If the Vancouver Canucks get this far next season, bet that they'll ask the schedule-maker to give them a night off on May 11.
For the second year in a row, the Canucks' season ended with a loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on the 11th of May. Last year, it was a 7-5 loss at the United Center that saw a meltdown by goaltender Roberto Luongo; this year, it was a 5-1 whipping at home -- Vancouver's third loss to the Hawks at GM Place in as many games.
It was a frustrating finish for the Canucks, who had extended the series to a sixth game with a decisive 4-1 win at Chicago on Sunday night.
"Our expectations were high We wanted this opportunity," coach Alain Vigneault said. "We wanted this challenge, and for the second year in a row we weren't able to get it done."
The Canucks haven't advanced past the conference semifinals since 1994, when they lost to the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. They are 0-3 in the second round with Vigneault behind the bench.
What really left the Canucks frustrated was their inability to beat the Hawks on the same GM Place ice on which they went 30-8-3 during the regular season and won two of three games against Los Angeles in the opening round.
"It's disappointing, obviously," captain and goaltender Roberto Luongo said after the Hawks eliminated Vancouver exactly 365 days after bouncing the Canucks from the playoffs last year. "I don't know how come they come in here and beat us like that. It's disappointing again to be out against these guys."
The Canucks rarely looked like the team that won the Northwest Division during the regular season and often ground down opponents with a relentless forecheck. Instead, they were the team that lost the physical battles -- and, even worse, they lost them in front of their own fans.
"I think we're a good team. We've got a really deep lineup," said Canucks center Henrik Sedin, the NHL's regular-season scoring champion but a non-factor for most of the series. "But at home here, I don't know what has happened. Especially against Chicago, One win in two series is not going to cut it.
"At home we were 1-5 against these guys over these two years. That's not good enough. During the season we were a heck of a team in this building. There's no reason we can't be in the playoffs."
Luongo was in tears exactly a year ago after being riddled for seven goals in Chicago's 7-5 series-clincher at the United Center. This time, he allowed five goals on 35 shots -- but was the only reason the game was scoreless after the first period. He made 12 saves, including a breakaway stop on Patrick Sharp and a handful of other gems to keep his team in the game -- for a while. Chicago scored two goals in 36 seconds early in the second period, added a shorthanded goal in the last minute of the period and put the game away with two more in 25 seconds in the third.
"No matter what happened out there, I'm going to leave tonight with my head up, unlike last year," he said. "I battled for 60 minutes and kept it under seven goals so an improvement was made."
Luongo wasn't ready to concede that the Hawks were a better team -- though he conceded they might be "a smarter team that knows how to win," but center Kyle Wellwood was
"It's certainly hard," he said of losing to the Hawks for the second year in a row. "You prepare all year to face them again and they certainly proved that they were better than us again. It's disappointing."
Some of the 18,810 fans who stayed to the bitter end booed the Canucks as the final seconds ticked off.
"I understand," forward Daniel Sedin said. "They should be upset. They expected this team to go a long way -- and we did, too."