VANCOUVER -- The entire city wanted to believe. Who didn't? But down 3-1 in the first round of the NHL playoffs, the Presidents' Cup-winning Vancouver Canucks didn't look too solid heading into overtime in Game 5 at home, especially after giving up the tying goal to the Los Angeles Kings early in the third period.
And any belief the Vancouver fans -- or players, for that matter -- still held as the Kings continued to outshoot the Canucks throughout what led to the third straight Vancouver home playoff loss totally evaporated when Jarret Stoll beat Cory Schneider on a 2-on-1 just over four minutes into overtime, giving the eighth-seeded Kings a 2-1 victory and a 4-1 series win.
"It was a quick ending," said Canucks captain Henrik Sedin. "That is a tough one to take."
Brother Daniel put it more bluntly: "Devastating," he said. "It is always tough to lose, whether the seventh game in the finals or the fifth in the first round. It was a frustrating series."
The Sedin twins would know, having been eliminated in both ways the last two seasons, the last two years that the Canucks have proved the best regular-season team is not always the best in the playoffs.
Add this frustration to the fan anger of last year, and the city of Vancouver showed why it didn't have much belief during this playoff series.
Where the normally hockey-crazy city -- the Canucks' 407th straight sellout is the third-longest streak in all of professional sports -- would expect to be on the verge of advancing to the second round of the playoffs, those quietly entering Rogers Arena on Sunday were just hoping for something to believe in, something that would translate to a crunch-time win. Maybe it was the return of Daniel Sedin from injury. Maybe it was second-year goaltender Cory Schneider showing the promise and drive the fans felt was lacking from starter Roberto Luongo. Maybe it was a power play that could resurrect the woeful Vancouver offense. All those possibilities looked, well, believable in the first period of Game 5. And even the second period.
But the third period erased a lot of belief, churned up frustration normally reserved for Luongo and prompted a video-board reminder that "this is our home, please celebrate responsibly" -- which leaves you wondering if people in the building were reading it simply as code for, "now that the game is tied 1-1, when we lose, please don't riot again."
Trying to become only the fourth team in NHL history to climb back from a 3-0 playoff series deficit, the Canucks' pregame video celebrated the return of Daniel Sedin for Game 4. Then, the fans celebrated Daniel in the first period, after his assist found brother Henrik wide open for a power-play goal. The Henrik Sedin goal was only his second of the series and only the third power-play goal for the Canucks in the five games (they were 2-for-27 going in and had allowed as many short-handed goals as power-play scores). The 1-0 lead held up through the second period too, when Schneider brought the towel-waving fans to their feet with a fanciful glove save midway through the period.
But the third period is where the faith in the Canucks started dissipating. The Kings kept wracking up a larger shots-on-goal advantage over the Canucks (37-27 for the contest) and Brad Richardson's first goal of the playoffs tied things up early in the period.
A Los Angeles shot clanged off Schneider's post midway through the third period and a here-we-go-again attitude was obvious. The Canucks showed they wouldn't simply fade away, though, mustering chances late in the game and even in overtime. But it took less than five minutes into OT for Stoll to answer the question of whether or not the Canucks had enough to mount a monster comeback, converting a turnover in the Vancouver zone into a series-winning shot.
"It was my job to take the shooter and he made a great shot over my shoulder," Schneider said.
With chances to take a two-goal lead slipping away throughout the first and second period, Schneider said the team still didn't let it mentally frustrate them. "When you don't get that second goal, they hang around," he said. "We tried to press, but we didn't get that goal. But we weren't tight. We weren't nervous. We didn't panic."
Even if the team wasn't panicking, you can certainly bet the fans were -- even before the game.
Sure, this was no Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals (there was no Cup in the building, after all), but even with elimination on the line for the top seed in the Western Conference, Vancouver fans didn't show much exuberance and made Sunday's game feel like a preseason contest in comparison to how the building felt last June.
There was no party on the streets on this warm Sunday evening, just quiet walks toward the arena. There was no palatable excitement in the building, just some trepidation (and a faint smell of hope). And even while the first period provided some reason for belief with a 1-0 lead and the knowledge that the slightly balding fan sitting behind the Vancouver bench with No. 1 jersey had about as much of a chance to get in the game as the former starting goalie sitting all alone a row in front, not much about that third period or overtime let that belief grow.
And if after the game the focus was on that overtime goal that flipped in and crushed the Canucks, even the players were quick to point out that losing the first two games of a series at home all but does you in. "If you give away two games as we did at home, playing the way we did, if you give them away it is tough to win," said Henrik Sedin.
Maybe that is the real reason there was no belief in Vancouver tonight. What did fans have to believe in? A 3-1 series deficit with last season's Cup loss wounds still fresh and winless home playoff record hardly elicits faith.