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Canucks lived on goaltending in season, died in playoffs when couldn't score

Considering the low expectations for the team prior to the start of the NHL campaign, it's hard not to consider the Canucks season a success.

A club picked by some to not even make the playoffs won the Northwest Division title and advanced to the Western Conference semifinal for just the third time in 11 seasons, before losing in five games to the Anaheim Ducks.

Vancouver's 2-1 loss to Anaheim in double overtime Thursday night highlighted just how important Luongo is to the Canucks' success and underlined the problems general manager Dave Nonis must correct next season.

Luongo was brilliant, showing why he's been nominated for the Hart and Vezina Trophies, plus the Lester B. Pearson Award. He stopped 56 of 58 shots in the elimination game but had little support from his teammates.

Vancouver's best players generated little offence and managed just 27 shots. The power play was 0-for-6 Thursday and 1-for-29 during the series.

"With a goalie like we have right now, it's a great situation because you can build a team around him," said captain Markus Naslund. "But we've got to find a way to generate more offence.

"It we were getting three goals a game, who knows how far that could take us?"

The way the Canucks exited the playoffs has again raised questions about leadership and the team's heart.

In a game where the season was on the line, the Canucks were flat. They played like it was just another game in February, not a deciding match in May.

The Canucks wouldn't have been facing elimination if they hadn't squandered a 2-0 lead at home in Game 4 and lost 3-2 in overtime. Even in the first round, Vancouver led the Dallas Stars 3-1 but needed a seventh game to decide the series.

In a city where the Canucks are the biggest sporting show in town the early reviews were not kind.

A front-page headline in the Vancouver Province screamed, "No, Canucks, No." The Vancouver Sun sports section read "The Bitter End."

Province columnist Ed Willes praised Luongo but was harsh in his criticism of the rest of the team.

"Of the many ways a team can lose, the Canucks were going down in the most dishonourable manner possible," Willes wrote. "They looked like they'd quit on themselves and each other.

"In so doing, they'd compromised the character of every member of the organization not named Luongo. And their performance was so weak, so uninspired, so utterly lacking in passion and conviction, it called into question everything this team accomplished this season."

The Sun's Iain MacIntyre said the playoffs left a sour taste after a season where the Canucks set franchise records with 49 wins and 105 points.

"Thursday's game, dominated throughout by the Ducks, made it clear the Canucks have still some ways to go, despite the distance travelled in a relatively short time."

Nonis and head coach Alain Vigneault can probably find players who can score goals. Giving the team a heart transplant and changing its personality may be more difficult.

"We had a couple of games at home that we should have won," said Naslund. "I don't know if it's maturity or killer instinct."

In 12 playoff games, the Canucks scored two or less goals 10 times. They were shutout three times.

Swedish twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who led the team in scoring during the regular season, disappeared in the playoffs.

Daniel had two goals and five points and was minus-5 while Henrik had two goals, four points and was an atrocious minus-8. Team officials confirmed Friday the Sedins battled a stomach flu during the Anaheim series.

Other players didn't step up. Naslund scored goals in three games against the Ducks but at other times was invisible. Brendan Morrison had one goal in the playoffs.

Injuries took their toll. Physical forwards Matt Cooke and Ryan Kesler were both hurt in the first game of the Dallas series. Gritty Jeff Cowan didn't play the final two games against Anaheim.

Defenceman Sami Salo, Brent Sopel and Kevin Bieksa also missed games.

Vigneault correctly was nominated for the NHL's coach-of-the-year award in his first season in Vancouver. He changed the Canucks from a run-and-gun team to a club that relied on tight defence.

During the season the Canucks were 30-11-7 in games decided by a single goal. After a slow start, Vancouver was 32-8-6 after Christmas.

Vigneault has raised expectations for next season. To meet those, the Canucks will need changes in leadership and more scoring support for Luongo.



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