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Canucks pick up the pieces after disappointing loss

by Derek Jory
Like every other NHL team, the Vancouver Canucks' goal from Day One was to win the Stanley Cup.

The Canucks came up short in their quest for the franchise's first championship, and although with a little perspective it's easy to put a positive spin on the season that was, the fact that there's no more hockey to be played until the fall 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," goaltender Roberto Luongo said Wednesday afternoon as the players spoke with the media less than 48 hours after losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinal.

Locker clean-out day is never a treat, but it has to be done. Along with packing up their belongings and sharing a few laughs before parting for the summer, the Canucks were forced to reflect on the 2008-09 season.

Vancouver wasn't expected to compete for the Cup after missing the playoffs in 2007-08 -- so in that regard, this season was a success. The Canucks played the underdog role to perfection in rallying past Calgary to win the Northwest Division, amassing 45 wins and 100 points along the way, the third- and fifth-highest totals in franchise history.

Yet everything changed when the Canucks entered the playoffs. Expectations suddenly shifted from "get in" to "make noise," which it appeared Vancouver was en route to doing after sweeping the St. Louis Blues in the Quarterfinals.

Against Chicago, Vancouver won Game 3 on the road to lead the series 2-1 -- then led 1-0 with less than three minutes to play in Game 4. Instead, the Canucks let that lead slip away and lost in overtime. They also couldn't hold leads in Games 5 and 6. In ending the year on a three-game losing streak, the team was left to reflect on what could have been.

"It's a fine line of winning and losing, you can see it obviously in the playoffs," said center Mats Sundin, who ended the postseason averaging a point a game.

"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."

Added defenseman Kevin Bieksa, "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.

"There weren't too many games where we could all say we were playing our best."

From the media reports around Vancouver following the team's 7-5 loss on Monday, you'd think the Canucks had missed the playoffs for the 39th straight season.

The most surprising report so far has Luongo waiving his no-trade clause and being shipped off in search of greener pastures, something the all-star netminder couldn't help but laugh at.

"I hadn't heard anything about it," he said. "The parking attendant mentioned it to me on my way in. I don't know what to say to that."

Luongo has one year remaining on his contract with the Canucks, and re-signing him figures to be a high priority.

Vancouver Canucks Playoff GearBut there are other decisions to be made.

Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Mattias Ohlund and Sundin are 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."

If the tone of a player's response means anything, Ohlund, the longest-serving member of the team, has likely played his final days in Vancouver.

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

"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."
-- Mats Sundin

"I had a great 11 years and if it's meant to be, I'll be here," he said. "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, who signed with the Canucks at midseason, also isn't sure what he'll be doing next season.

"I'm definitely going to take my time to make a good decision this summer," he said. "But right now I don't know what my future is going to be and whether I'm going to play or not."

Defenseman Willie Mitchell, who's signed until the 2010-11 season, said he's having a tough-enough time dealing with the season being over.

"Having a scrum like this makes it sink in, coming in and seeing your gear on top of your stall and your sticks taped up, sinks in, so it's tough to digest and it stings," said Mitchell. "People deal with it in different ways and personally I just try and get away from it a little bit."

The Canucks now have plenty of time to get away from the rink and deal with how the season ended.

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