So here we are, the last game of the season complete, our beloved Vancouver Canucks left exactly where they were this last year to the day. So why do I feel so much more content this time around?
I'll tell you why. Make no mistake: Chicago was the better team in these playoffs, but our potential for even an upset went out the window when Dustin Byfuglien took Alex Edler out of the game. With Edler gone, and Salo playing like a ghost of himself (just as he appears), Kevin Bieksa became our number one defenseman, playing the wrong side. Shane O'Brien became our number three.
We all saw what happened with that. Bieksa is a mistake-prone, high-risk kind of guy on any given night, but on Tuesday night, he was exhausted, overworked, taxed, and the mental errors finally began to pile up. Credit to Chicago for tightening up and pouncing on an exhausted Vancouver defense. There was nothing we could do. Imagine, momentarily, that the Blackhawks had lost Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. I submit that they would lose. Well, while Mitchell, Salo, and Edler are not those guys, they are the best defensemen on our team, and without them, we are drastically worse.
Put aside that shoddy argument about Vigneault dressing seven defensemen. It wouldn't have made a difference. What was Lawrence Nycholat going to give us? Was he going to replace Edler, Mitchell, or Salo? No. You live and die with your best players, and tonight it was fatal. It's not Luongo's fault. He wasn't the best goalie in this series, but, again, Andrew Alberts finished this series at #4 on the depth chart. Bad defense will turn even the best goalies into mediocre ones after awhile. Luongo made more amazing saves in the first period than I can remember. Consider how many great scoring chances Chicago got in the game. That Bobby Lu only let in five is--regrettably--impressive. When he said about as much, the media crucified him. Give it a break, guys. What do you want? More tears? The team had nothing left, and for once, they feel like they did all they could.
That's what I got from the aftermath of this game: a disappointed team consoling themselves with the knowledge it wouldn't have turned out any other way. As a resigned fatalist, I recognize you can't fight the present. It just is. And the Canucks seemed of a similar mind. How are you supposed to stifle the best offense in the league when your best defensive defenseman is injured and your best defensive forward is playing injured? Ryan Kesler was not even close to regular-season form for most of the playoffs. (Consolation: he still put up nearly a point a game--the kid's a player.) The shoulder injury we found out about after the loss explains the step back his play took.
I'm content because we lost, and not because we suddenly fell apart. It's because we deserved to lose. Chicago is a fantastic team (full of gutless pukes, yes, but fantastic), and we had nothing left to give them. They deserve to be the team looking ahead. We deserve to be the team looking inward. So we look to the offseason, which should be interesting. Gillis has some huge choices to make, especially regarding who comes back. He's got some young prospects who could make a difference, he got a little bit of wiggle room with the cap, and he's got a core in place that should let him focus on the potholes rather than the direction of the street.
No bullet points from me today. We all saw the same series, the same season, the same hockey team, and nothing much changed in that final game. Kyle Wellwood was frustratingly brilliant. For better or worse, Shane O'Brien has become our emotional barometer. The Sedins were neutralized.
Whatever, though. Enjoy your offseason, Canucks fans. If, like me, you find yourself a little lost, sports-wise, I highly recommend giving the Suns-Lakers series a chance. Should be good. We'll be reporting on it a little. The World Cup starts in about a month if you can sit on your hands until then. Stay away from baseball. It's worse than ever.
And what of Pass it to Bulis? Well, we've really enjoyed our first year here, and we'll be with you all season long next time around. As for the offseason, we've got a lot planned. We'll still be reporting Canucks news, large (the draft, free agency) and small (you know, piddly blog crap), and we'll be giving our measured take on GM MG's big decisions. Look for a biweekly video blog where Skeeter and I debate the issues.
So please, bookmark us, add us to readers, tell your friends about us, do whatever. Just make sure you don't forget about us, because we'll still be here and we'd hate to lose you.
Until next year.