This might date myself a tad, but I recall where I was in 1994 on May 24th. I was at home in New Westminster, tightly clenching my hands together in a tightly clenched prayer style shape. What happened to make me do this? The Vancouver Canucks, the local NHL team here was in double overtime against the hated Toronto Maple Leafs in game 5 of a best of 7 series we were leading 3-1. If we scored, we went to the finals for only the 2nd time ever (the first time I too lived thru, but didnt really understand the severity of it at the time since I was of an age still in single digits, we would lose in 4 straight games in the finals that year to the New York Islanders). A B.C. boy by the name of Greg Adams, whom we obtained in a trade with the New Jersey Devils several years prior would score the eventual winner 14 seconds into that 2nd overtime on a backhander that he slipped by future Canuck Felix Potvin. We were headed to the Stanley Cup finals. It was monumental in this cities sports history. We eventually would lose in the finals to the New York Rangers in game 7 by a narrow 3-2 score, but that moment is to many in Vancouver, 1 of the cities biggest in sports history.
So imagine the shock to Canucks fans who have endured that once before, when 17 years later, we found ourselves on May 24th, in a Western Conference finals, with a 3-1 series lead, in double overtime at home...again. by now, every die hard Canucks fan, casual fan, fairweather fan & even some non-fans know how that game ended. It ended with 1 of the zaniest series clinching goals ever, as Kevin Bieksa knucklepucked a shot from the point past an unaware Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks. Of the 18000+ fans in attendace, 2 TV crews & dozen players on the ice, it seemed maybe a 1/2 a dozen people total were aware that after an Alex Edler dump in off the boards that the puck deflected off a stanchion & back out into the middle of the ice. 1 of those rare people, Kevin Bieksa. The Canucks defender moved in towards the puck that gifted itself to him & drove a hard slap shot towards the Sharks net that wobbled & skipped its way past a confused Niemi. Fans were so unaware of what was going on, they only reacted when the likes of Alex Burrows & Henrik Sedin, near the net reacted. Sharks players reacted, but far too late, even Kevins own teammates were not all aware of what was about to happen. Another generation of Canucks fans will remember that moment, regardless how the finals end. Its 1 of those moments that sticks with you. Just like Greg Adams in 1994 on the very same date.
Of course, after the win, while the players partied in the dressing room together, fans did the same, out in public on the streets of downtown Vancouver. Granville street was completely closed off to traffic, as fans poured out to high five other strangers, wave their towels & flags & yell any & all phrases they could think of to express their jubilation. I saw a faux greenman, I saw an even sadder imposter- a blue man, I saw 30+ Stanley Cups of all types roaming the streets, being hoisted high & I also saw 2 creatures (pictured below) that I still dont have an explantion for, dressed in Henrik Sedin jerseys, sporting what I can only describe as some type of weird egg type head gear.
A couple of observations. The crowd seemed quite content & happy. Never saw even 1 angry look from 1 person to another. Im sure there were some mild issues, but they were few & far between...unlike when I was in Edmonton during their Cup run where there was stabbings almost nightly it seemed. There was also sadly for us guys (and girls here wonder why the world over consider girls here "snobby") no Red Mile action like in Calgary during their Cup run. The boobs in this town refuse to come out. To be honest, the overall electricity & excitement of the crowd, while high, was still short of anything I have seen in Edmonton, Calgary or even Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics. Will it be different if they win the Cup??? Perhaps. Starting June 1st, the Vancouver Canucks will try to do something they havent done in 39 previous seasons, 23 playoff appearances & 2 Finals appearances. Win the Stanley Cup. The oppnent, yet to be decided. Either the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team that crushed the Calgary Flames hopes last time in 2004, or the Boston Bruins, the team that last lost a Championship to 1 of the Western Canadian teams in 1990 to the Edmonton Oilers. One thing is certain, Canucks fans probably are pretty thrilled, it wont be a team from New York.
Before you start envisioning where you will place the "Stanley Cup Champions" pennant in your house Canucks fans, just remember, we are only 1/2 way to a possible franchise first championship.
True, the Vancouver Canucks finally shook the 2nd monkey off their back these playoffs, but its far from over.
