By Allan Muir
Three teams in NHL history have climbed back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series in seven games.
It’s a pretty good bet the Vancouver Canucks won’t be the fourth.
The Canucks changed netminders, switched up their defensive pairings and may even have even poured a tiny glass of rum for Jobu. But the same problem that led to losses in the first two games — a pronounced inability to score — was again the prime culprit in a 5-2 Game 3 defeat suffered at the hands of the San Jose Sharks.
Here are some takeaways from a lopsided Sunday night contest that has the third-seeded Canucks on the brink of elimination:
• Very revealing stat from TSN’s Craig Button: Since taking a 2-0 series lead on the Boston Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, the Canucks have gone 2-11 in the playoffs, getting outscored 44-16 along the way. Allowing an average of 3.38 goals per game in the playoffs is probably not a fruit-bearing path, but scoring just 1.23 goals is definitely the road to ruin. The Canucks have scored just five times in this series, and while the proficient play of Antti Niemi deserves some credit, it’s Vancouver’s willingness to settle for long-range or odd-angle bids rather than drive the net or battle for the territory down low that prevents them from mustering a serious attack. Just look at the distances (in feet) traveled by Vancouver’s 14 first period shots: 60, 47, 55, 42, 6, 11, 57, 53, 49, 58 and 13. That’s just three from something resembling scoring range, and all of those were generated by third liners Zack Kassian and Derek Roy. When the game was there to be seized, the Sedins, Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows were content to stay on the fringes…when they were involved at all. And that’s why the Canucks are going down so meekly.
• While the Canucks can’t get one line on a roll, the Sharks are getting offense from three units in the series. Logan Couture, who looks more like an Olympian with every game, had two goals and two assists to pace San Jose’s attack. Joe Pavelski, who’s been dynamite since being moved to the third line, also had a pair of tallies. Couture also went a ridiculous 15-3 on the draws to pace a solid 58 percent effort from San Jose’s centers. No surprise that starting with the puck has played a big role in their success in this series.
• The Sharks won the special teams battle again, scoring three times on the power play and blanking the Canucks with their Larry Robinson-inspired penalty kill. Not to overshadow that success, but the number of opportunities each team had might be more telling. Vancouver was limited to just two chances, both in the first period and both when they were either tied or down by one. A goal in either situation could have changed the complexion of the game, but they failed to take advantage of the opportunity. And they failed to play in a way in the second and third frames that might have forced San Jose to take penalties. They were simply too easy to play against. The Sharks had eight chances with the extra man, including four in the third that helped them blow the game open. They earned those chances the hard way, forcing fouls by heading to the net with purpose. That’s a page out of the San Jose playbook they should probably steal.
• Of course, it always comes back to goaltending in Vancouver, and a guy who gives up five goals on just 28 shots is up for some scrutiny. Schneider played well enough for 40 minutes, especially for a player so recently recovered from a mysterious “body injury.” But the wheels came off early in the third period when he allowed two goals in nine seconds, and a third just over two minutes later, turning a fairly close contest into a rout. The first of those, scored by Couture, was the killer, a power play softie from the left side that Schneider just misplayed. He’s usually someone who can put a bad one behind him, but his body language suggested that one got to him. He hadn’t yet recovered when Patrick Marleau made it 4-1 seconds later, and when Couture scored his second of the night it was obvious he was done. Vigneault was forced to put in Luongo to stop the bleeding and open himself up to the controversy of who starts in Game 4. On the bright side, it may well be the last goaltending decision he has to make as coach of the Canucks.