After game seven was over -- and before the madness began -- I spent a few minutes staring at a photo on the wall of Rogers arena, the photo of a bloodied Trevor Linden hugging an exhausted Kirk McLean after game seven of the '94 Stanley Cup. And the more I stared at it, the more I thought, however banged up the Canucks are right now -- and I'm sure several of our stars are due for major surgery -- they didn't look like that tonight. And there's something wrong with that picture.
Wayne Gretzky tells the story of walking past the Islanders dressing room after they beat the Oilers in the Cup final in '83 and seeing how battered, bloodied and bruised they were and realizing, that was what it really took to win a Stanley Cup.
I refuse to believe the Canucks didn't give the last game of the NHL season all they had, but in game 7, the Bruins had more.
And unlike the three losses in Boston, anyone looking to pin this on Roberto Luongo has forgotten that you can't beat the other guys if you can't score, and last night there wasn't a Canuck on the ice who could score, even when the puck was there for the shooting and Tim Thomas was out of position. We don't get to blame the refs for this one either -- not when a Canucks power play resulted in the goal that truly ended the dream. And as convenient as it would be to scapegoat the powers that be at the NHL, I'm not sure an unsuspended Aaron Rome would have saved the day either, even if he might have helped save one or two of the three Boston goals.
Boos for Boychuck, cheers for Lucic
After the game was over, I was proud to be on hand to watch the Stanley Cup awarded, because I was there to see and hear that the hearty booing was all for NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, not for the Bruins. The moment he handed the Conn Smythe to Tim Thomas and the Stanley Cup to Zdeno Chara, the crowd showed how real hockey fans behave and, despite their agony, despite their tears, cheered for the winners.
The only near violence I saw in the stands that night was when two young fans confronted a guy who had thrown a soda on the ice, almost hitting Tim Thomas during his dance with Stanley. The two fans were furious with the man who'd tried to ruin Thomas's big moment, and the scene came very close to ending in violence.
And I was glad to be there to join in the boos when the Cup went into the hands of Johnny Boychuk -- the player who broke Mason Raymond's back. And it was almost fun to be part of the roar that went up from the crowd when East Van native Milan Lucic hoisted the trophy. It was kind of heartwarming to see how many fans had only stayed for that moment -- to salute the former Vancouver Giant -- because once he handed off the Cup, most of the heart-broken crowd streamed for the exits.
Overall though, as I prepared to leave the arena after game seven, I felt like I'd won the golden ticket to Willy Wonka's and someone forgot to bring the chocolate. Game seven against the Rangers in '94 was epic, game seven against the Hawks in round one was epic, last night's game was... not.
In the first three playoff series, there were so many moments that the Canucks looked like the, "team of destiny" -- Bieksa definning the Sharks with a shot Antti Niemi still hasn't seen, Alex Burrows' overtime goal to "slay the dragon," even Cory Schneider's leg cramp against Chicago that allowed Luongo to come back, save face and play one of the greatest games of his life to let Burrows make that legendary play.
When the final round started, the injury-depleted Canucks were still able to take Boston in a pair of heart-attack inducingly tight games that affirmed the hockey gods were on our side. And then, in game three, the hit happened. Aaron Rome took out Nathan Horton and at pretty much the same moment Horton lost consciousness, the Canucks lost the love of the hockey Gods. And while hockey is a game of skill and determination, it's also a game of bizarre bounces, capricious calls and metal posts that sometimes seem to bend the rules of space and time to change the fate of the two teams on the ice. Players, coaches and GMs aren't really joking when they talk about the hockey gods or service their various pregame superstitions.
Edler's stick disintegrated at the start of the second period and with it whatever mojo the Canucks had vanished too. Eleven seconds later, the first of eight pucks whizzed past Luongo. The next game our Vezina finalist was ventilated again. In game five, Bobby Lu got his groove back -- but he was almost the only Canuck star who did.
Most important call of the series
Game six is the one game where a single call could have and should have made all the difference in the world. When Horton went down in game three, the Bruins had a five minute penalty to regroup. They didn't score on it, but they also didn't have to worry about the Canucks coming at them while they were distracted by the fate of their fallen teammate. But when Boychuk made the late hit on Mason Raymond, not only didn't the Canucks get a penalty to avenge the injury and catch their breath but, being a tough Canadian kid, Raymond left the ice on his own steam despite a broken back. I suspect the optics of a stretcher would have shamed one of the refs into calling something -- even if they truly do believe he, "lost an edge."
I thought that, just maybe, the hockey gods would be appeased by the loss of the fastest Canuck -- or the Canucks would rally themselves around the injury the way the Bruin's were sparked by the hit to Horton -- but as Raymond was raced to the hospital, Luongo had the worst four minute span of his career and let in three quick goals. A moment after Luongo left the net, Corey Schneider let in a fourth goal, and I doubt even the most rah-rah player on the Canucks bench believed they were going to get five pucks behind Thomas on Bruins home ice.
But last night, I felt like the hockey gods spent the night watching from the stands along with William Shatner. There were no crazy bounces, no painful fluke goals, just two teams playing with all they had and the Bruins clearly had a lot more.
And as Vancouver fans will be saying for the rest of the summer and pretty much until the end of time, there are reasons the Canucks didn't have more to give. We'll look at all the extra games the Canucks played when they could have closed out any of the first three series earlier than they did, and wonder if one or two or three less games would have meant one or two or three fewer key injuries. We'll worry about why Luongo couldn't even bring his B game to Boston. And we'll have nightmares about every rebound that was left alone in front of Thomas' net, every power play the Bruins shut down, every short-handed goal they scored and every line up choice Alain Vigneault made.
It's hell being the favourite
That's the problem with being "the favourite," the team that was expected to win. Instead of rejoicing in all the amazing things that went right, it's impossible not to ask what went wrong. Instead of celebrating a Stanley Cup, Canucks fans will always commemorate last night's loss with a litany of woulda, coulda, shouldas and endless speculation about the flaws of a team that played a flawless regular season and was one game away from winning it all.
Yes, I am still proud of my Canucks for their spectacular regular season -- and for making it all the way to the last possible moment of this wild ride -- but I had one other sad thought as I looked at the image of Trevor and Captain Kirk. In 1994, the feeling was that the Canucks nearly won the Stanley Cup and we will always love that team for it. In 2011, despite a truly magical ride, fans will always feel the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup and will always wonder... if only...
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