Tuesday, April 10, 2012
It's been almost 20 years since a country that can truly appreciate it won the Stanley Cup. The World Series has been won in Canada more recently the holy grail of hockey.
In 1993, an underdog Montreal Canadiens team led by Vincent Damphousse and a young Patrick Roy surprised all, including a high-powered L.A. Kings squad that was The Great One's team en route to a gritty, overtime-goal-filled Stanley Cup run. Since then, there have been many finalists from the Great White North, but alas, no champions.
This is difficult for many to accept due to the vast difference in the way Canada and the U.S. view the NHL and what its championship means to the region and the nation. Since that time, we have seen the Dallas Stars, Carolina Hurricanes, and Anaheim Ducks win Stanley Cups that may very well have gone unnoticed outside the home arenas in which they played. Also since that time, we have seen the Vancouver Canucks (twice), the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Ottawa Senators all come up short in their bid to bring the Cup back to its homeland. Even worse was that all of these misadventures besides Ottawa went 7 tantalizing games before finally landing in U.S. hands.
Since 1993, we have seen curses broken in New York (54 years), Detroit (40 years), Chicago (47 years), Boston (39 years), and Ray Bourque (22 years). Still none for a Canadian team.
In 2006, Edmonton became the first eighth-seed in any sport to reach the championship round. They fell behind 3 games to 1, but won a compelling fifth game in overtime and a Game 6 at home to force a Game 7 before finally falling by the wayside. The 2004 Flames seemed destined to win the Cup on home ice in Game 6. There was even evidence that a third period puck bounced off a skate and may have gone over the Lightning goal line for a brief moment before being scooped up and whistled. The play was ruled a save and was never reviewed upstairs. Calgary lost that game in double overtime on a Martin St. Louis' top shelf wrister and then lost Game 7 in Tampa, also by 1 goal.
Last year's defeat had to be particularly painful as the Vancouver Canucks hosted Game 7 of the Cup Finals and had won each home game of the series prior to Game 7, and won all of them in dramatic fashion. Unfortunately for them, Roberto Luongo sprung too many leaks in that series, and the more talented Canucks were capsized by a gritty Bruins team with a hot goaltender. Rumor has it the Vancouver fans don't take these kinds of things very well.
Vancouver has never won a cup in their 42-year history, despite three Finals appearances. However, they may feel as if they have to win for more than just their own sake. The current President's Trophy winners find themselves this year as virtually Canada's only hope to win the Cup.
This second consecutive President's Trophy validates the notion that Vancouver has the most talented and consistent team in hockey, and yet with that Game 7 defeat from last year still fresh in their minds, they may also be the most driven. Their twin stars have also been driven by a unique opportunity. Daniel and Henrik Sedin may be the only twins to have played as teammates for one team as long as they have. Both were drafted in 1999 by the Canucks and have remained in Vancouver where they not only thrived, but dominated.
In 2012, Henrik led the league in assists and was voted the Canucks' MVP, while Daniel carved a spot for himself as an all-star before being knocked out on March 21 with a concussion. The team is hopeful he will be able to return during their first round series against the Los Angeles Kings.
The only looming threat out of the West for Vancouver is the surprising St. Louis Blues, a mere 2 points behind in the standings. The Blues are also one of the youngest teams in the postseason and this may work against them considering the vast playoff experience on the Canucks if the two were to meet in the Western Conference Finals.
And yet the juiciest matchups loom in the Cup Finals for Vancouver. Assuming for a moment that the Canucks can survive the threat of an upset from the Kings or perennially dangerous Red Wings in round two, the top two seeds in the East are the New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins. Either of these matchups conjure up memories of epic seven-game Finals thrillers from both 1994 and 2011 in which the Canucks fell just short against both opponents, and agonizingly so.
After all, if they are going to get this monkey off their backs and carve their names on the Cup for themselves, and for Canada, they might as well score some payback along the way.