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IWTG: Canucks season ends with a whimper against the Flames

With nothing left in the tank, the Canucks fell 6-2 to the Flames in their final game of the 2020-21 season.
The Vancouver Canucks lost 6-2 to the Calgary Flames in their final game of the 2020-21 season. Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller scored for the Canucks. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, “This is the way the season ends — not with a bang, but a whimper.”

One of the weirdest and worst seasons in Vancouver Canucks’ history came to an end on Wednesday afternoon with a 6-2 loss to the Calgary Flames. To reference another poet, Dylan Thomas, the Canucks went gentle into that good night.

That’s not to say they didn’t put in a good effort. They tried, but they didn’t have much left to give in their 7th game in 10 days. Perhaps they could have willed their bodies to do more, but they were as mentally drained as they were physically fatigued.

“It's just been crazy. It's hard to really describe it,” said J.T. Miller. “Obviously, playing so many games in a shortened season and then with our COVID thing, making it longer, but playing more games in a short amount of time, it's probably been more mentally challenging for me than anything. You're playing a lot of hockey games. Unfortunately, we were down in the standings fairly early and then just chasing it — it was a hard season, it's mentally very taxing.”

Miller compared the mental aspect of the season to something I know pretty well: being a parent.

“Mentally, it's such a test,” he said. “It's kind of like when you have a kid and you don't get any sleep — it's like how you are as a dad in the middle of the night, you know what I mean? It's like, how can you be as a person when nothing's going for us?”

When nothing is going right, whether as a dad or as a professional hockey player, you learn things about yourself that you might not know otherwise. Sometimes you learn good things, inner reserves of strength you didn’t know you had. Sometimes you learn bad things and discover there are areas where you need to improve.

“Last year for me, everything was so smooth — we were having a good year and everything was going easy,” said Quinn Hughes. “And then this year is a little bit more of a learning experience, not just for me but for everyone. I think I learned more this year.”

Will this learning experience make them a better team next season? That may depend on whether people elsewhere in the organization learned anything this season.

As for the players, they head into the offseason, which likely comes as a welcome relief even if it comes earlier than they would like.

“I think we all just need to reset this summer and enjoy our summers and then get back to work,” said Boeser, who confirmed that after getting back to his family, the first place he’s going is “in the lake.”

I’ve been told to go jump in a lake a few times myself. I did my best not to whimper as I watched this game.

  • You could tell nothing was working for the Canucks early when they had just two shots from a forward in the first period, both from Bo Horvat. The team’s three other shots came from defenceman and, as Bette Midler sang, from a distance.
  • Meanwhile, the Flames were all over the Canucks, who couldn’t seem to stop, drop, and roll. Matthew Tkachuk opened the scoring on great play by Johnny Gaudreau, who drove wide around Travis Hamonic then swooped behind the net to feed Tkachuk, who got inside position on Quinn Hughes.
  • Hughes was victimized again on the 2-0 goal when Dillon Dube caught him flat-footed and drove around him to the net before tucking the puck five-hole on Braden Holtby. While plus/minus isn’t the most reliable statistic, Hughes can’t be happy with his team-worst minus-24 this season.
  • “Previous summers, it's always been working on your skill sets and hands and mini-games and everything like that,” said Hughes when asked about what he’ll work on this summer, “but I think this year I'm going to be more specific on stuff that might help me as a defenceman.”
  • It seems pointless to complain about officiating in such a mean-nothing game, but it was still frustrating to see both Kole Lind and Nils Höglander get injured by high sticks — Lind chipped a tooth! — with no penalties called. 
  • Chris Tanev pitched in on the 3-0 goal before the end of the first period. He stole the puck from Nate Schmidt with an alert play inside his own blue line, then led the rush up ice. Two passes later, Mikael Backlund threw a shot on net and Andrew Mangiapane cleaned up the rebound.
  • After Brett Ritchie made it 4-0, Horvat replied on the power play. Jack Rathbone started the play with a fake slap shot that he turned into a crisp pass to Boeser. Jacob Markstrom expected Boeser to shoot, but he instead sent a one-touch pass to Horvat in the slot, who fired it home for his 19th of the season.
  • A minute later, the Canucks got within two. Tyler Myers moved down the boards, prompting Boeser to cover for him at the point. Boeser proved that he knows how to get a shot through traffic, flinging a wrist shot towards the net where Miller tipped it down past Markstrom. Like heating your eyelash curler with a blowdryer before applying mascara, it was a beauty tip. 
  • One minute later, the Flames cut short the comeback attempt and restored the three-goal lead. Tanev sent Gaudreau into the offensive zone with a cross-ice pass and he found Tkachuk off the rush, who swept it past a sliding Holtby. As much as I’ve liked Rathbone in his few games, his gap on Tkachuk was wider than a Caesar Bed. That’s definitely an area in need of improvement.
  • A successful coach’s challenge for offside negated a sixth Flames goal in the second period, but they still made it 6-2 in the third. Connor Mackey got his first career goal, finishing off a bad rebound from Holtby on the rush.
  • Sometimes on a scoring chance, a player manages to hit both posts. Usually, they do so with the puck. Not J.T. Miller, who hit one post with the puck and the other post with his gut. Inexplicably, despite the very obvious trip, there was no penalty on the play.
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  • I felt for poor Will Lockwood in this moment late in the game. He just wanted to get to the bench for a line change after a long shift stuck in the defensive zone, but his stick was stuck under Chris Tanev’s arm. Eventually, he had to give up and leave his stick behind, like Rose saying she’ll never let Jack go as she literally lets him go.
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  • That’s it, that’s all. The season is over. Finally. It’s been mentally draining writing about these last games, so I can’t imagine how mentally draining it must be to play them. Thanks for reading all season — I greatly appreciate you all. Here’s to the summer, here’s to the offseason, and here’s to better days ahead. Cheers.