After the St. Louis Blues had failed to win their previous two games, the Vancouver Canucks found themselves in a position going into Thursday night’s contest with the Calgary Flames where two wins in their remaining games would deliver them the President’s Trophy and home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. The Flames played the part for the first two periods, but came on very strong in the third to overcome the Canucks 3-2.
Vancouver opened the scoring early in the first after Alex Burrows scored on a shorthanded breakaway. The Flames were very lackluster in the first, as Vancouver outshot them 12-3 in the opening 20 minutes. The second period brought a mildly better effort from the Flames, but the Canucks had most of the chances again as they marginally outshot Calgary 9-8. Throughout the game, the Canucks were handed a number of power plays, but were unable to generate any consistent offense with the man advantage.
The third period was a different story altogether. Calgary came out with some passion and fire, and took the game to the Canucks as suddenly they were winning races to the puck, and upped their physicality, throwing hits and starting scrums after whistles. The tactics worked, as the Canucks uncharacteristically gave up three third period goals at the one, nine, and 16 minute marks to take a 3-1 lead.
Jannik Hansen made the game close, scoring only 26 seconds after Calgary’s last goal, but the Canucks were unable to parlay that into a tying goal, even though they were given another power play with a minute and a half left in the game. The Canucks hit two posts after the Hansen goal, but they were unable to solve Calgary netminder Miikka Kiprusoff as he shut the door. The shots in the third period were 17-13 in favour of Calgary.
Mike Cammalleri led the Flames with two goals, with Matt Stajan and Cory Sarich adding two assists apiece.
Vancouver had gone 102 games since the last time they were leading a game after two periods and lost in regulation time. While this is an incredible statistic, they were bound to lose a game like this at some point. Giving the Flames full credit (something which I hate to do), they were the far superior team in the third period and there’s no question they were full value for the victory tonight.
That said, this game shouldn’t have ever made it to the third with only one goal separating the teams. The Canucks had numerous chances to score at even strength in the opening 40 minutes, and in addition were given five powerplays including a 5 on 3 man advantage. Clearly, the power play could have made a big difference in tonight’s game, and it failed miserably. This is the Canucks’ biggest worry heading into the postseason, as their once-dominant power play is consistently failing to generate scoring chances, never mind goals. Since the Boston game in early January, a day on which the PP was an impressive 4 for 11, the PP is an absolutely woeful 14 for 114, only 12.3% efficiency. That is 39 games, which is basically half a season. This is the definition of the penthouse to the outhouse.
- The Canucks made a number of lineup changes tonight. On the back end, Kevin Bieksa returned to the lineup after missing the last few games with an undisclosed injury. Aaron Rome also returned to active duty after a minor knee injury. Andrew Alberts and Chris Tanev sat out.
- Up front, Zack Kassian’s injury necessitated the recall of Byron Bitz, who drew into the lineup. Dale Weise also came back onto the fourth line. Bitz was meant to play alongside Ryan Kesler and David Booth, while the fourth line featured Andrew Ebbett centering Weise and Mason Raymond.
- Unfortunately, Bitz ended up not playing too much, as the multitude of power plays saw heavy weighting of icetime towards the team’s regulars. Bitz never really seemed to get into the flow of the game.
- That fourth line gives one pause as well, as it’s relatively “offensive” (i.e. Ebbett and Raymond). As we’ve been seeing of late, coach Alain Vigneault is taking every opportunity to tinker with his lineup and different combinations of players.
- Continuing that thought process, I expect the “typical” playoff lineup with be: Sedin-Sedin-Burrows; Kesler-Booth-Lapierre?; Pahlsson-Hansen-Higgins; Malhotra-Weise-Kassian; Bieksa-Hamhuis; Edler-Salo; Tanev-Rome. The Canucks have numerous options to plug into this lineup, including Ebbett, Bitz, Raymond, Reinprect, Alberts, Gragnani.
- Speaking of Gragnani, he played his 80th career game tonight and therefore he will not be a Group 6 unrestricted free agent. He looked bad, again, on the second Cammalleri goal.
- Bieksa also looked bad on the first Cammalleri goal, but given he hasn’t played in four games, it’s understandable that he could make a mistake of that nature.
- The turning point occurred on a four on four midway through the third, when the Canucks were looking good in Calgary’s zone. The Flames got the puck back and made their way down ice, and Henrik Sedin had a brutal giveaway in the slot and Glencross fired it past Canucks’ goaltender Cory Schneider.
- Schneider can’t really be faulted on any of the goals tonight, but a big save on any of the three that went in could have changed the course of the game.
- The Canucks inability to put teams away is concerning. They really need to keep their foot on the gas when they get up a goal. The way they have been playing defensively, if they got a two (or even three) goal lead, they’d be impossible to beat. I’m not sure if this is being coached into them, or if they team has just kind of morphed into it. Regardless, I think it’ll stop next week.
- Lots of movement in the Western Conference playoff race. After play tonight, Dallas has been eliminated and the Kings still hold third spot with 94 points. They are tied with San Jose, but hold the tiebreaker. However, Phoenix sits in eighth, only one point in arrears, however they hold a game in hand. Therefore, if Phoenix takes care of business, they will win the Pacific Division and its third seed.
- I think the Canucks should try to avoid the Sharks at all costs in the first round – of the three possible opponents, I’d prefer Phoenix, then Los Angeles, then San Jose. Phoenix is in the driver’s seat due to their game in hand, therefore it looks like the Canucks will get either the Kings or the Sharks. However, they are going to have no control over this – the Kings and the Sharks play at 7:30pm PDT on Saturday night, a half hour behind the Canucks/Oilers tilt. Given the Canucks will have no ability to control who they play, they should go out and try to win that game to at least obtain the home ice advantage throughout the western conference.
IF THIS WERE A PLAYOFF GAME
Two losses in a row now “if this were a playoff game”. The Canucks just didn’t put the Flames away when they had the chance, and it came back to bite them. The Canucks are now 7-5 using this measure since I started tracking it.
Broadcast Observation of the Night: It was Sportsnet’s final broadcast of the year. I really do prefer their coverage and therefore, this makes me sad. From here on out, we’ll be fed the typical biased crap from Hockey Night in Canada. If you didn’t have to worry about delays and other issues, I’d rather listen to the radio broadcast while the TV was on.
Looking ahead: The Canucks complete the 2011-2012 regular season by hosting Edmonton on Saturday night.