Canucks hang in the balance
COL 4 VAN 2: Home team blows two-goal lead and possibly chance at playoffs
Ben Kuzma said Colorado out-dueled Vancouver on their way to clinching a playoff berth:
On a telling Tuesday that started with a number of intriguing developments -- until Nashville rallied to beat St. Louis in overtime and Calgary got past Edmonton -- the challenge for the Vancouver Canucks wasn't complicated at GM Place.
Beat the Colorado Avalanche for the first time in the clubs' last six meetings and stay in eighth place. It didn't happen in a crushing 4-2 setback that again raised questions about resolve and resiliency.
Not only did the Canucks blow a 2-0 lead in the second period, they once again demonstrated the inability to mount a charge once momentum swung. And they again failed to contain Colorado's speed.
In falling a point behind the eighth-place Predators with two games to play, the Canucks are again flirting with disaster while the Avalanche have clinched a playoff position.
"We couldn't get any real momentum when we were down," said Canucks captain Markus Naslund. "I felt we forced plays and didn't really attack them as a five-man unit.
"And the mistakes cost us -- giving them odd-man rushes and turning pucks over. Against a talented team like Colorado, the odds are it's going to end up in the back of your net."
After building a lead on goals by Willie Mitchell and Ryan Kesler
, the Canucks seemed in control. But just like last Wednesday in Denver -- the Canucks blew a 2-1 lead by allowing four-straight goals in the middle period in a 6-3 loss -- they couldn't handle Colorado's push.
Second-period goals by John-Michael Liles, Milan Hejduk and Wojtek Wolski -- including two in a span of just 35 seconds -- gave the Avalanche a 3-2 lead.
And when Peter Forsberg sped away from Willie Mitchell early in the third period -- after the puck hopped over the defenceman's stick at the Colorado blueline -- and then potted a breakaway goal on Roberto Luongo
at 4:53, it emphasized how the Avalanche are able to capitalize and the Canucks crumble.
"We were not a real cohesive group and Forsberg's goal really took a lot out of us," admitted Canucks winger Trevor Linden.
In 2005-06, the Canucks lost six of their last eight games to miss the postseason. They've now dropped five of their last six and were booed off the ice Tuesday.
THE VANCOUVER SUN
Snowed under: These guys are beating themselves
Iain MacIntyre said the Canucks have turned into their own worst enemy:
It turned out it wasn't the mile-high air that killed them a week ago in Denver. It wasn't fatigue or last change or confusion or bad luck. It was just the Canucks, plain and simple. They were to blame for the 6-3 loss to the Avalanche.
They must have been. Because with all the factors in their favour on Tuesday, including a 2-0 lead, the Canucks did it again. One week after accelerating their descent in the Western Conference standings with a four-goal, second-period meltdown against the Avalanche, the Canucks repeated the disaster on home ice by surrendering three goals in less than 51/2 minutes halfway through Tuesday's game.
So, in the most important six games of the season -- all against Northwest Division rivals and with profound playoff implications -- the Canucks have one win.
Their season is on life support. The Predators have only games against the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks standing between themselves and playoff qualification. Even if the Canucks win out, they could be bystanders.
Calgary coach Mike Keenan, whose team is the only one Vancouver has beaten the last 12 nights, was only half correct when he described the stretch drive as the first round of the playoffs. It isn't quite, because somehow the Canucks are 1-5 yet somehow still in it.
But you can't help but wonder about the pointlessness of this team trying to make the playoffs when they've displayed nothing but nerves and poor judgement on their way to them.
A playoff drive is not blowing two-goal leads on home ice. It's not getting outscored 13-3 in the last eight periods of the critical three-game road trip Vancouver had last week.
It's not a $6-million-a-year goalie turning in a suspect performance for third time in four games, as Roberto Luongo
did when he was down and out on two Avalanche goals and handcuffed by a third that blew through him in the second period. Colorado needed only 18 shots to produce four goals.
This is a not a playoff drive but a playoff wreck, a collapse similar to the one that saw the Canucks back out of the Stanley Cup tournament two years ago and cost coach Marc Crawford and half the roster jobs in Vancouver.
There is nothing noble or even close to heroic about the way these Canucks are going down. The identity they forged last season as a relentlessly driven, tenacious, gritty team has disappeared.
They are losing easily. The only thing hard about them is the feelings they've generated among fans.
If the Canucks lose Thursday to the Oilers and the Predators hit the hanging curveball that is the St. Louis Blues, Vancouver is out.
Luongo legend becoming a sad story: What's happened to once-great stopper?
Jason Botchford said Luongo is struggling along with the rest of the team:
He was a legend last year. This year he is part of what could be the Legend of the Fall.
It was just seven months ago when Roberto Luongo
was talking about a Stanley Cup. He said then, he thought the Canucks had the team that could win it all.
He said then the team was close. People believed him. How could they not, given the year he had last season?
But now, nearly a full season later, even making the playoffs seems like wishful thinking, the team's chances reduced to one last Faint Hope Clause.
"We can't be worried about standings right now," Luongo said. "We have two games left and we have to win them both. That's all we can focus on right now. The rest, we really can't control what happens. We should be worried about the next two games and hopefully we can get some help."
The fact the Canucks are even in this position -- on the cusp of giving away their playoff position to Nashville, a team built to finish closer to last than first with a $32-million payroll -- is difficult for the Canucks to swallow.
They publicly boasted about what they were going to do in the playoffs way back in training camp.
"We have a great team, I'm really surprised this has happened," Daniel Sedin
said. "But this is where we are. There's nothing we can do about it now. All we can do is win two games. And we need other teams to lose points.”
With their playoff lives hanging in the balance, there was no big save Tuesday. There was no big goal. There was no hero.
Luongo filled the hero role so often last year. He created a mythology. He was nominated for a Vezina. The Canucks leaned on him and, in turn, he carried them.
Everyone, maybe unfairly, has been expecting it to happen again. It hasn't.
The Canucks have lost five of six games. Luongo is 1-5 with a 4.01 GAA and an .870 save percentage.
Since the all-star game, Luongo has a 2.75 GAA and a .902 save percentage in 36 starts.
When the team needed it most, the big save just wasn't there, the one you would have seen late last year.
CANWEST NEWS SERVICES
March a strong month for Moose: Manitoba boasts rookie and player of the month
CanWest News Services said Moose players are honored with monthly AHL awards:
Manitoba Moose goaltender Cory Schneider
has been named AHL rookie of the month for March and Brad Moran has been named player of the month.
Schneider's highlights this month include stopping 26 of 27 shots in a 2-1 win over Quad City on March 2. The native of Marblehead, Mass., then came back with 24 saves for his first professional shutout, a 2-0 decision at Hamilton on March 7.
Meanwhile, Moran tallied five goals and 16 assists for 21 points in 13 games to help the Moose to a 10-1-0-2 record last month. The Abbotsford native is currently on a nine-game scoring streak.