The Heritage Classic between the Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators closed out this year's series of specialty NHL games. Though rain spoiled the BC Place game from being an outdoor one, the fact it was played at such a stadium indoors was a unique occurrence for the league. It didn't have snow, it didn't have frigid weather and it didn't have palm trees. But the Heritage did have drama - all around the Canucks.
Both teams came into the game sitting on the wrong side of the playoff line. Ottawa was chasing Toronto and Detroit and had only managed to win four of their past 10 games. Their Olympic break was book-ended with 7-2 and 6-1 losses to Boston and Detroit. With three teams separating the Senators from a wild card position, they were entering a dangerous zone, where hopes can start fading fast. Vancouver came out of the Olympic break with a 1-0 win against St. Louis that snapped a seven-game losing streak. Despite this, the Canucks had a chance to grab possession of the final wild card berth in the West with a win in the Heritage Classic.
But Vancouver coach John Tortorella caused quite a stir by deciding to start Eddie Lack in net over Roberto Luongo for the spectacle game. Lack had been the better netminder lately, but Luongo had yet to get into a game after coming back from Sochi. Naturally, given this team's recent history, focus turned to the franchise's goaltending priorities and questioned whether another positional controversy was under way. On top of the uneasiness in net is the unknown surrounding Ryan Kesler and whether or not he truly wants out of Vancouver. If he does want out, he didn't show it at BC Place. Even though Kesler didn't get a point, he had four hits and four shots in 25:01 of ice time.
A big performance would go a long way for a fading team like Vancouver, so the start couldn't have been any better for them. After Jason Garrison started the scoring with a power play marker less than five minutes into the game, Zack Kassian scored with a nice wrist shot off a turnover. The first period was barely more than halfway over and the Canucks already had a 2-0 lead. But then things got much worse...
The Senators scored two of their own in the back half of the first period to send the game into a first intermission tie. But it didn't stop there. In the second period, Daniel Sedin was injured in a collision with Marc Methot and was forced to leave the game. There was no call on the play - in fact, the Senators got two scoring chances going the other way. The Canucks offense, which was the roster strong point in its heyday, has been in trouble this season. The Canucks have only eight goals in their past seven games and overall, they rank 27th. If Sedin is out for a prolonged period, darker days are ahead.
It wasn't a very smooth day for Lack, either. By simply playing well of late and being given this symbolic start, he's inserted into a brand new Vancouver goalie controversy. When he was introduced as the starter Sunday, the crowd hollered a distinct ""Luuu" chant in support of the guy with the untradeable contract on the bench. Here Lack is being run into by Clarke MacArthur. Lack turned aside 24 of 27 shots in the loss - an .889 save percentage.
Colin Greening's empty net goal in the third period may have sealed the deal, but this Cody Ceci snipe from the second period stood as the game-winner. It will also likely stand as the goal that got Roberto Luongo a start in Vancouver's next game in Phoenix. It was the rookie Ceci's second goal of the season and second game-winning goal.
Remember this one from earlier in the season?
With the loss, the Canucks remained tied in points with Winnipeg and Dallas in the final wild card position, seven points back of seventh-placed Minnesota. Ottawa's two points puts them three points behind Detroit and Washington for the final playoff spot and tied with New Jersey. Both teams have roster concerns heading down the stretch and if the right steps aren't taken, Vancouver and Ottawa could find themselves on the outside looking in when April comes around.
The trade deadline is only three days away.
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