canucks in successive playoff series. They’re in a world of hurt because they can’t score enough. Not even a friendly bounce off a stanchion and a surprise dribbler bouncing into the net to ease the pain.
In their last eight postseason outings, the Canucks have managed 13 goals and the telling 5-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Sunday that has put them on the brink of elimination — and another extended summer of navel-gazing and finger pointing — was further proof that their 2011 Stanley Cup final run seems like a mirage.
The worst part of being down 3-0 in the Western Conference quarterfinal series — and knowing just three NHL teams have clawed back from that hole to win a playoff series — is the wounds have been self-inflicted.
The Canucks had a 4-on-3 power play in the first period of Game 3 and didn’t load up Jason Garrison’s cannon. They dressed Tom Sestito in place of Andrew Ebbett but aside from a couple of crease scrums, there was no nudge or jawing or getting to Sharks goalie Antti Niemi, especially when it became a blowout to send some sort of message that they won’t go quietly in Game 4.
They didn’t play Chris Higgins with Derek Roy who had instant chemistry when first aligned. They had 30 shots but mostly long ones along the ice that were easily swallowed up. Or they shot from crazy angles when they weren’t chasing pucks because the Sharks once again dominated draws by winning 58 per cent. Those looks in the mirror were long after the final buzzer.
“Whether you play five minutes or 30, you can make a difference every shift,” said centre turned winger Ryan Kesler, who had two shots, six hits and won 54 per cent of his faceoffs. “We’ve got to want it a lot more than we did in the third period. We’ve got to get 20 guys to work hard and we’ve got to out-will these guys all over the ice. In the third period, we didn’t do it at all.
“I can be a lot better and I know everybody in this room can be a lot better. Our backs are against the wall and we can either crumble or come back and come out swinging and put our best foot forward. It’s do or die and I’m not going down easy — that’s for sure.”
The Canucks had their moments Sunday, but they were few and far between. They stuck with their top line and got a goal from Alex Burrows and a late one from Dan Hamhuis, but once again wasted a strong performance from Cory Schneider until he wilted and was replaced by Roberto Luongo after giving up five goals on 28 shots.
And what was expected to be a mismatch in this series with Joe Pavelski giving the Sharks three strong centres, stuck out like a sore thumb Sunday. Pavelski had two goals but it was two bad goals in nine seconds of the third period that turned a 2-1 struggle into a 4-1 laugher. Logan Couture had two third-period goals and Patrick Marleau the other in the final period.
“They scored on the power play and they get a lot of momentum from them,” said frustrated captain Henrik Sedin, who took a high-sticking minor that led to the 5-1 goal. “They are killing us. Part of winning is staying out of the box and we’ve got to be calmer. We were right there again tonight and those small things kill us in every game. It’s taking that extra penalty and we’ve got to score.
“Are we playing well enough to win? Yes. But we’re not scoring enough and that’s the bottom line.”
When Burrows responded in the second period to make it 2-1, floating a knuckled shot over Niemi’s glove, there seemed to be some hope. The top line then came back with another strong shift and some actual cycling behind the net that confused and had the winded Sharks grabbing at bodies. But that was about it.
The Canucks started by teaming rookie Frank Corrado with Edler and Kevin Bieksa with Andrew Alberts to have some size on all three pairings. It was Corrado’s sixth game of the shortened season and burns a year of his entry level contract, but he’s earned it and will be a good salary cap fit next season when the ceiling drops to $64.3 million US. They also kept Derek Roy in the middle with Kesler and Higgins on the wings and the trio was ineffective.