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.
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From time to time I have something to say on hockey. Whether its the Vancouver Canucks, NHL in general, Womens Hockey or International Hockey...if I have something to post, it will be in here.