The Vancouver Canucks might have just hammered the last nail in their own coffin.
After an embarrassing 5-2 loss to the Calgary Flames on Saturday night, the team entered Rogers Arena in a must-win mode on Sunday night, hoping to come away with the much-needed two points against the Buffalo Sabres to keep their slim playoff aspirations alive.
Cue the disappointment.
The Canucks were able to secure one point after bringing the game back to level in the second period, but fell flat in the extra frame, giving up the game-winning goal just 48 seconds in without even touching the puck during that span.
With the loss, Vancouver wrapped up their seven-game homestand with a mediocre record of 2-3-2, including three straight defeats at the end. The team is only four points back of the Vegas Golden Knights for the second and final wild card spot in the Western Conference, but also need to leap frog teams like Winnipeg and Dallas, both of whom have games in hand.
Is there still a mathematical chance that the Canucks could sneak into the playoffs? Technically, yes.
But, at the end of the day, Sunday’s loss should be a huge wake-up call to both the fanbase and the front office that this team is still far away from realistically competing in the postseason.
Let’s start with their first period performance.
After getting outplayed and outhustled to the highest degree in the first period on Saturday night, most fans believed that their team would be able to learn from their mistakes just 24 hours later.
That definitely wasn’t the case on Sunday.
For the third consecutive contest, Vancouver looked lethargic and flat-footed as soon as they hit the ice, surrendering four shots on goals in the opening minutes without even managing one of their own.
The defensive pairing of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers, in particularly, looked extremely out of place in the first period. Despite their early season success, the duo has struggled as of late, and were once again on the receiving end of an opponent’s goal, this time falling victim to a Casey Mittelstadt turnover tally to open the scoring.
Vancouver did manage to slightly turn the momentum back in their favour following the Buffalo goal, but it was very short-lived, as the Sabres once again found a way to create consistent offensive pressure against their sloppy and underwhelming opponents for the rest of the period.
Of course, many of our glass-half-full fans will credit Vancouver’s slow start to their busy schedule, with the team suiting up for their third game in four nights. However, all truly good clubs always find a way to come out strong in the opening minutes, regardless of fatigue (cue the Tampa Bay Lightning during last week’s 2-1 loss), but Sunday’s first period outing just showed that Vancouver doesn’t have what it takes to be that kind of club, no matter where they are in the standings.
Let’s start between the pipes.
Like we’ve seen so often this season, Demko was dialled in from puck drop, single-handedly turning aside Buffalo’s surge in the opening minutes, while also keeping his team within just one goal for the remainder of the period.
The 26-year-old continued his heroics in the middle frame, turning aside nine of 10 shots faced, including this unbelievable two-pad stack save on Zemgus Girgensons in the dying moments of the second period.
Fortunately for Demko, his teammates decided to show up in the third period, only allowing six more shots in the final 20 minutes. It wasn’t the prettiest ending in the extra frame for Demko, who would likely want a redo on that Rasmus Dahlin wrister but, at the end of the day, the Canucks wouldn’t have been able to get the one point had it not been for their netminder.
Same could be said for Miller.
Like Demko, the 29-year-old made sure to carry the team on his back early in the second period, scoring yet another highlight-reel goal to even up the score at 1-1.
Miller’s offensive contributions didn’t stop there, with the former New York Ranger assisting on Bo Horvat’s powerplay goal late in the middle frame to once again help the team bring the game back to level.
Miller almost even secured the two points for Vancouver on his own in the dying moments of the third period, but was foiled by the right pad of Craig Anderson.
Miller finished the contest with two points, one hit and two shots on goal in just over 22 minutes of ice time. He also finished the seven game homestand with three goals and nine assists, proving how valuable he has been to the team in their dwindling push for the playoffs.
Unfortunately, when push comes to shove, the team still needs much more consistency and production from the likes of Horvat, Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Conor Garland, all of whom were streaky at best during the homestand.
Yes, those players did manage to turn up the heat in the third period, finally managing to create quality high-danger scoring chances against their basement-dwelling opponents, but that kind of last-minute effort isn’t nearly good enough at this critical point of the year.
Simply put, the Canucks may have dressed 19 players on Sunday night, but only two of them actually decided to show up in Demko and Miller.
Let’s see if that can change for the remainder of their season.
The Canucks will have a few days off before starting a four-game road trip against Colorado on Wednesday night. Puck drop is set for 6:30pm PST.
What are your thoughts from Sunday’s 3-2 OT loss to Buffalo? Let us know in the comments!