At 5:40pm on Monday, June 13th, looking around at the faces on the streets and in the bars of Vancouver, you could tell exactly who the die-hard fans were, and who was around simply to take in the festivities. One of these groups was already talking about game 7, a fact that seemed inevitable a mere 10 minutes into the first period. The others, the ones who have obviously been waiting 17 years for redemption, had their heads buried into oaken tables, playoff towels covering their heads in the vain hope that, once they re-emerged, the realities of this hockey game would somehow be different.
But things didn't really change for the Canucks last night. They came storming out of the gates like wild stallions and instantly put pressure on Thomas The Tank Engine, who made some truly outrageous saves to keep the Canucks from getting any early momentum.
Then the dominoes began to fall: Brad Marchand shelves a wrist shot that sails over Luongo's shoulder, Lucic finds room through the 5-hole thirty seconds later, then Ference from the point a couple of minutes afterwards.
That would be Lou's curtain call.
Schneider came in with a little over 10-minutes left in the first, and was almost instantly scored on. It took the Canucks a while to shake this off, but they eventually did. They created a few scoring chances before the period was out, and if you really want to look for silver linings: they held Boston to a scoreless 2nd period!
What happened to this game? The Canucks lost their composure for no more than 5 or 7 minutes, but that's all it took. By the time the shock of being scored on so often, in such a small space of time, when so much was at stake wore off, the damage was already done. Vancouver played some decent hockey throughout the remainder of this game, but the fact still remained that they would have to beat Thomas at least 4 times, which is asking a lot these days.
Tim Thomas is going to win the Conn Smythe trophy tomorrow night. It doesn't even matter what the outcome of the game will be; he could let in 18 goals, and he'd still be the MVP of these playoffs. And he completely deserves it, too.
It's impossible to explain in words just how valuable Tim Tam has been to the Bruins this year. Boston could never have made it this far with an 'above average' goaltender, they need an outstanding keeper of the net, and they've got it. Thomas must be a distant descendant of Buddhist Monks, because he shows up to the games so focused and seems to remain so calm that it hardly even looks like he's trying at all.
What is it about Boston that completely disintegrates the possibility of a close hockey game? Could it be the rhapsodious roar of the Bruin crowd? I doubt it. Vancouver is used to playing in lots of noise, albeit, that noise is usually lending them incredible support.
The CBC reported earlier in this series that the temperature on Boston ice is 6 degrees warmer than what is considered 'normal'. There might be something to this. As far as hockey players go, the Canucks are fairly privileged. Having hosted the Olympics only one year ago, it's probably safe to say that the ice at Rogers Arena is the best in the world; the fastest, the cleanest, the perfect rigidity to the surface of play. Is it possible that the Canucks are spoiled by their perfect, home-ice wonderland?
Even if they are, it shouldn't matter. An NHL hockey team can't expect to win the Stanley Cup without winning a few road games. Unless they're the Canucks.
Vancouver was the only team coming into these playoffs that could be sure that they'd play more home games than away. And they've taken
advantage of that, for the most part. The Canucks have only lost 3 home games these playoffs, and the last one was well over a month ago.
But these things don't matter anymore. The missteps, the faults, the ups and downs don't mean a thing. All it comes down to now, is one, single game of hockey.
This is something most Canadian kids dream and yearn to be a part of: game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. At home, no less. The stakes couldn't be higher, and the prize couldn't be bigger.
I know many of you were hoping to avoid the gut-wrenching anxiety that comes with a team you really, really love, playing for their lives in an all-or-nothing showdown. But man, this is the stuff that makes champions. This is the essence of hockey!
One of the greatest things about sports is that it allows us a stage to challenge ourselves, to dig deep and see what we're really made of.
In this modern society, you simply don't get that opportunity very often. Imagine if you showed up for your cashier's shift at Office Depot as stoked and ready to go as a professional hockey player, or even a fan for that matter? You'd likely scare the crap out of your employer, and a vast majority of your clientele. You'd almost certainly get fired. In our day to day lives, we are obligated to be 'nice and normal'. Where do we go to satisfy the animalistic side of ourselves that wants to run as fast as we can, hit as hard as we can, and test these skills against another tribe that has been training and practicing just as hard as we have?
These are the virtues of professional sports. They might be 'useless’ in the tangible meaning of the word, but the things we get out of good, healthy competition are far more valuable than a steady paycheck.
Tomorrow night, 38 men (39 if you count Schneider) will don their battle gear and take part in the purest form of competition we have in this country. Each one of them will be asked to give every ounce of energy within their being, all at the same time, and all for the same purpose.
Anyone that thinks that the Stanley Cup is nothing but a silly silver trophy, a decadent drinking mug, needs to take a good look at their surroundings. Can you remember any one event (aside from the Olympics, since that too, was mostly about hockey) that has brought such a massive community together with as much passion and excitement as the Canucks' 2011 cup run?
Thousands upon thousands of people will gather tomorrow to watch the final game of the 2010/2011 NHL season. They will celebrate together, or they will weep all over each other's shoulders. So pick your head up off that bar table, impassioned Canuck fan, there's still one game to go.
Your boys are coming back to their palace, their playoff coliseum, for one last clash against an admirable foe. Where we will find out who wants what, and how much they want it.