April 22, 2012
Kings knock 'em outNo. 1 Canucks first-round losers
By RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency
VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Canucks expected to feel elation and joy when their playoff run ended this season.
Instead, they’re yet another regular-season champion to go down in the first round of the NHL playoffs.
The Canucks were left bracing for a summer’s worth of “what ifs” after Sunday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings ended their Stanley Cup dreams in five games.
“We had high hopes going into this season and the playoffs. We let ourselves down, we let the fans down. We let a lot of people down,” Canucks goalie Cory Schneider said. “It’s not easy to swallow.
“We’re definitely in shock. The odds were against us to come back, but we felt honestly that if anybody can do it, we could. At the end of the day, we were too far behind.”
The Canucks are the third Presidents’ Trophy winners in the last four years to be ousted in the opening round, done in by Jarret Stoll’s winning goal before a stunned Rogers Arena crowd of 18,890.
Vancouver is also the 10th No. 1 seed to be eliminated in the first round since the NHL went to the current conference-based playoff format in the 1993-94 season.
Their demise came with three losses on home ice, including the first two games of the series, which created a hole far too big for them to climb from.
It was made worse when the deficit became three-games-to-none, a spot from which only three teams in NHL history have managed to win a series.
“Last year, we didn’t outplay other teams when going to the finals, but we played good enough to be in games, and if you do that, you get bounces in most of the games,” Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said. “If you give away two games early in the series, it’s tough to go back.”
It doesn’t help when you struggle to score, too. The Canucks, who were tied with Chicago as the Western Conference’s most prolific team, scored just eight times in the five games against the Kings.
But with Sedin’s goal giving them a 1-0 edge going into the third period Sunday, it appeared the Canucks would live another day.
Instead, Brad Richardson scored to force overtime and Stoll fired the winner.
Stoll, who was part of the Edmonton Oilers team that shocked the Detroit Red Wings in the opening round of the 2006 playoffs and went on to the Cup final, was on the spot for a loose puck when Dan Hamhuis lost possession. Stoll made no mistake on the ensuing two-on-one, snapping a top-shelf shot past Schneider.
“The whole (No. 8 seed) versus 1, we didn’t see that number or talk about it,” Stoll said. “It was the L.A. Kings versus the Vancouver Canucks. We played them well, knew they were a great team, but we felt we were good team, too.”
The Kings will face the St. Louis Blues in the next round. The Nashville Predators are the other Western Conference team to advance and will meet either the Phoenix Coyotes or Chicago Blackhawks.
The Kings went into this series with the NHL’s second-worst offensive attack but second best defensive game.
They rode that same style to win a series for the first time since 2001.
“We’ve been in this situation a lot of times this year,” Kings goalie Jonathan Quick said of the low-scoring games. “We always said in the locker room we might not win the Presidents’ Trophy, but we’ll be battle tested come playoff time.”
The Canucks will experience a brutal autopsy after going from Stanley Cup finalists one year to first-round fodder the next.
“Nobody envisioned this,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, whose future with the team is in question. “We came in with a plan, a lot of hard work ahead of us, experience and we wanted to take the steps one at a time.
“Unfortunately, this first step, first series, we weren’t good enough.”
On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak