Thursday, April 13, 2006

Time runs out on the Canucks

Time runs out on the Canucks

In October they were thought to be the prohibitive favourite to be challenging for Lord Stanley’s Cup, by mid April they were out of the playoff race and had but one game left to suffer through before the season will end.

The Vancouver Canucks, an enigma of a team if ever there was one, put aside their playoff thoughts as they once again surrendered a lead and ended up on the short end of the scoreboard and out of the playoff race.

They started the week in control of their own destiny; the task was simple take two wins from the San Jose Sharks and the chances were they would clamber onto the bottom rung of the playoff ladder.

But in two consecutive nights they let their invitation to the Stanley Cup playoffs get cancelled, an inability to control San Jose’s leader Joe Thornton spelled the end for Vancouver.

On both Wednesday and Thursday nights it was Thornton who took control of the game and willed his team on to victory. Thornton collected seven points in these last two nights, testimony to his value to the Sharks and proving to be the reason for Vancouver’s undoing.

These last two nights only reaffirmed to many the complete incompetence that must pass for management in Boston, how they let this thoroughbred escape from their roster is beyond comprehension. If anyone can single handedly bring his team to victory it’s Thornton and for the last two nights that is just what he has done for his Sharks.

The two wins for the Sharks keeps them on the roll they began after the Olympic games, a team that at one point was five points behind the Canucks ended the two game series five points ahead of the Orca Bay lads, a ten point turnaround that has propelled them into the playoffs and may yet sneak them up into fourth overall in the West.

Vancouver continued to be sloppy and in fact they were lazy in their own end. Far too often Shark players were left on their own deep in the Vancouver end of the rink. It really was only a matter of time before they began to pound a rebound or make a tic tac toe pass pay off. Alex Auld was called on far too often to keep the Canucks alive, while his own defencemen and forwards chose not to play both ends of the rink.

Ironically the night they end up eliminated is the same night that Todd Bertuzzi finally seemed to get his game in gear. For most of Thursday night he was the Bertuzzi of promise, banging, charging the zone and setting up play after play, he was the highlight reel Bertuzzi tonight, but in the end his efforts would be for naught as costly errors eventually nailed the lid shut on the Canucks season.

Now begins the wake and then therapy. Canuck fans will vent their anger now, calling for major changes, to blow it all up and start over. It might be a tempting thing for Dave Nonis, who inherited the Brian Burke roster and chose to stay with it after last year’s lockout.

At the start of the season he had every reason to think he was on the right path, the Canucks were fast out of the gate and NHL fans marveled at the level of play and speed of the Canucks. Along the way though something happened in Vancouver, yes injuries played a part, losing a starting goaltender in Dan Cloutier, stalwarts on defence like Ed Jovanovski, Mattias Ohlund and Sammi Salo didn’t help either, nor did Marcus Naslund’s injuries and subsequent scoring slump. Add on the lethargic play of Bertuzzi at times and these Canuck’s suddenly didn’t look so intimidating nor to be a lock on any Stanley Cup parades.

There were moments of optimism, the play of the Sedin’s and Anson Carter as a unit provided some exciting moments, Carter seems to have been the spark the two Swede’s needed to move their game to the next level. That offers hope for next year, when Jovanovski returned he proved his value from the get go, he was an electric spark for a team that seemed to have lost its jump. Alex Auld took the big step from back up status to starter with a future, he had his rough moments at times, but the Canuck problems down this final stretch didn’t really sit on the shoulders of the goaltender.

It was a collective collapse in game after game that brought about their demise, featuring many causes for a slide that they couldn’t pull out of it in time. As things continued to fall apart there was talk of a split on the team, of players no longer listening to coach Marc Crawford, nor playing with any kind of sense of purpose. The final result was a team looking at the playoffs from the outside and a management that now must decide what has to be done on the inside.

It’s been over two years now since Vancouver fans have seen a playoff game featuring their favourite squad; it will be close to three before they get another shot at playing important hockey at the end of April.

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