VANCOUVER – Oh, Vancouver Canucks, how the hockey gods hate thee. Let us count the ways.
Actually, even on a website, we haven’t room for that full list because the Canucks have gone 47 years without winning a Stanley Cup and even before playing their first National Hockey League game lost a roulette wheel spin that sent Dale Tallon to Vancouver and Gilbert Perreault to Buffalo.
The Canucks are 0-3 in Stanley Cup finals and twice have lost Game 7s. And even when they are awful, like the last two seasons, the hockey gods still snicker and connive and bounce Vancouver down the draft order so the team gets Olli Juolevi instead of, say, Patrik Laine.
But even by the gods’ malevolent standards, the last three weeks have seemed extraordinarily cruel to an organization that was finally moving in the right direction for the first time since blowing the 2011 Stanley Cup against the Boston Bruins.
First, heart-and-soul winger Derek Dorsett was abruptly forced into retirement by back injuries. First-line forwards Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi soon followed key centre Brandon Sutter out of the lineup with long-term injuries. Then vital defenceman Chris Tanev went down.
And none of that seemed as dispiriting as the sight Sunday of Calder Trophy candidate Brock Boeser, the Canucks’ leading scorer and their best rookie since Pavel Bure rocketed to stardom a generation ago, crawling to the bench after being felled by a shot.
Boeser hobbled down the tunnel and was not seen again until after the Canucks disintegrated and lost 6-1 Sunday to the Calgary Flames. Boeser emerged from the dressing room with crutches and a walking boot on his injured foot.
Vancouver coach Travis Green had no immediate timeline for Boeser’s absence. But his exit from the ice – and failure to return – were excruciating and ominous to a fanbase that through a bleak December was able to rally itself with only one hopeful cry: “At least we still have Brock Boeser.”
And now he’s gone, too.
“You’re obviously worried,” Canuck defenceman Troy Stecher, Boeser’s teammate and friend from the University of North Dakota, said of the 20-year-old winger who leads Vancouver with 17 goals and 30 points in 31 games. “He’s a heckuva hockey player, having a helluva season. To see him down and struggling to get to the bench, it’s kind of like: ‘Another one? Holy smokes, when is this going to end?’ Baertschi, Bo, Sutter, Tanny, Dorsett. It’s piling up. Deep down it might be good for the team – show our character, show who we are. But it’s tough.”
We can only suppose referees Kevin Pollock and T.J. Luxmore figured Boeser must have been faking it as the rookie used his good leg like a gondolier’s pole to propel himself on one knee 100 feet across the ice while the Flames attacked.
“I wish they would have blown the whistle,” coach Green said. “I just hoped he wasn’t hurt. Obviously, he is. It’s another (challenge); that’s for sure.”
“If you look at the forwards who are out, they’re the guys who eat up the most ice time,” veteran Canuck Daniel Sedin said. “That makes it tough. But like I’ve said before, we have to accept the challenge. We’ve got to try to enjoy the challenge.
“It’s important that each and every guy just worry about themselves. I’m going to do my job. You can’t try to do other guys’ jobs. Worry about yourself and do your job and, as a group, we’ll be OK.”
But so far, they haven’t been.
Since top centre Horvat suffered a broken foot on an innocuous-looking brush with the boards late in a 3-0 home win against Carolina on Dec. 5, the Canucks are 1-5 and have been outscored 26-6 in the losses. Vancouver has won just six of 17 games (6-8-3) at Rogers Arena this season.
Everything after Sunday’s injury seemed anti-climatic for the Canucks, which was good because the Flames pumped in four second-period goals after Boeser was injured. Calgary outshot Vancouver 38-17, including 19-4 in the third period.
Fittingly, it was Mark Giordano who did the most damage. It was his shot about 15 seconds after the first intermission that injured Boeser, and Giordano then led the offensive attack by scoring twice for the Flames, who got a goal and three assists from Sam Bennett.
The dreadful loss came two home games after the Canucks were beaten 7-1 on Wednesday by the Nashville Predators. So, we have little choice but to treat Vancouver’s 4-3 overtime win Friday against the San Jose Sharks as an anomaly – a dead-cat bounce.
The Flames haven’t been much better, except when facing the Canucks twice in the last eight nights. They are 1-4-2 in their last seven games against other teams.
The Montreal Canadiens visit Vancouver on Tuesday. And after that, the Canucks get the Sharks again, the St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks.
“I think guys believe in themselves,” Green said of the overwhelming adversity. “No one wants a teammate to get hurt. Guys are aware of where we’re at with injuries, but they also know it’s opportunity as well. And they look forward to those challenges. Each individual, they want opportunity.”
The Canucks, then, are a land of opportunity. Just don’t expect many wins or any help from the gods.