Canucks can still be deserving champions

The Montreal Gazette, June 15th, 2011

The first intermission of Game 6 was almost over. It was 4-0 Boston, the Garden

party was well under way, and a well-respected writer from a neutral city who’s honoured by

the Hockey Hall of Fame walked over and said:

“Let me ask you something. If the Canucks win Game 7, do you think they will deserve the Cup?”

It was such a surprising question, it took a while to figure out why it was asked, and a while

longer to come up with what, I’m sure, wasn’t much of an answer.

Deserve? Boy, that’s one complicated word.

It usually comes up around voting time for the NHL awards, or when the all-star teams are

announced, or when the league office mulls a suspension for an on-ice crime of some kind or


Where opinions are involved, “deserve” is debatable.

Where the Stanley Cup is concerned, it’s not.

If Henrik Sedin is being handed the Cup by Gary Bettman Wednesday night, or the early morning

hours on Thursday if it requires overtime – and why wouldn’t it? – it will be because the

Vancouver Canucks won one more game than anyone else in the playoffs after winning lots more

games than any other team in the regular season.

It will be because they stayed the course, when Sami Salo tore his Achilles last summer and

pieces of their defence were falling off with ridiculous regularity all season, and when Manny

Malhotra suffered his horrible eye injury in March, and when Ryan Kesler likely tore his groin

against San Jose, and when Dan Hamhuis fractured something or other hip-checking Milan Lucic

near the start of this series, and when Mason Raymond broke a vertebrae in his back on a rough

and awkward hit by Johnny Boychuk in Game 6 that the referees decided deserved no penalty and

the league decided deserved no supplemental discipline.

Would the Canucks deserve the Cup?

You know why the question was asked.

It’s because the Canucks have done a lot of it unimpressively, giving up more goals than

they’ve scored in these playoffs – they’re currently minus-7 – after being the No. 1 offensive

and defensive team in the regular season.

It’s because their power play, a bread-and-butter weapon in their march to the Presidents’

Trophy, has been firing blanks, and those who get the most minutes of power-play time are

bearing the brunt of the criticism for it. It’s because analyst Mike Milbury called the Sedin

twins “Thelma and Louise,” a proud moment for network sports television.

It’s because the Bruins have romped in all three games in Boston, while the Canucks have eked

out three one-goal nerve-wrackers at home, two of them 1-0 shutouts, the other requiring an

Alex Burrows overtime marker.

It’s because the argument has been made that, given a bounce or two, excluding Raffi Torres’s

goal with 18.5 seconds left in Game 1 and Burrows’ goal 11 seconds into overtime in Game 2,

the Bruins could have swept this series. And maybe that’s true.

It’s because of Burrows’s bite and Max Lapierre’s gesture and all the diving, and the

inability of the Sedins and Kesler to flex their offensive muscles, and the fact that Roberto

Luongo has been pulled four times in these playoffs, thrice lit up by the Bruins, and has

failed to match the sure-footed pluck and clutch goaltending of Boston’s Tim Thomas in this

series . . . and then crabbed about all the ink Thomas is getting.

Should a team that’s fallen so short on so many levels – big-game production, personal

comportment, class – and which is (so we hear) unloved by many in the Rest of Canada (though

sensational TV ratings argue otherwise) be given the hero treatment if they rebound from their

Boston embarrassments and win on Wednesday night?

And the answer, of course, is: why the heck not?

The Cup has been stolen before. The 1986 and ’93 Montreal Canadiens come to mind. Jacques

Demers was mightily ticked off to hear his ’93 team referred to as the weakest ever to win the

Stanley Cup. He should take it as a compliment.

That team won 10 straight overtime games in the playoffs. They were close to being down 2-0 in

the final to the L.A. Kings – with Games 3 and 4 in California – when the series turned on

Marty McSorley’s illegal stick. They rode Patrick Roy like a rented mule.

Did the Habs deserve it? Sure. So did the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes, even though it took them

seven games to beat the No. 8-seeded Western team, Edmonton, in the final.

But this? This would be no theft, no bolt from the blue.

At the moment that they clinched the Presidents’ Trophy on March 31, while 14 other teams were

still angling for playoff spots, here is what the Canucks had to show for their season:

• Scored the most goals, allowed the fewest, had the biggest goal differential.

• Had the best home record, and the best road record.

• Were the best team five-on-five, on the power play, and on the penalty kill.

• According to the NHL, no team since the Original Six era (which ended in 1967) had led in

goals for and against, power play and penalty kill in the same season.

• They had the NHL’s top point-getter (Daniel would win the Art Ross) and top playmaker

(Henrik would lead the league in assists).

• They had the league’s winningest goaltender with 37 wins, even though Luongo stepped aside

enough times to make sure Cory Schneider got his 20 games in for the Jennings Trophy.

This was no accident, this Cup run.

It may have looked like one, lately, but there are no inexpensive trips to the Stanley Cup

final. Every player, every coach, every trainer, every equipment man pays a steep price.

If they win on Wednesday, will they deserve it? Damn right they will.

And if they lose, they’ll deserve that, too.

It’s not up for a vote. It’s whatever the final score says it is.