The Vancouver Canucks' bubble has been popped.
After getting through the Minnesota Wild in the play-in round and then cruising past the defending champion St. Louis Blues in the Round of 16, the Canucks' postseason run finally came to an end at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday night. That series vs. Vegas went the full seven games, which is further than most expected it to -- especially after the Canucks fell into a 3-1 series hole.
But, ultimately, the Golden Knights prevailed and will be heading to the Western Conference Finals for the second time in their three-year history. So, where did things go wrong for Vancouver? Let's examine.
There's really only place to start with this series, and it's with the 5-on-5 possession numbers, which are pretty stunning. It's almost a miracle that the Canucks even forced seven games considered how outplayed they were at even strength. I mean, they absolutely stole Game 6 (and by "they" I mean Thatcher Demko) and had a real shot to steal Game 7 too, so this series had quite a weird finish.
Here are some 5-on-5 series stats real quick, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick:
- Shot attempts: 414 - 256 Vegas
- Shots on goal: 210 - 117 Vegas
- High-danger chances: 78-48 Vegas
- Expected goals: 16.89 - 8.85 Vegas
- Goals: 12 - 8 Vegas
It's hard to win a seven-game series when you don't have the puck and can't sustain pressure at 5-on-5, and that was a problem for the Canucks here. Vegas is an elite forechecking team that loves to apply pressure anywhere and everywhere, and Vancouver just seemed like they had a lot of trouble dealing with the Golden Knights' speed and tenacity on the puck. The Canucks struggled to get clean zone entries, they struggled to get shots off and they struggled to counter Vegas with that same sort of pressure.
In a do or die Game 7, Vegas held Vancouver to just 14 total shots on goal -- including just six through the first 40 minutes.
Vegas just sort of outmatched Vancouver for much of this series and the Canucks couldn't seem to do a lot about it. Their goalies were under siege from the get-go and if it weren't for the unreal play of Thatcher Demko, who made his first career playoff start in Game 5 and stuck around through the rest of the series, this probably would have been over a lot sooner.
Underperforming power play
If you're not going to control play at 5-on-5, you're often going to have to rely on your power play to carry a lot of the offensive weight. The Canucks had the league's fourth-best power play during the regular season and their top unit is as fun and dangerous as they come, but the man-advantage fell flat and failed to produce much this series.
Vancouver went 3-for-27 (11.1 percent) on the power play against Vegas, falling well short of their regular season conversion rate (24.2 percent). The power play struggles were especially devastating in Game 7, when the Canucks got an extended power play opportunity after a five-minute major was assessed to Ryan Reaves for a hit to the head. Locked in a scoreless tie with a chance to break the ice at the end of the second period/beginning of the third, the Canucks managed to get just one shot on net during that major penalty.
One of the Golden Knights' greatest strengths is their ability to roll four effective lines and keep their foot on the gas for 60 minutes. Their top-nine is about as good as you'll find and their third line gave Vancouver a bit of trouble in this sereis. Alex Tuch was been impressive during these playoffs and he shared the Vegas team lead for goals in this series, scoring four times. Vancouver, meanwhile, got virtually no offensive contributions from bottom-six forwards in this series.
We've knocked out the most important reasons already so let's just take a second to appreciate Shea Theodore's work in this series. If you didn't quite know how good the Golden Knights defenseman was before this, you should have a pretty good idea now.
Theodore led all Vegas skaters with nine points (two goals, seven assists) and had arguably the best goal we've seen these playoffs when he straight-up cut through the Vancouver defense like it was microwaved butter.
That sort of offensive skill isn't an anomaly from Theodore, who is steadily making a name for himself as one of the league's best defensemen. With Theodore on the ice at 5-on-5 in this series, the Golden Knights controlled 64.5 percent of attempts (171-94), 68.4 percent of shots (91-42), 67.2 percent of high-danger chances (37-18) and outscored Vancouver 6-3. He was a force.
Just not ready yet
Thomas Drance of The Athletic may have said it best: The Golden Knights' time is now, and the Canucks' time is still to come. This Vancouver group has a very fun, young, exciting core and they're building toward something pretty special if they can continue to fill out the roster with good personnel decisions. But right now this team is still quite flawed, especially defensively, and probably not ready to be a legitimate contender just yet.
Vegas, meanwhile, is a team that is built to win now and they're continuing to prove that they've got as good a shot to raise the Cup this year as pretty much anyone. Even though the series was somehow there for the taking in Game 7, the Canucks can't really feel too bad about their season coming to an end here. The future is bright but they were clearly the inferior team in this series.