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Leadership was lacking

Canucks’ stars were invisible in the Final

By Jeff Z. Klein
The New York Times / June 17, 2011

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The first question on the minds of Vancouver Canucks fans yesterday morning was: What went so terribly wrong in the Stanley Cup Final?

Life returned to normal after a four-hour paroxysm of violence that engulfed the downtown area, when the Canucks lost Game 7 to the Bruins, 4-0. Volunteers swept broken glass from the streets as people walked to work in the cool Pacific sunshine.

The Canucks posted a message on their website yesterday thanking fans for the “pride and passion’’ they showed during the club’s 40th anniversary season.

“The destructive actions and needless violence demonstrated by a minority of people last night in Vancouver is highly disappointing to us all,’’ the message continued.

So what happened to the Canucks, who became the first team in NHL history to lose a playoff series by suffering a shutout on home ice in Game 7?

Injuries played a role, as they always do.

The skating wounded included defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who revealed he was playing with a bad shoulder that will probably require surgery. He finished an appalling minus-13 in the postseason. Defenseman Alexander Edler had two broken fingers.

Ryan Kesler, not wishing to make excuses, did not reveal the nature of his injury to reporters or even to teammates, but teammate Jeff Tambellini said, “I think every stride hurt him.’’

It was probably a groin injury that slowed Kesler, who had been so effective in the first three rounds, when he scored 18 points and was a plus-6. In the Final, though, Kesler accounted for only one assist and went minus-6.

Among the healthy, Roberto Luongo was inconsistent in goal and petulant before the microphones, and certainly suffered in comparison with Boston’s celestial Tim Thomas, the Conn Smythe winner and the best goalie hockey has seen since the heyday of Dominik Hasek.

But Luongo saved the Canucks in their three home victories (1-0, 3-2, 1-0) and was not totally to blame on any of the four goals Vancouver surrendered on the night of truth.

Ultimately, the performance of a team is governed by its leaders, and here the failure of Henrik and Daniel Sedin stands in the starkest light.

Henrik, the captain and the NHL’s leading scorer and Most Valuable Player in 2009-10, had one goal, zero assists, and a minus-7 mark in the Final.

Daniel, the NHL’s leading scorer in 2010-11 and a top candidate for the MVP award to be handed out next week, scored three goals and one assist in the Final, but also went minus-7.

In Game 7, the twins were on the ice for all four goals.

It was the meekness of Daniel’s performance that really stood out. Punched four times in the jaw during a Game 6 scrum by Boston’s aggravating 5-foot-9-inch Brad Marchand, Sedin just stood there and took it, hoping for a penalty call that never came. That is admirable behavior in soccer, where such fouls are called, but not in hockey, where the code of conduct requires a player to at least push back.

Worse, perhaps, was Daniel’s reaction after he said the Canucks would win the series in the aftermath of Game 6.

“We’re going to win Game 7,’’ he said, sounding like a fire-breathing Mark Messier.

But on the morning of Game 7, he backtracked to an almost comical extent.

“You know, that was probably me being excited and the words came wrong out of my mouth,’’ he said. “What I said was if we put our best game on the ice, I like our chances.’’

Hardly the sound of a leader, and it symbolized why the Canucks fell short in Game 7, as they now have a reputation for doing. That failure will frustrate and anger loyal fans, even if it does not provide an excuse to smash car windows and burn police vehicles.

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