VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -The Vancouver Canucks felt as if they should be preparing to play Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night, not cleaning out their lockers and meeting with the media Wednesday.
Two days after being knocked out of the second round of the playoffs by Chicago in six games, most of the Canucks were still trying to figure out what went wrong.
How did one of the NHL's hottest teams the second half of the season, fresh off sweeping St. Louis, go from minutes away from a 3-1 series lead in Game 4, to being eliminated in Game 6?
How did a team built around defense and All-Star goalie Roberto Luongo, one that went 30-0-3 when leading after two periods in the regular season, squander a lead in five of six games against Chicago, including with 2:44 left in Game 4, and twice in the third period of Game 6?
"It definitely feels like we should be playing tomorrow. It's hard to accept you're not," said Luongo, who was in tears after Monday night's season-ending 7-5 loss. "I was convinced we could do it this year. I thought we had the pieces here and deep down inside I felt we should have won this last series, and kept moving on, so there's no doubt in my mind we have the pieces to win a Cup."
The bigger question now is whether they'll have those same pieces next season.
The Canucks have nine players set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, a list headlined by top scorers Daniel and Henrik Sedin and fellow Swedes Mats Sundin and Mattias Ohlund.
The identical Sedin twins each recorded 82 points in 82 regular-season games, and added 10 apiece in 10 playoff games this year. After averaging nearly a point a game the previous three seasons, the Sedins are adamant about staying together, and say they want to do so with the Canucks team that drafted them second and third overall in 1999. But that may mean nearly doubling the $3.575 million salary each made this season, a tough decision with the NHL's shrinking salary cap.
"We're going to listen to them and see what they come up with," said Daniel, who scored twice in Game 6, including a short-lived go-ahead goal with 7:45 left. "We said before the season this is where we want to play. This is where we raised our kids, and it's been a great place for us to play."
Sundin took half a season to decide to take $5.625 million to play the second half, and often struggled to find the form that made him a point-a-game player over 18 NHL seasons. The longtime Toronto Maple Leafs star had 28 points in 41 games, but was among the Canucks' better forwards in the last two, scoring twice, and finishing with eight points in eight playoff games.
"I felt the last month and a half that I played as good as I did in Toronto the last couple of years," said Sundin, who turned 38 in mid-February.
Despite that, Sundin says he's in no hurry to decide his playing future, and the 6-foot-5 center wouldn't even rule out another midseason return.
"It's nothing I regretted," Sundin said of signing in mid-December. "Last summer obviously I didn't know whether or not I was going to play anymore and I'm definitely going to take my time to make a good decision this summer."
Ohlund, a 32-year-old defenseman, appears resigned to having played the last of his 822 games with the team that drafted him 13th overall in 1994.
"I had a great 11 years and if it's meant to be, I'll be here," said Ohlund, who set a franchise record with 325 points by a defenseman. "Otherwise life is too short to be sad."
The Canucks biggest decision involves Luongo, who has one season left on a four-year, $27 million contract. Vancouver may not want to let its most valuable asset leave next summer without compensation, prompting plenty of trade talk if he isn't interested in an extension this summer.
"Why would they trade me?" said Luongo, adding he would have to talk with his agent and family this summer before considering a contract extension. "I said all along my main goal is to win a Cup, so as long as there is that chance here there will be some serious consideration. But it's too early to talk about that stuff for me. I'm still trying to get over what happened a few days ago."