They should have gone in with revenge on the brain, as it was the Oilers who officially eliminated the Canucks from the post-season almost a year ago to the day.
Paying the piper and backhanding Edmonton with a loss that would have all but eliminated its playoff desires this season would have been sending-your-girlfriend-flowers-for-no-reason sweet, but instead Vancouver played like the team on the outside looking in.
The pressure was squarely on the Oilers, a squad as desperate as ever for points and they played like the hungrier team in a 5-3 Edmonton win.
Despite the unbalanced score, the Canucks were in this game up until an empty net goal sealed the fate of a second consecutive loss – Vancouver’s sixth regulation loss in the last 28 games.
Up until Mason Raymond
scored his 11th goal of the season 6:51 into the third period to up the Canucks on the board down 2-1, this game was a dastard carbon copy of Vancouver’s second last trip to Edmonton on Dec. 13.
That night the Oilers opened the scoring with their first shot on goal; on this night the second puck on goal snuck past Roberto Luongo
That night the Canucks responded to being scored on with an intense focus on getting shots on goal, especially in the second period; on this night the Canucks dominated play after giving up the early goal and continued to dictate the tempo into the second period where they got 22 shots off.
That night Oilers netminder Dwayne Roloson stood on his head and although he only faced 23 shots, he stopped them all; on this night Roloson didn’t get the shutout, but he managed to get in front of 43 shots in what was Vancouver’s highest shot output of the season.
The comparisons stopped when Raymond netted his fourth career goal against the Oilers and even though Alex Burrows and Kyle Wellwood also found the back of the net, the end result was the same as in December.
“Our inability tonight to finish and make them pay for their mistakes obviously cost us the game,” said coach Alain Vigneault.
“I liked a lot of our game tonight, I thought we created a lot of chances and their goaltender, in my mind, was a big difference in this game.”
The difference makers for the Canucks were Burrows, Wellwood and Mats Sundin, who had his best outing in four games. He was a bull as he manhandled Oilers pressure like it didn’t exist, as evident on the game’s first goal when he simply ignored the presence of Steve Staios behind the net before hitting Raymond with a pass in the slot for a one-timer that beat Roloson.
Kudos to Rick Rypien as well for his gutsy fight with Zack Stortini at the end of the first period; Might Mouse hit the Ontario Oaf with enough lefts it was almost wrong before Stortini realized the tussle had begun.
This was Vancouver’s eighth game in a different city over the last 14 days, but the up-tempo play of the Canucks made it clear that fatigue wasn’t the issue in the loss, it was just poor execution when the team needed to be crisp.
“We made some mistakes that we don’t usually make that ended up in the back of our net,” said Vigneault.
“I can count on one or two fingers how many times Willie Mitchell gets beat one-on-one, he gets beat tonight when we’re one goal behind and at the end again we’re one goal behind and we can’t get the puck deep and they made us pay and we weren’t able to make them pay tonight.”
It’s losses like this that make everyone thankful for back-to-back games as the Canucks have little time to sulk over another missed opportunity to pass the Calgary Flames for the outright division lead with the Colorado Avalanche in Vancouver Sunday night.
The days of the Avalanche blanketing the Canucks are long gone, so if Vancouver can forget this loss and recharge the batteries before facing Colorado, you’ll be reading about how close the Canucks are to home ice advantage by this time tomorrow.
“At the end of the day right now we’ve been on a push, we want to go into the playoffs playing well, we’ve got that possibility [of home ice advantage] that’s right there.
“Parts of our game tonight were real good, parts we need to improve and we’ll be able to get right back at it tomorrow and if it permits us to get home ice, then great.”
The Oilers outplayed the Canucks in this game, which burns, but don’t be too hard on Edmonton as Vancouver might need its help in the final two games of the season, back-to-back tilts between the Oilers and Flames.