VANCOUVER – Ryan Kesler says the Vancouver Canucks will learn a lot about themselves over the final six games of the regular season.
Pride is realistically all they have to play for at this point.
Vancouver’s already slim playoff hopes faded to a mere mathematical possibility on Saturday after a demoralizing 5-1 loss on home ice to the Anaheim Ducks.
The Canucks had a chance to climb to within three points of the second wild-card berth in the Western Conference, but instead suffered a crushing defeat that all but sealed their post-season fate.
“Obviously our backs are against the wall and I guess we’re going to see what we’re made out of,” Kesler said with barely a whisper in the Canucks’ locker-room. “Are we going to sit back and cower or are we going to give everything and try to give ourselves a chance here?”
That chance at a playoff spot dipped to just 0.5 per cent with Saturday’s loss, according to the website sportsclubstats.com. The Canucks have been used to competing for division titles, but the spring of 2014 at Rogers Arena will in all likelihood be a lot quieter than it has been the last five years.
“It’s definitely frustrating right now. There’s no ifs ands or buts about it,” said Canucks forward Zack Kassian. “We’re frustrated. We know we’re on the outside looking in.
“Like I said 100 times in the past week: we’re competitors and we want to play for each other and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Corey Perry and Saku Koivu each had a goal and an assist for the Ducks, who got 31 saves from rookie goalie Frederik Andersen.
The Minnesota Wild left the door open for the Canucks to move within three points of the West’s final playoff spot after a 3-1 road victory over the eighth-place Phoenix Coyotes, but Vancouver was unable to capitalize on the opportunity.
“It’s a tough one. I thought we played well enough to be in this game but we made a few mistakes and that cost us,” said Canucks forward Daniel Sedin. “Every loss now is tough. We need wins, we need points. We’ve got to stay positive and keep going. That’s all we can do.”
Luca Sbisa, Matt Beleskey and Mathieu Perreault also scored for Anaheim (48-18-8), while Andrew Cogliano and Daniel Winnik added two assists apiece as the Ducks moved into first place in the Pacific Division.
“We’re trying to look for some help but I don’t know if we really deserve it to be honest,” said Brad Richardson, who scored Vancouver’s only goal. “It sucks to be in the position where you have to rely on other teams to lose and we’re not really winning all our games.”
Canucks goalie Eddie Lack finished with just 16 saves on a night where the Ducks seemed to capitalize on every chance they got.
Anaheim led 2-1 after the first period and increased its lead at 11:02 of the second when Winnik chipped a pass from the side of the net into the slot to Koivu, who buried his 10th of the season.
Vancouver (34-31-11) had a number of opportunities to make things interesting, including three power plays in the second alone that yielded a lot of possession, but not many clear-cut chances for the league’s 27th-ranked unit.
“It’s inexcusable to have a power play like we have,” said Kesler. “To lose 5-1 in a must-win game, it’s embarrassing.”
After Koivu gave the Ducks a 3-1 lead, Andersen made consecutive saves off Vancouver forwards Chris Higgins and Jordan Schroeder from in tight before shooting out a pad to stone Kassian moments later.
“We not only want to get first place, we want to play as good as we can heading into the playoffs,” said Andersen, who started in place of No. 1 goalie Jonas Hiller. “Every time you go on the ice you want to prove you can play.
“It’s important to have two good goalies that can support each other if something happens.”
Perry put the game out of reach by banging home his 38th of the season at 6:45 of the third to make it 4-1 and Perreault added insult to injury with his 18th on a power play at 14:03.
“I thought we worked hard,” said Kassian. “We obviously didn’t get much production in the offensive zone and some goals when we needed them but I thought we had a good first and great second.
“The game kind of got out of hand in the third.”
Anaheim has thoroughly dominated the first four meetings of its five-game season series with Vancouver, outscoring the Canucks 21-6 and surrendering just one point to its division rivals. The teams meet for the final time April 7 at Rogers Arena.
“We have struggled within our division and the top teams, and that’s something as we move forward, we’ve got to find how to play against them,” said Canucks head coach John Tortorella. “I thought for a number of minutes tonight through the second period we were right there.”
The Ducks grabbed a 1-0 at 7:36 of the opening period on Sbisa’s first of the season before Beleskey made it 2-0 just 1:11 later as Anaheim scored on two of its first five shots.
“I’m not going to analyze our goaltender,” said Tortorella. “You lose 5-1, a lot of things happened, not just your goalie. We need to lick our wounds here and try to get right back in the win column.”
The Canucks made it 2-1 at 11:12 of the first when Richardson scored on a rebound for his 10th of the season but it would be Vancouver’s only highlight.
“We’re certainly on the outside looking in and it’s not a spot that we want to be in. I’ve never been in this spot before in my career,” said Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis. “We’re not mathematically out of it, even though our chances are slim.
“We’ve got to keep playing hard and give ourselves that chance and make those teams earn it.”
Notes: Ducks forward Teemu Selanne sat out after playing Friday night in Edmonton against the Oilers. The 43-year-old has not played back-to-back games this season, but said after the morning skate that he will play against the Canucks in Vancouver on April 7. … Kassian picked up an assist on Richardson’s goal. The big forward now has two goals and five assists during his four-game point streak. … Perreault has six goals in his last eight games. … The Canucks host former head coach Alain Vigneault and the New York Rangers on Tuesday. Anaheim is home to the Winnipeg Jets on Monday.