The most recent demon they exorcised was that "getting past round 2" demon thats haunted them for 17 seasons, 9 previous playoff years & 5 previous round 2 match ups.
This time, the stick of Daniel Sedin launched the city into round 3 for the 1st time since their miracle run of 1994 when he helped the Nucks beat Nashville Predators in game 6 2-1.
So whats in store for us now? A date with the San Jose Sharks. The team who finished 2nd in the Western Conference to the Canucks, 5th in the league & are currently the 2nd highest ranking team left in the post-season.
Its a new challenge for them. The past 2 WCF the Canucks made, they did not face top ranked teams. The Toront Maple Leafs werent the Norris division champs in 94, the Chicago BlackHawks werent the Norris division champs in 82, hell, the Hawks werent even as good as the Canucks that year in the regular season. This is the 1st time the Vancouver Canucks have faced an actual division champion in round 3.
With questions surround the play of the Sedins, and more recently Henrik's health, as well as Mikael Samuelsson's mystery ailment, some do actually wonder if this team will be able to make the finals this time. Sure Ryan Kesler has been a beast & Roberto Luongo has been good enough, but they are now going up against a team that was legitimately a contender this season.
Now the Canucks are the demon a team is looking to exorcize. The Sharks have been perrenial contenders for several years, but never made it to the Stanley Cup finals. They have found themselves in the conference finals twice this decade, but never managed to get to the finals. Last year the Hawks did them in, in 2004 it was the Calgary Flames.
This is, in my mind, the first real test for the Canucks. The Sharks have far more scoring depth than Chicago did, certainly far far more than Nashville. They have a goalie that is coming off a Cup win last year in Antti Niemi, who after a slow start this year is really back in the zone. They have a defense core with over 300 NHL Playoff games & 3 Cup winners on it. They have a forward group that consists of 3 Olympic Gold medal winners, a silver medalist, a Hart Trophy, Art Ross Trophy, a Calder trophy, 2- 50 goal seasons & 1 Stanley Cup. This team actually knows what winning feels like, just not together.
I still feel the Canucks can win this series, but it will be a dogfight. Round 3 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs starts tonight in Vancouver, and for the next 2 or so weeks, Vancouverites will be in a continual state of near nervous breakdown till the final horn goes, regardless of the outcome.
The Vancouver Canucks dipped into the Unrestricted Free Agent Market on opening day of the NHL free agency period, by picking up a few forwards & 1 notable defenseman... Dan Hamhuis.
General Manager Mike Gillis was a busy boy on opening day. He went out and signed 4 new players, 2 that will be undoubtedly part of the Canucks roster & 2 who hope to be.
At $27M over 6 yrs, the Canucks got the highly sought after free agent Dan Hamhuis, who was so much in demand, 2 different teams traded for his negotiating rights prior to July 1st in hopes of wooing him to sign there before he hit the open market.
The 6'1, 202 lb, 27 yr old Smithers, BC native, played last season in Nashville. There he put up 24 pts in 78 GP with a +4 rating.
What the Canucks get in Hamhuis, is a very good shutdown defensively responsible dman, maybe soft physically at times...but makes up for it with incredible hockey sense. Should be a capable 2nd unit PP defenseman that will be a staple in the top 4 regular shift dmen. Still is improving his game, the upside on him is tantalizing to scouts & will likely soon find himself taking 1st line time...perhaps even this season.
Along with the addition of Keith Ballard, the Canucks have shored up their defense that was weakened last season with the longterm injuries of Willie Mitchell & Kevin Bieksa. With Mitchell all but moving on these recent additions shore up the Canucks main 6 unit, likely even leaving Bieksa as trade bait down the line.
It seemed fairly evident in the last week that Hamhuis had tunnel vision on the Canucks as his prefered destination & Canucks fans seemed tunnel visioned on getting him. Both sides got what they wanted today, and the price, not too shabby...when you consider the likes of an aging Sergei Gonchar got 5.5M from Ottawa on a 3 yr deal & Paul Martin got 5M from the Penguins.
This move now makes the Canucks defense (for now) one of the deepest in the NHL.
The Canucks dipped into the forward Free Agent Market on opening day as well, most notably by picking up forward Manny Malhotra.
