VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Now the soul-searching begins for the Vancouver Canucks.
A season that began with considerable hype and hope ended Sunday in disappointment and dismay. The Canucks lost 2-1 in overtime to the Los Angeles Kings, falling in five games in the opening round of the playoffs.
The underdog Kings qualified for the playoffs in the final days of the regular season, even as Vancouver was finishing with the most points in the league. But they beat a favored Canucks squad in short order.
"We're all very disappointed with how things turned out right now, and (we're) just going to step back and figure things out," coach Alain Vigneault said.
The early elimination was a sharp contrast to what Vigneault and general manager Mike Gillis expected at the outset of the season. The Canucks were coming off a seventh-game loss to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals, and management felt minor offseason moves and the early-season addition of David Booth in a trade with Florida could help them earn the additional win.
But questions about the team's ability to get back to the final dogged the Canucks for much of the season, and they couldn't produce an adequate response at the most critical time.
The club overcame a slow start as No. 1 goaltender Roberto Luongo went through his usual October funk, center Ryan Kesler missed the first five games while recovering from hip surgery and others struggled due to a Stanley Cup hangover.
Luongo regained his form as the club won 17 of 25 games before Christmas. When Luongo went down with an injury between late November and early December, backup Cory Schneider played the first prolonged stretch of his NHL career and won six of seven games.
There were some early signs of trouble, too. Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who each captured the NHL scoring title the previous two seasons, respectively, struggled to put up points with the same consistency.
In January, the Sedins' difficulties were hidden by a continued run of success. The Canucks went into Boston early in the month and beat the Bruins 4-3 with Schneider in goal.
Vancouver scored on four of 11 power-play opportunities in that game. Players, coaches, management and fans hoped the win over Boston was a sign the Canucks had what they needed to get back to the Stanley Cup finals.
The Canucks continued to win, but the power play declined considerably. By the end of February, the Sedins' scoring difficulties were felt more profoundly as their teammates failed to pick up the slack.
A lone bright spot was center Cody Hodgson, a fan favorite who became a mainstay on the second power-play unit. He was emerging as a potential rookie-of-the-year candidate before unexpectedly being dealt to Buffalo just before the Feb. 27 trade deadline.
However, the deal, designed to give the Canucks two distinct scoring lines and two well-defined checking units, had little offensive impact.
When Daniel Sedin was sidelined with a concussion after being elbowed by Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith, a resurgent Henrik Sedin made up for his brother's absence. Vancouver won eight of its last nine games to clinch the top spot in the West and first overall again.
However, only one of the wins down the stretch came against a playoff team — ironically the Kings.
In the playoffs, the Canucks lost all three games at Rogers Arena. Vancouver dropped the first two while going 0 for 4 on the power play and allowing two short-handed goals.
Vigneault replaced Luongo with Schneider for the final three games. Schneider was steady while going 1-2, but the move merely raised questions about Luongo's future.
More importantly, it didn't resolve Vancouver's main problem — a continued lack of scoring.
"Both of our goaltenders did what they were supposed to do," said Vigneault. "They gave us a chance to win.
"Unfortunately, the rest of our game wasn't good enough."