April 01 2014 11:54PM
On Tuesday night the Vancouver Canucks welcomed former bench boss Alain Vigneault and his New York Rangers to the friendly, if sparsely attended, confines of Rogers Arena. Vancouver's club played really well against an Eastern Conference team that I personally expect to make the Conference Finals, assuming Ryan McDonagh's apparent shoulder injury isn't too serious, of course.
But despite a Herculean effort from Vancouver's top-line the Canucks lost 3-1 and came undone thanks to some weak special teams play.
Read past the jump for more.
Vancouver's top-line deserves a lot of credit for very probably their best game of the season. Ryan Kesler, Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows suffocated the Rangers whenever they were on the ice, but were unable to get more than a single puck past Henrik Lundqvist. That happens, especially when you're shooting on the best goaltender in hockey.
Still, the Canucks attempted 25 shots with Kesler on the ice at five-on-five on Tuesday night while surrendering just three shot attempts against. That's an insane ratio, and it held steady (more or less) for both Burrows and Sedin. That Vancouver's top-line manhandled a solid McDonagh, Girardi defensive pairing is an excellent sign going forward and suggests that maybe, just maybe, Vancouver's top dogs have some bark left in them yet.
Unfortunately for Vancouver, and stop me if you've heard this one before, the bottom end of their lineup got torn apart by the Rangers supporting pieces. This Canucks club has dealt with a catastrophic lack of depth for several seasons now, an affliction that continued this season (and became pronounced when Henrik Sedin and Mike Santorelli were injured in the same game, by the same player, in mid-January). New York's surprisingly good fourth line of Dan Carcillo, Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett just dismantled the Canucks at even-strength, and were rewarded with the game opening goal.
That first goal was kind of iffy, I'd say. Eddie Lack appeared to have covered the puck, and it's tough to believe that the referees kept sight of it throughout. Still, it's clear that Lack didn't ultimately have control and I'd prefer, frankly, that referees were a little less generous with their whistles in similar situations as a general rule. Whatever, bad breaks happen.
From there the Rangers scored a pretty power-play goal, the result of some nice passing in the offensive zone. Kesler answered to make things interesting in the second period and that's how it remained until the third frame when Vancouver received two straight power-play opportunities and did less than nothing with them. Nothing would've been an improvement on the actual result, actually.
The Canucks surrendered two five-alarm scoring chances on their second of two back-to-back power-play chances, the first a breakaway caused by a Jason Garrison whiff that the Canucks defender only just got back to stop. Vancouver wasn't so lucky on the second such opportunity when Yannick Weber badly misjudged a pinch and sprung Rick Nash and St. Louis, two players who are pretty good, on a two-on-one. Nash set up St. Louis with an early pass and the sniper made no mistake, scoring his first goal as a New York Ranger by roofing the puck past Eddie Lack.
How good is St. Louis that he hadn't scored a goal in 14 games and yet that short-handed, back-breaking tally was his 30th of the season?
Finally, because no Canucks game is complete without a bit of controversy, Burrows finished a hit on McDonagh while the Rangers defender was tied up with Zack Kassian while retrieving a dump in late in the third period. Burrows didn't tag McDonagh from behind, and he didn't appear to hit him in the head. But McDonagh was hurt on the play and Burrows is Burrows, so the Canucks winger was assessed a major penalty and a game misconduct and Rangers fans are thirsty for his blood.
Here's a video of the hit in question:
Generally I'd call the major penalty and a misconduct an overreaction to the hit, maybe even a massive overreaction although it's tough to get worked up about the call late in a decided regular season contest. I'll accept that it was a bit of a cheap hit based on the time left on the game clock and the way McDonagh was already engaged with Zack Kassian, but it's a minor penalty (if that) in my view. Will the league discipline Burrows further? I'd say a fine or a short suspension wouldn't fall way outside what we might reasonably expect, especially if McDonagh is hurt, but I'd be mildly surprised by such an outcome.
With the loss the Canucks are now really, definitely, absolutely not making the postseason. But we've known that for weeks. More important than winning out for a sliver of a prayer of making the playoffs, the Canucks are pretty well poised to make a final Kursk like assault on a top-six pick and more favorable lottery odds.
With 79 points in 77 games the Canucks are within shouting distance of the Nashville's and the Carolina's of the universe, and that might be the difference between drafting a player like Michael Dal Colle or Hayden Fleury, or picking a guy like William Nylander and Robby Fabbri (you'd rather have the former two than the latter). Unlike Michael Dukakis, the Canucks would be well served by getting their tank on.