Trailing the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 after blowing a 2-0 lead, they had plenty of time to get back in a game that was critical in the tight Western Conference playoff race.
The Canucks instead offered very little in the way of pushback in what eventually turned into an embarrassing 6-2 loss.
"I thought we started cheating," said Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin. "We don't need to score right away. We can keep playing the right way and get pucks deep. They looked tired for the most part of the game and still we gave away the game."
Columbus rookie Marko Dano recorded his first two-goal game in the NHL and Sergei Bobrovsky made 38 saves for the Blue Jackets, who have won five of their last six but still remain a long shot for the playoffs in the East.
Vancouver, meanwhile, sits just two points up on ninth-place Los Angeles in the West with a road game against the Kings looming on Saturday.
"I just feel at this time of year ... what you should see is the team that we are," said Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins, whose club has struggled with the league's lesser lights at times. "The team that showed tonight, that's got to be our team because there's no reason on a game this big that we wouldn't play our best."
Rene Bourque, Cam Atkinson, Scott Hartnell and Alexander Wennberg, into an empty net, had the other goals for Columbus (32-35-4).
Dano was playing only his 25th game in the NHL, but the 20-year-old Austrian now has three goals and four assists over his last five outings.
"It's a big opportunity for me to earn a spot for next year," said Dano. "The time (in the AHL) helped me a lot, but now I am trying to play here and trying to get a spot here for next year."
Bo Horvat and Daniel Sedin replied for Vancouver (40-26-4), which dominated the first period and led 2-0 early in the second before the wheels fell off.
"That's this league," said Henrik Sedin. "If you're not 100 per cent focused every shift those things can happen."
Eddie Lack allowed five goals on 30 shots for the Canucks before getting pulled in favour of Jakob Markstrom, who finished with two saves, midway through the third period.
"We stopped playing and I didn't come up with those big saves either," said Lack. "That's a tough one for us."
Columbus led 3-2 after the second and extended that advantage 5:31 into the third when Dano swatted home a loose puck after a strange bounce off the glass for his second of the night and seventh of the season.
Hartnell added his 22nd at 8:32 to make it 5-2, with Dano picking up an assist for the first three-point game of his career.
Bobrovsky held the fort from there before Wennberg scored his third into an empty net as the Blue Jackets won for the second time in as many nights after a shootout victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday.
The Columbus goalie made a couple of big saves in the first period to keep things scoreless as Vancouver held a 20-10 shot edge through 20 minutes before a wild second.
The Canucks grabbed the lead three minutes in when Horvat scored his 12th and Daniel Sedin added his 15th just 40 seconds later. But the game seemed to turn after Columbus' Corey Tropp and Vancouver's Derek Dorsett dropped the gloves a few minutes later in a spirited fight.
After Bobrovsky made a good save, Bourque scored his fourth on a shot from well out at 7:04 that took a deflection, before Dano snapped his first of the evening past Lack at 10:01.
The Blue Jackets kept coming and took the lead with 2:42 left in the period when Mark Letestu's point shot on the power play was deflected by Atkinson for his 16th to send Vancouver reeling.
"When you're a good enough team you always play your style of hockey and the way you plan," said Desjardins. "I think we're up and down a little bit. I think we need to be better than that."