Canucks Stanley Cup bound, and have earned their chance to triumph

Vancouver Sun, May 25th, 2011

Unlike any team we have ever seen here

Even before Kevin Bieksa scored the biggest Canuck goal in 17 years, nearly 19,000 Vancouver fans were chanting: “We want the Cup!”

If you need to ask which one, you’re not from here. The Vancouver Canucks are going to the Stanley Cup final. And unlike the only other two times it happened, no one should be surprised.

A Canucks team that is not only deeper and better than any before it, but also convinced they deserve to have their names inscribed on Lord Stanley’s tureen, made it to the National Hockey League final with a 3-2 double-overtime win Tuesday over the San Jose Sharks that clinched the Western Conference title 4-1 in games.

“I don’t know if I can even describe what this represents,” Canucks chief operating officer Victor de Bonis, a Burnaby kid, said after a tonne of blue and green confetti rained down on players. “I watched the game from the stands, and the intensity and sheer passion for what everyone wanted was overwhelming. Sometimes, when you want something so badly, it has a way of working out.”

Like when Ryan Kesler, who appeared to suffer a leg injury earlier in the game, tipped in the tying goal with 13.2 seconds left in regulation time after a botched icing call allowed the Canucks to win an offensive-zone faceoff.

Like when Bieksa seemed to be the only player on the ice who saw Alex Edler’s shoot-in carom crazily off the glass and back to the blue line, where the defenceman from Grimsby, Ont., slapped it past a startled San Jose goalie Antti Niemi at 10:18 of the second overtime.

“It’s a bit surreal right now,” Bieksa said. “This is obviously something you work for your entire life. I kind of just saw [the puck] and shot it, and when it went in their goalie was looking behind the net. We’ll take that.”

Yes, they will.

The Canucks have endured more bad luck and inflicted more heartbreak than fans should be able to endure over the last four decades.

But as the motto goes: “We are all Canucks.” The marketing folks got that one pretty much right.

In many respects, this trip to the Stanley Cup final, unlike the ones in 1982 and 1994, is more satisfying and rewarding because the Canucks have made it there despite crippling pressure and expectations to do so.

They have made it there as front-runners, as favorites. The previous two visits provided a couple of months of unexpected magic. This one caps nearly a year of anticipation.

These Canucks have earned this opportunity.

It has been 96 years since Vancouver won a Stanley Cup, so let’s just assume if there was an easy way for the Canucks they’d have found it by now. They’ve been trying since 1970. Most of the guys who won the Stanley Cup in 1915 as the Vancouver Millionaires didn’t live to see the NHL come to town.

Even better than they’ve ever been, the Canucks still struggled to overcome a history of making it hard on themselves. It must be genetics.

They have the Presidents’ Trophy as regular-season champions. They have some of the best players on the planet. Some nights, they are invincible. But they always seem to be an act of God from catastrophe.

So when Kesler, one of those world-class players and arguably the Canucks’ best in this Stanley Cup tournament, pulled up lame on an otherwise innocuous shorthanded rush in the second period, a few seconds before the Sharks tied Game 5 on a double-deflection, we naturally assumed the worst. Maybe that’s our DNA. That’s what 40 years of Canucks hockey without a Stanley Cup has done to human evolution in British Columbia.

When goalie Roberto Luongo, otherwise brilliant, gambled and lost while diving for a loose puck, which allowed the Sharks a gift go-ahead goal early in the third period, it seemed, well, typical. This has always happened to the Canucks.

Until now.

Just as Alex Burrows scored in Game 7 overtime to sink the Chicago Blackhawks a month ago after the Vancouver had blown a 3-0 first-round series lead, the Canucks found a way on Tuesday.

They are unlike any Canucks team we’ve seen. Maybe their final prize will be, too.