This was not the type of history the Vancouver Canucks had in mind when the playoffs started.
Down to their final life on Wednesday, the back-to-back Presidents’ Trophy winners are in danger of becoming the first NHL team in more than seven decades to get swept out of the first round after leading the regular season in points.
While the Canucks are no doubt unaware of the exploits of the 1937-38 Boston Bruins, the fact the two teams could even be linked is a testament to the shocking reality of Vancouver’s situation heading into Game 4 against Los Angeles at Staples Center.
No one could have forecasted the possibility of their once-promising season ending so quickly.
“These are real pressure moments,” coach Alain Vigneault said this week. “They’re against the elite teams of the league that have been able to fight their way into the playoffs. We’re one of those teams and we’re faced with a very tough task.”
Hope has not been lost entirely for the Canucks, especially with the strong possibility of Daniel Sedin making his first appearance in the series. He’s been out with a concussion since taking an elbow from Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith on March 21 but skated with the team in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
Vancouver also knows first-hand how quickly a 3-0 series lead can evaporate, having allowed Chicago back from that deficit last spring before pulling out a Game 7 victory in overtime.
“We saw what happened last year,” said goalie Roberto Luongo.
The Canucks aren’t the only team in danger of having the lights abruptly turned out on their season Wednesday. In another surprising series, Pittsburgh finds itself down 3-0 heading into a must-win road game at Philadelphia’s raucous Wells Fargo Center.
The Penguins returned home to Pittsburgh after an 8-4 loss in Game 3 on Sunday afternoon and tried to hit the reset button.
“Ten days ago we believed we were a very good team and we believed we had a chance to win the Stanley Cup,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. “That still holds true regardless of the situation we’re in. If there’s any group of guys that believes that and knows that its this group of guys.”
Pittsburgh will have to deal with changes to its lineup as three forwards received suspensions for indiscretions during a wild Game 3: Arron Asham (four games), James Neal (one game) and Craig Adams (one game).
Even with that upheaval, the NHL’s highest-scoring team believes it simply needs to get back to the style of game that made it successful from October to March. Their season depends on it.
“We know in this room we’ve yet to put a game together and that’s no one’s fault but our own,” said captain Sidney Crosby. “There’s nothing we can do about that now. The only opportunity we have is to make it better next game and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”