So much for home-ice advantage. The Vancouver Canucks spent 82 games amassing the best record in the NHL, guaranteeing them the No. 1 seed and home ice throughout the playoffs. But the LA Kings had other plans, bouncing the President’s Trophy winners from the postseason in five games and beating the Canucks in every game at Rogers Arena.
In Game 5, the Kings earned a 2-1 comeback overtime victory thanks to a wicked wrist shot by Jarret Stoll. Canucks blueliner Dan Hamhuis attempted to move the puck up ice when he was taken out by Trevor Lewis, setting up a Los Angeles 2-on-1. Stoll went top shelf on Corey Schneider’s blocker side, punching his team’s ticket to the second round.
It was a heartbreaking goal, but according to Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin, the series wasn’t decided by that single moment.
“You can’t give away two games at home like we did,” Sedin said. “That’s what we did so well last year — even though we didn’t play great, we played well enough to win games. Playing the way we did in the first two [games this year], we didn’t play poorly, but our first game we took way too many penalties, and the second game our power play lost us the game. If you give away two games, it’s tough to win four and five.”
Sedin mustered the Canucks’ only goal in Game 5, opening the scoring on the much-maligned Canucks power play thanks to an expert saucer pass from his brother Daniel Sedin in the first period. The Vancouver power play went 3 for 21 in the series and gave up two shorthanded goals. That’s tough to swallow for a team with high postseason expectations.
And how could expectations not be high? The Canucks were back-to-back President’s Trophy winners coming off a Game 7 loss in the Stanley Cup Finals last year. How did the NHL’s best regular-season team manage only one playoff win?
“We’ve got a great group of guys. We’re good enough to get back [to the Finals],” Henrik Sedin said, “but we all knew coming into this series, this isn’t about the President’s Trophy winners against the No. 8 seed who snuck in. They’ve got a great team over there and they played us hard every game. Even the last three when we played our best hockey, it’s been tight hockey. We had to battle hard for every inch out there. They played well.”
Daniel Sedin also was quick to praise the Kings’ efforts.
“LA is a tough team. I know they finished eighth in the conference, but they played in a tough division,” Daniel Sedin said. “You have got to give them credit. They played a hard-nosed game — honest, clean, tough. It was a fun series. We probably should have won one of the first two at home and it would have been a different series. But that’s the way it is.”
Daniel Sedin missed the first three games of the series thanks to the lingering effects of a concussion suffered late in the regular season. Without their leading goal scorer, the Canucks struggled on offense. But even though they looked more dangerous with him in the lineup, goals remained hard to come by.
“We knew it was going to be a low-scoring series,” Daniel Sedin said. “We were fine with that. These last few games we kept them to not a lot of goals either. That’s the kind of game we wanted to play.”
Vancouver seemed on its way to grinding out a 1-0 win, holding that lead until the third period when Drew Doughty skated deep into the Canucks zone and faked a shot that put Schneider out of position. Doughty then put the puck into the crease where Brad Richardson was able to pop it into a wide-open net despite two Canucks standing within half a foot of him. That was the beginning of a momentum shift that proved fatal for the Canucks.
“It’s always tough [to be eliminated],” Daniel Sedin said. “To be honest with you, it doesn’t matter if you lose the seventh game in the Finals or in five in the first round, it’s devastating. Both of them. That’s the mindset we have in here. We have the mindset to win every year. When you end up on the losing side it’s tough. We’ve got to come back and be stronger.”
Perhaps the most intriguing storyline to emerge in Vancouver during the playoffs was one about goaltenders. After starting the first two games and performing well, Roberto Luongo was replaced by Schneider, who stopped 97 of 101 shots, including 35 saves in Game 5. He put up a .960 save percentage and 1.31 goals-against average in three starts. In his postgame comments, Schneider commented only on his team and the series, but made sure to praise the man whose job he may have stolen.
“[It’s tough], not only to lose Game 1, but to have them come in here and [for us] play as badly as we did. Roberto stood on his head just to keep us in it,” Schneider said. “I don’t think it set a great tone.”
While the Kings move on to face the St. Louis Blues in the next round, the Canucks pack up their gear with a bad taste in their mouths. Expectations ran high in 2011-12, but the season ended in a whimper, with just a single playoff win. That makes for a long offseason, and more time than anyone in Vancouver wants to spend thinking about what might have been and speculating about what will be.