It is fair to say that the Vancouver Canucks have had very successful regular seasons, finishing at or near the top of the standings the last two years. Unfortunately for the Canucks, it is the playoffs, not the regular season, that decide who walks away with Lord Stanley's Cup. Vancouver has failed to win a Cup since they entered the league in 1970. This gives the Canucks the dubious honour of having the second longest Cup drought in the NHL -- 41 seasons. The Toronto Maple Leafs are tied for the longest, but that is another story. Unlike the Leafs, the Canucks have made it to the Stanley Cup finals three times during their long drought. In 1982, 1994 and most recently in 2011 they failed to beat their opposition in the final series -- twice in the seventh game.
Once again, there will be no parade in Vancouver this year. The team bowed out rather feebly in the hands of the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings in a short five-game series when the Canucks failed to win a single of three home games. After any team loses a first-round playoff series, much scrutiny is heaped upon the team in an attempt to find out what went wrong. When the President's Trophy winner is unceremoniously expelled in the first round, the navel-gazing is doubly urgent. Last season the Canucks made it within one game of the Stanley Cup. This year they managed only one playoff win with a largely unchanged roster. What could possibly account for the difference? Perhaps the biggest single factor was Daniel Sedin's concussion late in the season. Sedin, the team's leading goal scorer at the time, missed the rest of the regular season as well as the crucial first three losses to the Kings.
In the three games without one of Vancouver's dynamic twins, the Canucks managed only four goals and went an astounding 0-14 on the powerplay. In game four, with the Swedish brothers reunited, the powerplay converted on two of three chances and allowed Vancouver to stave off elimination. Even with Daniel Sedin back in the lineup, the chance of coming back from a three-game deficit was slim. For all intents and purposes, the Canucks lost the series in the first three games. A less obvious but equally interesting factor was how both teams finished their respective regular seasons. Specifically, the quality of competition in the last 10 games for each team was very different. Vancouver played only two games against playoff teams while Los Angeles played six.
The Kings were also a team fighting to make the top eight while the Canucks had finished first in the west. Vancouver still won eight of their last 10 games, but there is no doubt the intensity was pale in comparison to the Kings's fight for the post- season. Lastly, it is important to give credit to the opposition. There is no doubt the Kings roster is a stellar one. With the likes of Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, their offence is explosive.
The Kings's blue line features stalwart defenceman Drew Doughty who was solid throughout the series. Having Vezina Trophy nominee Jonathan Quick between the pipes -- boasting a save percentage of .948 and a goals against average of 1.62 -- all but sealed Vancouver's fate. Now that the Kings have swept the second-seeded St. Louis Blues, they are through to the conference finals against the upstart Phoenix Coyotes who brushed aside the Nashville Predators four games to one.
By taking all these factors into account, the surprising first round exit of the top regular season team becomes easier to comprehend. As the Canucks start their golf season early, management is unquestionably considering big changes to a team that added another year to Vancouver's seasons as a franchise without a championship.