The 30 yr old Mississauga, ON native, played last season in San Jose. There he put up 14 goals, 33 pts in 71 GP while finishing a +17. He also had the 2nd best faceoff percentage in the 2010 NHL Playoffs.
What the Canucks get in Malhotra, is a versatile forward who can play centre & wing, can play defensive style checking forward, and be an adequate offensive piece. At $2.5M for 3 years, the price might be a little steeper than some might want, but the Canucks needed a player like this & with some cap room to play with, felt overpaying to get their guy was acceptable. His addition is the Canucks answer to letting Ryan Johnson go, he will get lots of chances as a penalty killing forward.
After trading away Steve Bernier & Michael Grabner recently. The Canucks were looking to possibly fill a hole or two in their back 6, and this move will help to do that.
Other Canuck signings today included Jeff Tambellini, the former New York Islander & son of former Canucks player Steve Tamblellini, as well as Joel Perrault, a former Phoenix Coyotes farmhand with a handful of NHL games.
Former Canucks goalies, Curtis Sanford & Alex Auld signed on in Montreal, while recent back up Andrew Raycroft got a 2 yr deal in Dallas.
Elsewhere in the Northwest Division
Calgary Flames got in their Hot Tub Time Machine to re-acquire Alex Tanguay & Olli Jokinen. Rumour has them trying to get Theo Fleury & Ed Beers locked up next.
Edmonton Oilers obtained the best deal of the day in PP catalyst Kurtis Foster for only 1.8M.
Minnesota Wild bolstered the 2nd & 3rd lines with depth forwards Matt Cullen & Eric Nystrom
Colorado Avalanche acquired nothing.
Since the arrival of Joe Thornton a few years ago, this team has often had a miserable signing team stigma to it. Even with great signers liek Jeremy Roenick on the team, less willing signers like Thornton, Cheechoo & others has made them a team we often begrudged having come here.
This year, its a new attitude. Even Joe Thornton was great. We came to the conclussion, maybe its Jonathan Cheechoo that brought the bad vibes?
In any case, long live the new Sharks attitude.
EVGENI NABOKOV- 1 autograph. I missed the practice they had the day before, where he signed considerably more. But even the game day skate he was a willing signer of 1 each.
THOMAS GREISS- 0 autographs. I had no items, but I did watch him sign several per person for those who had items.
DAN BOYLE- 1 autograph. Coulda got more, but to have gotten him the first time would have meant missing Heatley.
ROB BLAKE- 2 autographs. Doing multiple items again. This was something he had refrained from doing the past couple seasons. Good to see the old Blake back.
MARC EDOUARD VLASIC- 3 autographs. Willing signer of multiples.
DEREK JOSLIN- 0 autographs. had no items, Watched him sign whatever was asked of him.
JASON DEMERS, KENT HUSKINS, DOUGLAS MURRAY- no reports
JOE THORNTON- 2 autographs. Since early on his his days as a Bruin I dont think I have ever looped Joe Thornton....thill this trip. I was so stunned it happened I kept talking about it for the next hour or so. It was a shocker for a guy who over his time in SJ has signed less autographs at the rink than there are fingers on your hand...aka, less than 1 total autograph per trip.
DANY HEATLEY- 2 autographs. Willingly did 1 per, was hesitant to sign jersey numbers after the first few were presented to him though.
PATRICK MARLEAU- 2 autographs. Still one of the teams best signers.
RYANE CLOWE- 2 autographs. Still does multiples.
JOE PAVELSKI- 1 autograph. Formerly a less enthusiastic signer, Joe didnt seem put out to be doing it this time. New Sharks mentality?
DEVIN SETOGUCHI- 3 autographs. Did multiples, but his autograph has gotten even worse than the "D St" it was last year.
TORREY MITCHELL- 1 autograph. I got the raw end of the stick on him. He did multiples for everyone else, then was called away just as he got to me...so I only got 1.
BRAD STAUBITZ- 2 autographs. Did 2 without hesitation.
MANNY MALHOTRA, JED ORTMEYER, RYAN VESCE, JAMIE MCGINN, BEN FERRIERO, SCOTT NICHOL, JODY SHELLEY, FRAZER MCLAREN- no autograph reports.
Total autographs from San Jose- 22.