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Over and out

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
Clean-shaven is the worst way to see the Vancouver Canucks this time of the year.

That was the case Wednesday afternoon when the players addressed the media for the first time since losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Semifinal.

The playoff beards may be gone, but the agony that comes with bowing out of the playoffs earlier than expected will continue to agitate the Canucks for weeks to come.

For many, including Roberto Luongo, the fact that Vancouver is no longer in contention for the franchise’s first Stanley Cup, has yet to sink in.

“It definitely feels like we should be playing tomorrow and it’s hard to accept the fact that you’re not,” said Luongo, who is sure to have the toughest time letting go of Vancouver’s disappointing 7-5 loss in Game 6.

“I was disappointed in the way I played, I thought I could have done a better job, but at the same time that’s not the only reason we lost the series. As a team we didn’t play well enough and we got outshot almost every game and unfortunately the Hawks played better than we did.”

Surprisingly there weren’t a lot of ifs, ands or buts being throwing around the dressing room on locker clean out day with the Canucks acknowledging that they didn’t get as many bounces as the Blackhawks, but that they lost because their effort level wasn’t where it needed to be.

“There were different things that happened in different games that forced us to lose and the bottom line was that we didn’t put our A-game on the table enough time in the playoffs, and especially in the second round,” said Kevin Bieksa.

“There weren’t too many games where we could all say we were playing our best.”

Mats Sundin is one player who went out on top of his game with a goal and an assist in Game 6 and four points over the final two games, but individual success is worth about as much as tickets to Game 7 between the Canucks and Blackhawks at GM Place on Thursday night.

You win as a team and you lose as a team and as Sundin pointed out, “It’s a fine line of winning and losing, you can see it obviously in the playoffs.”

“The way the playoffs started and the way we played against St. Louis, there were certainly high hopes to move deeper into the playoffs than we did and I think we expected in the dressing room to go further, so it personally feels disappointing the way it ended.”

Place a little perspective on the situation and Vancouver, a team picked to finish as low as 15th in the Western Conference before the start of the year, had a good season.

The Canucks played the underdog role to perfection in storming in and winning the Northwest Division for the sixth time, amassing 45 wins and 100 points along the way, the third and fifth highest totals in franchise history.

Vancouver also established a new franchise record for consecutive home wins with 11 between Feb. 3 and March 19; twelve Canucks set new career highs in either goals, assists or points, and the team shutout the opposition ten times this season, a new franchise mark.

It all comes down to playoff success though, and although the Canucks marched into the second round for the second time in three seasons and put a valiant fight against the Blackhawks, they came up short in the quest for the Cup.

“If you don’t win the Stanley Cup, you’re going to be disappointed,” said Ryan Kesler. “The further you go in the playoffs it gets more and more difficult once you do get knocked out and it was definitely tough to get knocked out.”

“It’s something we can improve on and it was a successful season, we accomplished some of our goals, but not all of them and we’ll just focus on the off-season now and coming into camp.”

There is a lot of work to be done between now and next September with a handful of Canucks set to become unrestricted free agents this summer and many of the discussions on this day revolved around the future of the team.

Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Mattias Ohlund and Mats Sundin are all set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, so each may have played their final game in a Canucks sweater.

“It’s nothing we’ve thought of yet, it’s only two days after our last game and we’re going to take some time off and come back and talk through things,” said Henrik, addressing the issue of free-agency.

“We’ve always said what we want and that’s never changed from day one. We both know it’s not only about us, it’s about what other people think too, so we’ll see what happens.”

Questioned about what next year holds, Ohlund said he’s excited for it regardless of where he plays.

“I had a great 11 years and if it’s meant to be, I’ll be here. Otherwise life is too short to be sad about this. I had a lot of fun here and who knows what will happen after the next few months.”

Sundin also isn’t sure on his playing status for next season.

“I’m definitely going to take my time to make a good decision this summer, but right now I don’t know what my future is going to be and whether I’m going to play or not.”

On second thought, clean-shaven isn’t the worst way to see the Vancouver Canucks in May.

Leaving the rink, hockey bag in hand, headed for an uncertain future is much worse.
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