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Five reasons Canucks were eliminated from playoffs

by Kevin Woodley

The Vancouver Canucks surprised a lot of preseason prognosticators by finishing second in the Pacific Division one season after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Once the playoffs started, however, things felt all too familiar.

Vancouver struggled to convert scoring chances, especially close to the net, came unraveled on the road and lost its Western Conference First Round series against the Calgary Flames in six games, leaving the Canucks 3-14 in the playoffs since Game 5 of their loss to the Boston Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.

Here are five reasons the Canucks were eliminated:

1. Four lines -- Amid a lot of focus on ice time early in this series, Daniel Sedin made an interesting observation about the balanced, roll-the-lines approach of first-year coach Willie Desjardins.

"When we have all four lines going we are a really good team and when we don't have that we are an average team," he said.

They never got all four lines going against the Flames.

The top-line duo of Daniel and Henrik Sedin combined for three goals and eight points despite losing linemate Alexandre Burrows because of an undisclosed injury after Game 3. While the Sedins failed to convert too many of the good chances they created, a common theme from playoffs past, they did control play and shut down Calgary's top line at even strength until the Flames changed the matchup in Game 6.

Rookie center Bo Horvat tied for the Canucks lead with four points, but the second line of Radim Vrbata and Nick Bonino combined for two even-strength goals, and the third line, centered by Brad Richardson for five of six games, was held without a point.

2. Slow adjustments -- The questions started after the Sedins each played less than five minutes in the third period of Game 1, which led to a last-minute loss each coach later pointed to as the difference in the series. Desjardins talked about keeping the Sedins fresh, but the question now is for what?

Despite dominating possession numbers, it took until Game 4 for the Sedins' ice time to rise above their season average. But even in Game 4 there were times they were on the bench for offensive-zone faceoffs after TV timeouts in favor of the predictable rotation of lines, which made it easy for Calgary coach Bob Hartley to keep his seldom-used third defense pair away from the Sedins.

Desjardins finally broke his rotation after an icing in Game 5 and it led to the winning goal by Daniel Sedin off a set faceoff play. But after Burrows was injured Desjardins never re-united the Sedins with Vrbata despite their early season success and clear need for a finisher, saying he wanted the balance of Vrbata with Bonino on the second line.

3. Special teams -- Vancouver had the second-best regular-season penalty kill at 85.7 percent and a power play that ranked ninth at 19.3 percent. But the power play dried up at key times early in the series and the penalty kill melted down after losing Burrows and Richardson in Game 4. Despite missing those two and a warning things would be called tighter after late scrums the previous two games, the Canucks took early penalties they couldn't kill en route to a 3-1 loss in Game 4 that left them down 3-1 in the series.

Richardson returned for the final two games but the penalty kill surrendered the tying goal in the third period of Game 6 and finished the series with a 72.2-percent success rate.

4. Slow defense -- Vancouver's defense got pounded by a physical, fast Calgary forecheck which contributed to 59 giveaways in six games.

The Canucks struggled to get out of their end cleanly and the defense had a hard time creating space and lanes to get shots through to the Flames net at the other end.

Canucks goalies Eddie Lack (.886 save percentage) and Ryan Miller (.910 save percentage, five goals on 31 shots in Game 6) get some blame too, but giveaways were compounded by an inability to sort out rushes, box out or clear rebounds.

5. Composure -- For all the talk about the Flames' youth and the Canucks' experience, it was the Canucks who panicked and abandoned their system in Game 1 after the Flames tied the game in the third period, ultimately leading the Flames' winning goal.

And it was the Canucks who appeared rattled by the raucous crowd in Calgary, taking bad penalties and admitting they didn't handle it well in the first two games on the road. Then they blew an early 3-0 lead when facing elimination in Game 6.

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