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Gratitude and excitement during the regular season has quickly turned to condemnation for the Vancouver Canucks



In Canadian hockey circles, gratitude and excitement turns to condemnation and concern pretty darn fast. 


This, of course, is not new. Still, every spring, it’s striking how quickly


Canada’s NHL fan bases either get alarmed by playoff setbacks, or choose to turn the negative focus on one or two players.


This spring, many Maple Leafs observers have been slamming Mitch Marner for his performances in Games 1 and 2 against Boston,


and questioning William Nylander for missing the first three games of the series with an undisclosed injury.


In Winnipeg, all-star goaltender Connor Hellebuyck is being pilloried in some corners for allowing 10 goals in two games to high-powered Colorado.


Out west in Vancouver, meanwhile, a come-from-behind win in Game 1 against Nashville was followed up by a Game 2 defeat in which the Canucks for the most part outplayed the Predators. But still lost.


When it was over, Vancouver had managed 84 shot attempts to just 36 for Nashville.


But only 18 of those ‘Nucks attempts reached the Nashville net, illustrating the Preds commitment to blocking shots and taking away shooting lanes.


“I see a yellow jersey in the way,” said frustrated Vancouver centre J.T. Miller when asked what he was seeing on the ice against Nashville’s rope-a-dope tactics.


Now, if there’s an NHL city in Canada that should be feeling nothing but gratitude toward its hockey team, it should be Vancouver.


After missing the playoffs in seven of the previous eight seasons, and finishing sixth in the eight-team Pacific Division last season,


the Canucks roared to a 50-win, 109-point campaign this year and won the division.


The 26-point turnaround was the best of any Canadian team. Still, the 4-1 loss to the Preds in Game 2 resulted in a wave of criticism, fear-mongering and questioning by Vancouver loyalists and pundits, including:


A good deal of uncertainty regarding No. 1 goalie Thatcher Demko, who missed much of the final part of the season, reappeared for Game 1 against


Nashville and is now out again on a “week-to-week” basis with an undisclosed injury. Head coach Rick Tocchet said it was not a reoccurrence of the same injury.


• Unhappiness with the performance of star forward Elias Pettersson,


who signed an eight-year, $92.8-million (U.S.) contract with the team last month but went pointless in the first two games against Nashville.


Pettersson missed an open net in the dying seconds of the first period of Game 2, then later committed an awful turnover at his own blueline that led to Nashville’s third goal.


“I put us in a bad spot with my mistake on their third goal, that can’t happen.


If I score in the first it’s a 1-1 game, different outlook,” Pettersson said afterwards. “I’m always my biggest critic and I take a lot of blame for this one.”


• Some rare mistakes by captain Quinn Hughes late in Game 2.


Hughes took a late tripping penalty to slow what appeared to be a surging Canucks comeback attempt. Then, with the Vancouver net empty,


Hughes was outskated and outmuscled by Preds winger Kiefer Sherwood along the boards, allowing Sherwood to ease the fourth Nashville goal into the unguarded Vancouver net.


Demko, Pettersson and Hughes are key members of the Vancouver core,


along with Miller, who has one point in the playoffs so far despite some dominant possession numbers. Like most teams in today’s NHL,


Vancouver needs its stars to perform for playoff success to be a possibility. With Demko out, more pressure moves to the other top players.


Pettersson seems to be feeling it the most. And drawing the most attention. The 25-year-old has scored 105 goals in the past three seasons


and is generally viewed as a player that must “drive offence” for Vancouver to win hockey games. Against Nashville, he’s been criticized for lacking decisiveness in his play,


either passing off when he should shoot or hesitating when a scoring chance materializes.


“He’s a young kid. This is his first kind of taste of pressure, playoff [pressure], and this is good for him,” said Tocchet.


The series is tied 1-1, and obviously having 32-year-old Casey DeSmith forced into action in place of Demko changes the complexion of the competition.


Still, the Canucks could easily be up 2-0 in the series. So why the hand-wringing?


It’s the history of the team. The Canucks have been in the league since 1970 and have never won the Cup. Three times they’ve gone to the final, three times they’ve lost.


Instead of hoping for the best and planning for the worst, this is a loyal but scarred fan base that believes disaster is always lurking around the corner.


So once again, the Canucks are bathed in doubt rather than awash in optimism after only two games of the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs.


It’s nothing, of course, that a victory in Game 3 on Friday night can’t fix.




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