How the mighty have fallen.
It took less than a week for the Vancouver Canucks and Pittsburgh Penguins to go from Stanley Cup contenders to potential first-round fodder. Over a matter of days, the Canucks and Penguins both dug big 0-3 holes—a deficit that has been virtually insurmountable over the history of the NHL.
“I’m surprised to see both of them on the ropes,” said Kevin Weekes, a former NHLer who now works as a broadcaster for CBC.
He’s far from alone.
The Canucks head into Game 4 at Los Angeles on Wednesday night looking to avoid a dubious entry in the record book—they could become the first team in the NHL’s post-expansion era to finish with the most points in the regular season and get swept in the first round of the playoffs.
There isn’t much debate over the difference in the series so far. Vancouver has mustered just four goals—a number matched by Kings captain Dustin Brown alone—against Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick through three games.
“You have to give credit where credit is due, and obviously they are getting a great performance by their goaltender,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said after a 1-0 loss in Game 3 on Sunday night.
Weekes, a former goaltender himself, agrees with that assessment.
“What he’s accomplished this year is probably something I’ve never seen before,” he said of Quick. “Not only does he play on the lowest-scoring team in the league, but he became an all-star and led his team to the playoffs. It’s Dominik Hasek-eque, to be honest with you.
“He’s unbelievable. He’s sick.”
The Penguins have been left with a sick feeling after getting outscored 20-12 over three games by the Philadelphia Flyers. They’ll also be facing elimination on Wednesday night when Game 4 is played at Wells Fargo Center.
Weekes believes Pittsburgh boasts a better team on paper—”I think top to bottom they have more talent”—but that it’s gotten away from the style of play that carried the Penguins to a 108-point regular season.
In particular, he thinks they’ve tried to play too much of a run-and-gun style, especially from the back end. The resulting errors have been costly.
“Pittsburgh is at their best when they’re defending too—they have a sweet spot, there’s a balance between the two (offence and defence),” said Weekes. “And they’ve gotten away from that down the stretch. They’re trying to play Philly hockey and they can’t play Philadelphia hockey.”
At least not as well as the Flyers.
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury boasts a bloated 6.34 goals-against average and .798 save percentage so far in the playoffs. He’s taken a lot of criticism for the plight of the team.
“If we are going to scratch back in the series and get back in this thing … it’s going to be on the strength of Marc-Andre Fleury in our net,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma told reporters Monday. “Really as a group we haven’t been there, to a man, for him. And in some difficult situations.”
Only three NHL teams have ever come back to win a series after being down 3-0, with the 2010 Flyers the most recent to achieve the feat against Boston in the second round.
The Canucks and Penguins were both labelled Cup favourites this spring for a good reason and could still reverse course to become the fourth franchise to climb out of a big hole.
“These guys have to beat us one more game for this to be over,” said Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa.
They still have a pulse. But their once-mighty heart is beating faintly.