As the bandwagon empties and the Canucks face elimination, it feels like we have seen this movie before. The Canucks, who were in complete control just four days ago, now look helpless as their season is on the line.
So what happened? How did we get here?
It’s time for some real talk.
Getting blown out in Game 3 and having their goalie chased early in Game 4 is likely to stir up some bad memories for Canucks fans. But there is one critical difference between the Flames and the 2013 Sharks, 2012 Kings and 2011 Bruins: Calgary isn’t that good.
Calgary is an up-and-coming team, but they’re not there yet. This isn’t a team’s coming out party like we witnessed with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2009.
The problem for Vancouver? They’re not that good either.
This series should be closer than it is, and was going according to plan after the first two games in Vancouver. Vancouver carried most of the play in Game 1, but couldn’t hold on to a third period lead and narrowly lost 2-1. Vancouver pulled up their socks in Game 2 and took it to the Flames, winning 4-1.
The Turning Point
In Game 3 and 4, everything changed. The Flames made adjustments. Calgary’s forecheck has changed the very nature of this series. Led by hitting machine, Michael Ferland, the Flames have begun pressuring the puck all over the ice and it is giving the Canucks’ defence fits.
Calgary led for just 30 seconds in Game 1 and 2, and led for 103:01 in Game 3 and 4. It turns out that Calgary plays pretty well when they have the lead.
Calgary’s power play (or Vancouver’s penalty kill?) is killing the Canucks right now. The Flames are 4-for-11 with the man advantage (and 3-for-8 in Calgary), while the Canucks are just 2-for-12.
Outside of the power play, Vancouver isn’t getting killed by the Flames’ stars. Calgary’s top line of Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler has zero points at even strength. In that respect, Willie Desjardins has been vindicated (more on him later) in not bending over backwards to play Alex Edler and Chris Tanev against the Flames’ top line. Kris Russell, who had just 34 points in the regular season, is leading the Flames in scoring with 4 playoff points.
The Canucks’ depth has failed them. The strength of this team is supposed to be that they can roll four lines and be a threat to score at all times.
Desjardins has made some questionable decisions with his lineup to say the least. He underplayed the Sedins through the first three games, playing them less than their regular season average. He got the twins up to around 20 minutes of ice time in Game 4, but did so primarily with Jannik Hansen, rather than giving them the sniper they so clearly need right now: Radim Vrbata.
Instead of putting all of his eggs in one basket with Vrbata, Desjardins has instead chosen to go with a balanced lineup. Of course, that means he is putting his eggs in Nick Bonino’s basket, who has been Vrbata’s centre for most of the series.
The Sedins have controlled the puck for most of the series, but sooner or later, they need to produce. Controlling the puck without results isn’t good enough. Fans can scream all they want about them not having the right linemate or not being given the right amount of ice time, but they still need to find a way to create more than 1 even strength goal in four games against a team that isn’t part of the NHL’s elite.
Of course, it will take more than the Sedins. They need their secondary scoring to come through. Bo Horvat’s line has been solid, but they need more out of Nick Bonino’s line. They could also use a push from the back-end, most notably Alex Edler and Yannick Weber. The Flames get a boatload of offence from their defencemen and it’s time the Canucks got a little bit of that too.
Vancouver will need to be a lot more disciplined than they have been of late. Bad penalties will sink them and it lets the Flames off the hook.
In order to make an improbable comeback, the Canucks will need great goaltending. They will need the kind of goaltending that they got in Game 1 and 2. Lack was very good in the first two games of the series and very ordinary in the last two. Ryan Miller will get his chance in Game 5.
Fans may want to look for scapegoats like Luca Sbisa or Brandon McMillan at this time of year, but the Canucks will only go as far as their top players will take them.
The Canucks are not as bad as they looked in Game 3 and 4. They can win Game 5 and if they do that, the series is back on.