For the second straight season, the Vancouver Canucks have exited the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the first round, following a five-game loss last year to the eventual champion Los Angeles Kings with a sweep at the hands of the San Jose Sharks this year.
For a team that was one win from the franchise's first Stanley Cup in 2011, it will be a hard loss to swallow, one that could lead to a shake-up of the roster, coaching staff and maybe even front office.
As Vancouver's decision-makers gather in the coming weeks to dissect what went wrong and determine how to move forward, here are the five main reasons that the Canucks are the first team out of the 2013 playoffs:
1. Lack of offensive identity
For the second straight postseason, the Canucks struggled to score, an offensive dry spell that dates to their Stanley Cup Final loss to the Boston Bruins in 2011. Since winning the first two games against Boston, the Canucks have won two of 14 playoff games, scoring 19 goals -- or 1.36 per game -- during that stretch.
Vancouver has scored three or more goals in a single playoff game three times in that span, including once among eight total goals against San Jose.
There is plenty of blame to go around for the prolonged funk.
Top-line forwards Henrik and Daniel Sedin each finished with three assists against the Sharks. Ryan Kesler, flu-ridden in Game 1, looked spectacular scoring two goals in Game 2, but didn't get on the score sheet the rest of the series. Derek Roy, acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline to boost the offense, had one assist in the series, but it came late in Game 3 to get the Canucks within 5-2, and he spent most of Game 4 on the bench. The prolonged playoff droughts also continued for secondary scoring options like Chris Higgins, Jannik Hansen and Maxim Lapierre, who all were pointless in the series.
Beyond individual slumps, the Canucks seem to have lost their identity as a pressure team from two seasons ago, never really establishing the forecheck that used to be their calling card until Game 4. There was a lack of cohesive attack, which may have had something to do with starting different forward combinations in each of the four games against the Sharks, going away from two loaded lines to start and then returning to it in Game 2 before scrambling the lines in San Jose.
"We showed up and played the way we should have for one game," captain Henrik Sedin said after Game 4. "This is the way we've got to play."
Why it took four games -- maybe even an entire season -- to realize that remains a mystery.
The depth that was supposed to be a positive -- perhaps the only one -- of not trading Roberto Luongo appeared to pay off when Cory Schneider wasn't ready for Game 1 because of an undisclosed injury that kept him out of the final two regular-season games. Much like last season, Luongo was the best player in Game 1, but the effort was wasted, and another good performance in Game 2 went for naught when the Sharks tied it with goalie Antti Niemi pulled for an extra attacker.
Vancouver went back to Schneider for Game 3 despite 13 days between starts and being off the ice completely for seven of those days. The move, which was welcomed openly by several Sharks after Luongo's strong play, proved costly when Schneider admittedly "whiffed" on a long shot early in the third period, quickly turning a 2-1 deficit into a 5-2 blowout that saw Schneider pulled and Luongo back in to mop up.
"I gave Game 3 away," Schneider said after Game 4.
Schneider was back and better in Game 4 with 43 saves, but bobbled a pair of power-play rebounds, allowing the Sharks to tie it late and win in overtime.
"Cory is our MVP and one of reasons why we got into playoffs," coach Alain Vigneault said. "I've got a lot of faith in him and that's why we're going with him."
3. Lack of discipline
Despite Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa's attention-getting accusations of embellishment by the Sharks, Vancouver players already had admitted to not being disciplined enough in the short series. Wanting to be physical and aggressive in Game 1, they instead set the tone for a wide discrepancy in power plays, with San Jose getting 24 opportunities on the man-advantage in the four games, compared to just 10 for the Canucks. And as much as Vancouver players and fans didn't like the final two calls of the series, which allowed the Sharks to tie Game 4 late and win it in overtime, the problems went well beyond that.
Vancouver finished the series with 15:36 of power-play time – second-lowest in the playoffs, and less than half of San Jose's NHL-leading 36:16.
"From the first game on we weren't cool or calm enough the way we had to be," said Daniel Sedin, who received a game misconduct for abusive language at the end of Game 4 for arguing the hit that put him in the penalty box for boarding in overtime.
4. Poor penalty killing
Compounding the penalty problems was the Canucks' inability to kill them off, a trend that started early in Game 1, when Luongo had to make seven saves, including two spectacular ones, on the Sharks' first power play.
San Jose eventually tied that game with the man-advantage, evened up Game 2 while playing 6-on-5 with Niemi pulled for an extra attacker, blew Game 3 open with two third-period power-play goals as part of a three-goal outburst in a 2:27 span, and scored the tying and series clinching goals while up a man in Game 4. Overall, the Sharks finished with seven power-play goals on 24 chances -- and that doesn't count the goal with Niemi pulled -- for a 29.2 percent success rate. Even when Vancouver killed a penalty, San Jose still seemed to generate momentum from it.
5. Not ready to start
Much like last season, the Canucks admittedly weren't ready to start the series, essentially giving away the first game and leaving themselves with no margin for error.
They looked like a different team in Game 2, playing well enough to win only to give up a late lead and lose in overtime. In a series that was a coin flip heading in and ended closer than the sweep might suggest, the Canucks couldn't afford to hand the Sharks the opening game, something Henrik Sedin conceded.
"It's tough to say but we had a different feeling going into Game 2 than Game 1," Henrik said before the Canucks left for San Jose. "We were more focused, we were more intense in everything we did, and that might be coming from just it being Game 1. It's a big game and everyone is tense and excited and sometimes that doesn't show up as intensity, it shows up as being a little hesitant."
It was a hesitation the playoff-experienced Canucks aren't supposed to show -- and one they couldn't afford against a talented, deep San Jose team.
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