Canucks bow out early after strong season

Now the soul-searching begins for the Vancouver Canucks.

A season that began with considerable hype and hope ended Sunday

in disappointment and dismay. The Canucks lost 2-1 in overtime to

the Los Angeles Kings, falling in five games in the opening round

of the playoffs.

The underdog Kings qualified for the playoffs in the final days

of the regular season, even as Vancouver was finishing with the

most points in the league. But they beat a favored Canucks squad in

short order.

”We’re all very disappointed with how things turned out right

now, and (we’re) just going to step back and figure things out,”

coach Alain Vigneault said.

The early elimination was a sharp contrast to what Vigneault and

general manager Mike Gillis expected at the outset of the season.

The Canucks were coming off a seventh-game loss to the Boston

Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals, and management felt minor

offseason moves and the early-season addition of David Booth in a

trade with Florida could help them earn the additional win.

But questions about the team’s ability to get back to the final

dogged the Canucks for much of the season, and they couldn’t

produce an adequate response at the most critical time.

The club overcame a slow start as No. 1 goaltender Roberto

Luongo went through his usual October funk, center Ryan Kesler

missed the first five games while recovering from hip surgery and

others struggled due to a Stanley Cup hangover.

Luongo regained his form as the club won 17 of 25 games before

Christmas. When Luongo went down with an injury between late

November and early December, backup Cory Schneider played the first

prolonged stretch of his NHL career and won six of seven games.

There were some early signs of trouble, too. Daniel and Henrik

Sedin, who each captured the NHL scoring title the previous two

seasons, respectively, struggled to put up points with the same


In January, the Sedins’ difficulties were hidden by a continued

run of success. The Canucks went into Boston early in the month and

beat the Bruins 4-3 with Schneider in goal.

Vancouver scored on four of 11 power-play opportunities in that

game. Players, coaches, management and fans hoped the win over

Boston was a sign the Canucks had what they needed to get back to

the Stanley Cup finals.

The Canucks continued to win, but the power play declined

considerably. By the end of February, the Sedins’ scoring

difficulties were felt more profoundly as their teammates failed to

pick up the slack.

A lone bright spot was center Cody Hodgson, a fan favorite who

became a mainstay on the second power-play unit. He was emerging as

a potential rookie-of-the-year candidate before unexpectedly being

dealt to Buffalo just before the Feb. 27 trade deadline.

However, the deal, designed to give the Canucks two distinct

scoring lines and two well-defined checking units, had little

offensive impact.

When Daniel Sedin was sidelined with a concussion after being

elbowed by Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith, a resurgent Henrik

Sedin made up for his brother’s absence. Vancouver won eight of its

last nine games to clinch the top spot in the West and first

overall again.

However, only one of the wins down the stretch came against a

playoff team – ironically the Kings.

In the playoffs, the Canucks lost all three games at Rogers

Arena. Vancouver dropped the first two while going 0 for 4 on the

power play and allowing two short-handed goals.

Vigneault replaced Luongo with Schneider for the final three

games. Schneider was steady while going 1-2, but the move merely

raised questions about Luongo’s future.

More importantly, it didn’t resolve Vancouver’s main problem – a

continued lack of scoring.

”Both of our goaltenders did what they were supposed to do,”

said Vigneault. ”They gave us a chance to win.

”Unfortunately, the rest of our game wasn’t good enough.”