This wasn't how things were supposed to end for the Vancouver Canucks, not after spending an entire season waiting for another shot at the playoffs.
They spent 10 months trying to get over the sting of coming so agonizingly close to the Stanley Cup, rejigging their team to prepare for another long playoff run in the hopes of coming up with the one extra win they couldn't secure last summer.
Instead their playoff ended with just one win, and a season of promise is over in the first round, leaving the Canucks to console themselves with a second straight Presidents' Trophy that will feel even more hollow this year.
"To be honest, it doesn't matter if you lose the seventh game of the Finals or you lose in five in the first round, it's devastating," Daniel Sedin said. "We have the mindset to win every year. When you end up on the losing side, it's tough."
In a city and organization expecting more -- a lot more -- the fallout could be even tougher this summer. The armchair quarterback analysis started as soon as the season ended, and will continue until the puck drops on the next one, but here are the five biggest reasons Vancouver's playoffs are over after just five games:
1. Daniel Sedin's concussion: No one wants to use injuries as an excuse, and it's true the best teams are able to overcome them, but it's hard to ignore the absence of top goal scorer Daniel Sedin, especially after watching his impact immediately upon returning.
Sedin was the NHL's leading scorer and an MVP candidate last season, and despite winning eight of nine down the stretch without him to secure the Presidents' Trophy -- a streak that included a 1-0 win over the Kings -- Vancouver missed him badly when the playoffs started. That was especially true on the power play, which went 0-for-14 and gave up two shorthanded goals while losing the first three games. With Daniel they converted two of three in Game 4, and opened the scoring on the power play in Game 5, while creating several other great scoring chances on two of the other three power plays in the loss.
Other teams dealt with more injuries, but the March 21 concussion to Daniel also robbed the Canucks of a second Art Ross Trophy winner -- twin brother Henrik, who won the scoring title and Hart Trophy two years ago, and became more dynamic and dangerous when his lifelong linemate returned in Game 4.
It's true they did all their scoring on the power play, combining on three goals the last two games, but given the way the series started, that might have been enough to swing it -- or at the very least prolong it -- for the Canucks.
"The second game, the power play was the reason we lost," Henrik said.
2. Experience didn't show early: Even without Daniel, the Canucks were supposed to be the team that could rely on postseason experience. They were the group hardened by last season's long run and bitter ending, a team that had prepared all season for the playoffs. And they were going up against an eight-seeded Kings team that not only barely made the playoffs, but hadn't won a series since 2001, with none of the homegrown core in Los Angeles ever making it out of the first round.
So it was a bit surprising to see the Canucks play so undisciplined in the opening game, engaging in too much post-whistle yapping amid a parade to the penalty box that not only cost them on the Kings' power play, but kept several key players on the bench for long stretches, taking them out of the game.
"You're amped up, you've waited so long to get back in the playoffs and I think the emotions got the best of everybody that game," Kesler said later.
It wasn't supposed to be that way for the more experienced team, one that won the first game in every round including the Cup Final last season -- and 10 straight series openers at home. And it didn't get any better in Game 2, when the Canucks' power play looked panicked and gave up two shorthanded goals.
"In a seven-game series you give away two games, you've got to win four out of five and that's tough when they don't give you an inch out there," Henrik said.
3. Couldn't find the right forward mix: As good as the reunited Sedins looked on the power play, there wasn't as much happening five-on-five. While some of that should be credited to a stifling Kings defense backstopped by the brilliance of likely Vezina Trophy finalist Jonathan Quick, the Canucks struggled to come up with the right combinations up front.
That includes the curious decision to play David Booth with the Sedins in Games 4 and 5 -- for the first time all season. Not that Booth, brought in from Florida in an early season trade, was working on the second line with Kesler, either. Booth finished the year with one goal in 16 games, while Kesler, who was so dominant at times last postseason, failed to score in his final 17 games. But that combination clearly wasn't working for months, and for a team that talked of experimenting down the stretch to wait until the playoffs to try new looks seemed odd.
Maybe it was just desperation. After all, they finished with fourth-line agitator Maxim Lapierre playing on their second line and without a goal in seven games, while speedy Mason Raymond was dropped to the fourth after failing to score in 11 games. The only line that stayed intact throughout was the checking line that played so well down the stretch, combining for eight goals the final 10 games of the season, but finishing with just two -- and a minus-6 rating -- in the playoffs.
For all the talk going into the series about the Kings' scoring woes, the Canucks actually managed fewer goals over the final 20 games. It's a streak that started with the trade deadline decision to move rookie center Cody Hodgson, who was providing depth and second-unit power-play scoring, to Buffalo for rookie power forward Zack Kassian and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani, who both watched the Canucks' final playoff game from the press box as healthy scratches.
4. Home ice was anything but an advantage: Vancouver wasn't kind to the Canucks, who lost all three games at Rogers Arena to negate the home-ice advantage they worked so hard all season to achieve.
"Last year we won every single Game 1," goaltender Cory Schneider said after the final loss. "It put us in a good spot. It's tough to come back from."
Vancouver wasn't alone in its home woes. The road team was 26-16 in the playoffs after the Kings won Game 5 in Vancouver.
5. They started the wrong goaltender: This may be an unfair criticism -- to both the Canucks and the guys in goal for them -- but it is certain to be the most hotly debated in Vancouver all summer.
Roberto Luongo was not to blame for the Game 1 loss.
On a night when nowhere near enough of his teammates were ready to open the playoffs, and the defense struggled mightily with the Kings' forecheck -- that trend would be reason No. 6 Vancouver's season is over -- Luongo kept it close with a handful of highlight-reel stops among 35 saves, keeping his team in it before an odd-man rush put the Kings ahead late in the third period.
That seemed to make starting the No. 1 a no-brainer in Game 2, and it was again hard to pin the loss on Luongo, who was victimized by a pair of shorthanded breakaways, including one on a rebound after making the first save. But the winning goal, on a Kings' power play, leaked through him, and after watching Cory Schneider stop 97 of 101 over the final three games to lead the NHL in save percentage, the question will be asked: Did they wait too long to go to a goalie who had better numbers over the course of the entire regular season?
"He was great, simple, solid," Jarret Stoll said of Schneider after scoring the series-clinching goal against him in overtime of Game 5. "He gave them a lot of confidence as a group to play in front of them and you could see that."
The Canucks only scored one even-strength goal in Schneider's three starts, and neither goalie got enough support to fairly argue they were the problem. But Schneider again said all the right things after the loss, showing off a maturity that will only increase the debate over Luongo's future in Vancouver.
"I only won one game," Schneider said. "Even if I played the first of the series, we'd still be down 2-1 right now, so it doesn't really matter. It's nice to get some playoff experience and get comfortable in these situations, but at the end of the day it's about results and playing well doesn't cut it this time of year."
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