VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks aren’t used to this feeling.
After five straight playoff appearances—including a Stanley Cup final Game 7 on home ice just three seasons ago—the club’s miserable 2013-14 campaign was finally taken off life support Monday.
It wasn’t pretty on the ice or in the stands.
John Gibson made just 18 saves to record a shutout in his first NHL game as the Anaheim Ducks defeated the listless Canucks 3-0 to officially eliminate Vancouver from post-season contention.
“Not a very good feeling,” said defenceman Kevin Bieksa. “Not too familiar. It’s been a while. We’re disappointed for sure. The last few weeks have been very disappointing.”
The Canucks played a decent opening 20 minutes on Monday, but couldn’t muster anything through the final two periods with their season on the line.
Once the hottest ticket in town, the lower bowl at Rogers Arena was dotted by hundreds of empty seats throughout the game, and many of the fans who did show up started heading to the exits long before the final buzzer sounded.
The night ended with some in the half-empty building chanting for Canucks president and general manager Mike Gillis to be fired. Gillis seemed to criticize the style of first-year head coach John Tortorella in a radio interview last week, saying that he wanted the team to get back to the type of game that got it to the 2011 final against the Boston Bruins.
But it’s clear many blame Gillis for the team’s current plight.
“(Fans) paid big money to come to these games. It’s their prerogative how they handle themselves,” said Tortorella. “As far as fans are concerned, that’s their call.
“They pay money to come see the games. They’re not happy. They can voice their opinion how they like to.”
Bieksa said the players heard the chants with the clock and their playoff chances winding down.
“Personally I don’t think it’s the right thing to do, but at the end of the day the fans come and they can do whatever they want,” he said. “Put it this way: we’re all going to take the blame for this. It’s not just one or two guys. It’s the whole team. We’re going to take what we get, move forward, push through this.”
Daniel Winnik, Kyle Palmieri and Matt Beleskey had the goals for Anaheim (51-20-8), which is in a dog fight with the San Jose Sharks for first place in the Pacific Division.
Eddie Lack stopped 20 shots in his 19th straight start for Vancouver (35-33-11) since the Olympic break.
The Canucks’ post-season hopes had been reduced to a mere mathematical possibility in recent weeks and it was fitting they were finally knocked off the cliff by an Anaheim team that looks primed for a long playoff run.
Known for his outbursts during other coaching stops, Tortorella has been on his best behaviour in Vancouver and that didn’t change despite Monday’s disappointment.
“It doesn’t do anybody any good right now to be critical,” said Tortorella. “Obviously we didn’t play well enough, but I’m not going to criticize the hockey club at this stage.”
Down 1-0 after giving up a short-handed goal in the first, the Canucks came out inexplicably flat in the second, registering just three shots in a demoralizing effort that saw Anaheim grab a 2-0 lead on Palmieri’s 14th of the season at 17:03.
Prior to that back-breaker, the Canucks had a couple chances to at least direct pucks at Anaheim’s rookie netminder, but both Jannik Hansen and Daniel Sedin passed up shooting opportunities on separate 2-on-1 breaks.
Vancouver had just nine shots to Anaheim’s 18 through two periods, with a smattering of boos just a prelude of what was to comes as the teams headed to the locker-rooms.
“We just didn’t execute very well. We had a good first period,” said Bieksa. “They capitalized on our power play. It’s not the end of the game. We’re still feeling good. Second period just wasn’t very good at all.
“If I could pinpoint it, we just weren’t executing. We weren’t making tape-to-tape passes. We were creating our own problems for ourselves.”
The Ducks—who sit three points ahead of the Sharks for top spot in the Pacific Division and have a crucial home date against San Jose on Wednesday—basically put things on autopilot in the third to help snap a two-game slide that included Sunday’s loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
“The team played really well in front of me and made my job easier, I only had to make regular saves and if there was rebounds they cleared it out,” said Gibson, who became the youngest goalie to earn a shutout in his first start since Daren Puppa in 1985. “Everyone knew it was a big game.”
Anaheim made it 3-0 against the sleepy Canucks 1:20 into the third when Beleskey finished off a pretty passing play for his seventh of the season.
Gibson didn’t have a lot to do on the night, but did make a huge save on Niklas Jensen to preserve the shutout with about eight minutes gone in the third.
“He looked so much more calmer than a 20-year-old kid playing his first NHL game,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. “It was like ‘Ho hum.’ After my first game when I scored a goal you couldn’t’ shut me up, I was so happy I was jumping up and down, and he was just ‘Ah, here we go again.’
“I think it’s a demeanour that a goalie has to have.”
Coming of a spirited 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night that kept their minuscule playoff hopes alive, the Canucks didn’t seem ready off Monday’s opening faceoff.
Lack stopped Cogliano on a breakaway 15 seconds into the first period, but the Vancouver goaltender couldn’t bail his team a second time after another gaffe a few minutes.
With Vancouver on the power play, Winnik jumped on a mistake by Canucks captain Henrik Sedin and moved in alone to rip his sixth of the season at 6:26.
Vancouver had a couple of chances later in the man advantage, including a scramble in front of Gibson that saw the puck dribble off the post and stay out. Alexander Edler then ripped another shot off the iron that fooled Gibson, who is seen by many as Anaheim’s goalie of the future.
Those two instances would be among the only highlights for the Canucks, who must now regroup with three meaningless games remaining on their schedule.
“We keep preparing as we always do until the season’s done,” said Tortorella. “Obviously we’re out of the playoffs now, but I still believe you go about your business until the last day of work and that’s how were going to approach it and I believe the team will too.”
Notes: The game marked Teemu Selanne’s final visit to Vancouver as a player. Set to retire after the post-season, 43-year-old has said repeatedly that the city is his favourite stop in the NHL. The Canucks honoured Selanne with a brief scoreboard tribute in the first period. … The Ducks are 10-1-2 in the second of back-to-back games this season, including two wins against the Canucks. … Anaheim now has a 110 points in 2013-14, which tied a franchise record set in 2006-07 when the club won its only Stanley Cup. … Gibson led the United States to gold at the 2013 world junior hockey championship. … The Canucks host the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night.