VANCOUVER — For the second straight night, a team with something to win was too good for the team with merely something to prove.
There have been a lot of lost weekends during the Vancouver Canucks’ unsuccessful five-decade search for the Stanley Cup. This one extinguished the last, faint embers of their miniscule playoff hopes, as Sunday’s bleak 5-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets piled on top of Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to the Calgary Flames.
This was the Canucks’ last stand.
There was honour in their effort on Saturday, battling to the end against the superior Flames in a taut, playoff-type game. But there was nothing noble about Sunday’s defeat.
After a good first period was undone by a bad goal-against that gave the Blue Jackets the lead, the Canucks stopped competing in the second period and were bystanders in the third, managing only four shots on net.
With the gimme, the Blue Jackets closed within two points of the Montreal Canadiens in the race for the final playoff spot in the National Hockey League’s Eastern Conference. The Flames lead the Western Conference.
The way the Canucks played the final 40 minutes on Sunday, they wouldn’t beat anyone in the league.
Vancouver’s best player was probably defenceman Luke Schenn, a minor-league call-up who is trying to save his NHL career. Schenn logged 12 hits. The Blue Jackets had nine.
But with former Canucks coach John Tortorella behind the Columbus bench, we were reminded what he famously said about David Booth being Vancouver’s best player during a loss in Detroit: “Good for him but not good for us.”
It is not good if Luke Schenn is your best player. By the end of the night, the bottom of the Canucks’ Corsi page was clogged with most of Vancouver’s most-skilled forwards. Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, Nikolay Goldobin and Sven Baertschi — both just back in the lineup — all saw shot attempts go against them by 2-1 margins as the Blue Jackets dominated.
“I thought we had a good first period,” veteran Canucks centre Jay Beagle said. “We stayed direct and played within our system. The second period was bad, obviously. We got away from our game and they stayed structured. We didn’t compete as hard as we needed to and that was the difference.”
Winger Josh Anderson, who crushed top Canuck defenceman Alex Edler in the numbers without penalty on an early boarding, had two goals and an assist for Columbus, which scored twice in the second period and added two more in the third.
Anderson’s short-side knuckleball that beat Canuck goalie Thatcher Demko at 16:19 of the first period turned out to be the game-winner, as Vancouver was shut out for an NHL-leading 10th time this season.
“We’ve worked really hard this year in a lot of games and we’re starting to build an identity for our team,” Canucks leader Bo Horvat said. “Tonight wasn’t ourselves and that’s unacceptable. We have to be better here in the last six games.”
Asked if Saturday’s emotional loss, which dropped the Canucks six points adrift of the last playoff spot out west, had dispirited the team, Horvat said: “You try not to think about it. Obviously the game against Calgary was a big game, a must-win. Every game at the end we had to win basically. It was kind of a letdown, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for us tonight. We just weren’t good enough.”
The return to the lineup of Baertschi and Goldobin spectacularly failed to rouse the Canucks, who also drew no energy from Demko replacing starter Jacob Markstrom in goal, nor defenceman Derrick Pouliot getting another chance to play.
Baertschi, the first-line winger, had missed 53 games this season, including the last 23, due to a concussion. Goldobin sat out the last four after coach Travis Green yanked the winger from the lineup for the sixth time this season.
Baertschi failed to register a shot in 16:48 of ice time and was on the ice for three of the five Columbus goals, all scored at even strength. Goldobin managed one shot in 16:33 of ice time.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had an injury for that long,” Baertschi said. “Coming back, you realize how fast the game is again. There’s a lot of things I had to get used to today but the first one is over. Missing that many games is not easy. I just want to come back and help the team, play as good as I can and regain that confidence out there.”
Baertschi has two years left on his contract and the only issue about his future with the Canucks is his health. Goldobin, however, is a restricted free agent after this season and it seemed he might have played his final game in Vancouver until Josh Leivo reported to the rink Sunday feeling ill.
“I was just waiting; I couldn’t do anything,” Goldobin, who has two goals in his last 32 games, said of sitting out. “It is hard, but I try and stay positive. I wasn’t playing, but I was working hard in practice. Just trying to help the team. Do my best.”
The only guy who did that on Sunday was Schenn, the 29-year-old who was sent to the minors this season for the first time in his career but was rescued by the Canucks in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks.
“I just tried to bring something different, I guess, to the table,” Schenn said of his robust game. “Teams like Calgary, Columbus … these teams are too good for us not to be dialled in for the full 60 minutes. You see what happens when you’re not. We’ve got to learn from it. We’ve got another huge week ahead of us.”
The Canucks’ draft-lottery rivals, Anaheim and Los Angeles, visit Rogers Arena Tuesday and Thursday.