Canucks can be a fragile bunch

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 1:01 PM ET


 VANCOUVER -- Perhaps it began two years ago when Dan Cloutier pulled a Lidstrom in the first round of the playoffs.

 Unable to stop Nik Lidstrom's slapper from centre ice with his club up 2-0 in the series and looking good against Detroit in Game 3, he triggered the kind of collapse that has become a Canucks trademark of late.

 Last year, the team became unglued again when Markus Naslund admitted his club "choked" on the final night of the season and blew the division title. Although the Canucks managed to dispose of St. Louis in the first round, they squandered a 3-1 series lead over Minnesota and even gave up a lead late in Game 7.

 Easily rattled, this bunch.

 Their fragile nature was evident throughout this season as the club embarked on a series of wild swings. The team charged out of the gate hard, endured a seven-game winless string at home and then pieced together an eight-game winning streak on the road before the real fireworks started.

 So upset over the bad-mouthing by fans and media during one of the club's extended slumps, Ed Jovanovski picked up the phone to rip all detractors on a local radio call-in show.

 Even on Monday, two days before first blood was to be drawn in tonight's series-opener against Calgary, a suddenly agitated Jovo dropped an F-bomb in front of TV cameras when he suspected a media type was trying to stir up controversy.

 The biggest embarrassment of the year came courtesy of the Avalanche, who humiliated the hosts 9-2 at GM Place. It set up the biggest beating of the year, which came courtesy of Todd Bertuzzi and poor Steve Moore.

 The club's volatility should not come as a surprise given the nature of head coach Marc Crawford. It was his mouth-frothing reaction to Moore's clean hit on Naslund that incited his troops to make like the Charlestown Chiefs and offer a bounty.

 The fallout from the Bertuzzi affair took a heavy toll on the Canucks, who immediately went into a tailspin righted only in the last six games of the season when the club finished with nothing but wins.

 History dictates the Canucks are due for another meltdown soon.

 Perhaps someone like Denis Gauthier will trigger it with a hellacious hip check on Naslund. Or maybe Ville Nieminen will have the gall to sideswipe a Sedin.

 No one can be sure what it will take to ignite the Canucks' hair-trigger temper but you can bet something or someone will.

 What makes matters worse is Vancouver's first-round visitors are the anti-Canucks.

 A model of consistency and discipline, the hard-working Flames rarely deviate from a system that was custom-made for the playoffs.

 A physical squad with a tenacious forecheck, Calgary prides itself on defence and a goaltender that was the league's best this year.

 Taking their cue from a coach and GM that has seen and done it all in the league, nothing seems to worry the Flames. It's a quality perfectly illustrated by the poise of captain Jarome Iginla.

 So on-edge are the Canucks under the direction of bombastic GM Brian Burke, every player in the dressing room gets noticeably uncomfortable when Bertuzzi's name is mentioned.

 The Canucks' latest incarnation has its members priding themselves on a defence-oriented, total team system that allowed only seven goals in their last six games. It's a radical departure from the high-octane, free-wheeling, offensive-minded framework that made the Canucks so entertaining the last two regular seasons.

 And it won't work.

 Their new, relatively untested defensive scheme plays right into the hands of a Calgary club that finished third in goals-against with a tried and true system that has withstood an 82-game dry-run.

 If you're a Canucks fans and all of this sounds particularly upsetting, just wait. The latest unravelling of the Canucks is about to begin.


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