VANCOUVER – After the Canucks’ lost weekend was capped by Sunday’s shattering collapse in the final eight minutes against Columbus, The Athletic’s playoff-projection model lowered Vancouver’s chances of making the Stanley Cup tournament to 64 per cent.
But this thorough, highly-scientific model fails to factor in a few key elements – like memory, fear, insecurity and angst. When these emotions are inputted, the Canucks playoff chances on Monday felt more like about three per cent or here-we-go-again.
The gnawing sense of impending doom, finely tuned over 50 years in the National Hockey League without a Stanley Cup, is never far from this franchise even when things are good.
Its dogged persistence in the market exasperated previous general manager Mike Gillis, whose teams won five division titles and two Presidents’ Trophies but still blew two chances to win one game for the 2011 Stanley Cup. And it has little to do with current GM Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green, who have transformed the Canucks into a dynamic, up-and-coming team driven by a couple of the best and most exciting young players in the game, supported by some solid, mid-career professionals.
And yet, on Sunday, when the listing Canucks were desperate for points and in complete control of a 3-1 lead late in the third period against the Blue Jackets, whose late surge began with two shots in 12 minutes, Vancouver managed to surrender four goals in the final eight minutes to lose 5-3.
Hello darkness, my old friend.
"These kinds of games just don’t leave you," Green admitted. "I think it’s good that we have two days off right now to kind of regroup and get a practice under our belt before we play another big game.
"When you play playoff hockey, you’re going to lose a game, you’re going to lose a game in overtime. And you’ve got to reset and get ready to play. This probably is a lot like that as far as how you feel. It’s like playoff hockey right now, so I’m glad we’ve got a couple of days here."
The team took Monday off — although the coaching staff and team psychologist may have been busy — practise Tuesday in front of the home media and open a four-game homestand Wednesday against the Arizona Coyotes, who have their own problems but are one of the four teams trying to run down the Canucks.
Before the Edmonton Oilers (two points ahead of Vancouver) and Nashville Predators (two points behind) play each other Monday night, the Canucks hold the first wild card spot in the Western Conference and had a two-point playoff cushion. A month ago, it was nine points.
The Canucks are suddenly on a three-game losing streak, part of a 4-7-1 descent over the last 12 games.
What makes these last three feel worse — besides the inconvenient time of year for such a slump — is that it almost perfectly matches the departure from the lineup of starting goalie and most valuable player Jacob Markstrom, who underwent knee surgery last week and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks in total.
The goaltending has been a mess since then and is one more suspect game and loss from becoming a full-blown crisis.
Louis Domingue, the minor-league goalie acquired in a rush before last Monday’s trade deadline just as Markstrom was leaving the team in Montreal, was impressively competent in his Vancouver debut on Sunday right up until he let Zach Werenski’s unscreened 45-footer to go through him for the tying goal with 4:54 remaining.
In Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Thatcher Demko, the elite backup/prospect who has been given the chance to replace Markstrom, allowed his worst goal of the season when Auston Matthews’ unscreened shot from a sharp angle somehow ripped a hole through the goalie’s right pad. Demko also looked suspect on two other Toronto goals that came on open shots from distance.
In Thursday’s 5-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators, Demko opened with a clunker when Connor Brown’s short-side shot rattled through the 23-year-old seven minutes in.
Of course, a lone gunman is never responsible for these things.
Canucks captain Bo Horvat, for example, inexplicably watched Riley Nash skate away from him before scoring the goal that started the Blue Jackets’ comeback at 12:39 of the third period. Veterans Brandon Sutter and Antoine Roussel then took needless penalties the Canucks failed to kill.
And Vancouver’s luck has been as bad as its results. Emil Bemstrom’s game-winner for Columbus skipped into the net off Canucks defenceman Oscar Fantenberg. Crazy bounces off the glass and post led the key goals for the Senators and Leafs.
But the bottom line is Demko and Domingue gets Ds for their combined save percentage of .872 the last three games. The three opposing goalies were .930 against Vancouver shooters.
"There’s nothing to dissect too close," Green said on Sunday. "The game can be cruel sometimes."
Yeah, we know.