The same can’t be said for Sunday.
The Canucks registered just ten shots on goal and looked listless for much of the afternoon as they dropped a 4-1 decision to the Chicago Blackhawks. Ryan Kesler
, who scored the lone Vancouver goal, said there’s no excuse or explanation for Vancouver’s effort, or lack thereof.
“There isn't one. Right now we all know what's on the line and we all know we have to play better. It starts with hard work.”
Kesler, whose 17 goals on the season are a career-high, was eager to put this ugly game behind him.
“Obviously, ten shots isn't good enough to win and we got out-competed tonight. [The effort] has to come from within the locker room and we have to have a better effort on Tuesday.”
When asked how the Canucks could turn things around, Kesler had a simple solution. “Throw pucks on the net. We all know when you get pucks to the net good things happen so we've got to reenergize and focus on Tuesday and have a strong performance.”
Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault, while disappointed with his own team’s effort, was quick to compliment the opposing side.
“You've got to give credit where credit is due,” said Vigneault. “I mean, they came to play. They played hard. They were very physical. And without a doubt they were the better team on the ice. They deserved to win.”
Vancouver came into this game tied for seventh in the Western Conference playoff race with Colorado and Nashville. But Vancouver’s ace in the hole was the two games in hand they held on both clubs. Games in hand, however, are only an advantage if you actually take advantage of them. Vancouver did not and has lost three in a row. The Canucks must now go into Colorado to take on a reenergized Avalanche team that might have Peter Forsberg back in its lineup for Tuesday’s big game.
Facing an injury-plagued Chicago squad that had an average age of 23, the Canucks might well have expected to be the aggressors Sunday afternoon. But they were on their heels right from the start. Only a couple of great saves from Roberto Luongo
, most notably one on Rene Bourque from the lip of the crease, kept things scoreless for the opening 15 minutes.
But following a Willie Mitchell turnover, newcomer Andrew Ladd picked up a loose puck at the side of the net and poked it past a helpless Luongo to make it 1-0 Chicago.
Vancouver made it to the intermission just down by one and its fans could be forgiven for thinking the team would show a better effort in the second.
But again, the Hawks jumped out and took the momentum, hitting the post twice before Patrick Kane finally beat Luongo four minutes in. Kane’s wrister from the circle deflected off Mitchell’s stick on its way into the goal.
By the time Luongo stopped a Bourque wraparound attempt a minute after the goal, the shots were 16-2 in favour of Chicago.
Vancouver was given a 5-on-3 powerplay a short time later, but failed to register a shot. Yet, as undeserving as they were, the Canucks found themselves in a hockey game through two periods. Kesler’s goal just before the second intermission, after some hard work from Burrows tied up both Chicago defensemen, put Vancouver in a position to come back and win the same way Columbus and Colorado had done against them just a few days earlier.
But unlike those teams, Vancouver failed to rise to the challenge. They were just as flat coming out for the third period as the previous two and Patrick Sharp’s goal five minutes in clinched the win for the Chicago. Kane’s second of the night followed four minutes later.
The Canucks could have made things much easier on themselves by winning in Chicago. They would have been within a point of division-leading Minnesota and would have distanced themselves from the rest of the teams battling for the eighth and final playoff spot. But the team looked thoroughly uninterested in a game it probably didn’t have to win.
That won’t be the case Tuesday night. Because of the lack of effort on Sunday, the impending matchup with the Avalanche will be the biggest gut-check of the season for Vancouver.
Can they deliver? Absolutely.
Will they? That remains to be seen.