June 21 2011 10:00AM
It's been hard to deal with, but in a contest of wills, the Bruins won. Now it's time for the Canucks, and their fans to look forwards.
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Canucks fans tend to be pretty emotional, and I'm no different. It shouldn't come as a huge surprise then, that I haven't written a single word on the Canucks since last Wednesday's game 7 pantsing, and the thoroughly embarrassing riot that followed. It has been a rough week.
I watched Monday's game 6 at a bar, and within minutes regretted it. It's tough to be in public when the Canucks get blown-out, and the game 6 loss left me particularly dejected. Not even good company, delicious wings and ribs were enough to cheer me up.
I spent Tuesday in a fatalistic stupor, and though I managed to work up a certain false arrogance for Wednesday, I had a premonition of what was to come. I watched the game at home, I wasn't going to spend another night moping in a bar. Even before the first goal was scored, the game was agony.
To twist what Pat Riley said about the Heat-Mavs NBA Finals series recently – it's hip and popular to say that the Canucks choked, but really the Bruins went out and took the cup. Lets give credit where it's due: the Bruins dominated those last two games. Tim Thomas clearly got good value for his soul – because that old man was unbeatable. In game 7, the Bruins simply wanted it more and played a great game to ensure their Cup victory.
A few plays from game 7 stand out to me. Bergeron's opening goal was kind of flukey, as I see it. It was the result of an odd decision by Vigneault, a smart, slimy play by Marchand to set it up, and some terrible defensive coverage by Henrik Sedin in particular. Throw in a touch of lucky finish from Bergeron – and you've got history. I really don't get why the Sedins were given that defensive-zone start, but then I also didn't understand why Ballard was thrust into Hamhuis' shut-down role in game 4 either, or why Luongo was left in net for all 8 Bruins goals in game 3.
The more telling plays, and the more decisive ones, came later. First of all, off a solid Sedin shift (yes they happened all series, and especially in game 7) Burrows got the puck in a great position in the slot. He showed tremendous patience, waited to get Tim Thomas down and out, and then put the puck on net. Chara, however, used his gargantuan trogdor frame to take away most of the net, and made the biggest save of game 7. Had Chara faltered, the game is tied and perhaps the rough denizens of Vancouver would've had a parade, rather than a riot. In short: it was an all-world, championship calibre defensive play.
The two Boston goals that followed, the first by Marchand and the second – a short-handed effort by Bergeron were pure “will” goals. Marchand's wrap-around goal was a marvel of speed, handles and awareness. Sedin and Luongo were left sprawling as Marchand ably circled the net and netted the insurance marker. Bergeron didn't get a lot on his initial breakaway shot, and I still think he may have punched the puck into the net, but he wasn't going to be denied. Hard not to admire that. His second goal reminded me of a play-at-the-plate in baseball – Bergeron was coming home and was going to go through Luongo to do it. Just a gutty, clutch play by the two-way centre.
Those three plays were championship plays by the Bruins. As hard as it is to admit for Canucks fans, and as much as other Canadian fan-bases, and some mainstream hockey writers want to characterize what happened in games 6 and 7 as a typical Vancouver “choke-job” - the Bruins deserved to win. You have to bend over pretty far backwards to characterize a team that won three playoff rounds as a team of chokers, most mainstream hockey media members aren't that flexible, but god bless them for trying.
The day the Canucks are eliminated from the playoffs is routinely the worst day of the year for an emotional fan such as myself. This proves, of course, that I'm a lucky fellow overall. But every year that passes without a cup increases the possibility (likelihood?) that I'll leave this Earth without ever seeing my team raise Lord Stanley's mug. My step-father - a Cubs fan and a Catholic, understands this all too well. He's approaching seventy now – and I wasn't surprised that the first person who called to offer me solace was him. He may have been more upset for me, than I was for myself. Fans of “cursed” sports-teams share a special sort of empathy.
At the end of the day, your team can only ever be good enough to win. The Canucks didn't have enough in 2010/2011, they were close but they didn't close it out. Still, Canucks fans were treated to nearly 9 months of entertaining and mostly dominant hockey. The Canucks won 69 games, they nearly led the league in every relevant team category, they had the leading scorer, they had the best team defence. They were a pleasure to watch game in and game out, even though I don't think they represented themselves as well in the Finals as they had all season. It was a banner year for a once moribund franchise. This was the sort of season that, even though the Canucks didn't win a cup – it established the team as a legit contender, one that is likely to remain elite for years to come. For a franchise used to be being a punch-line – that's something. It's something big, it's kinetic energy.
It has been nearly a week, and it's time to hold our heads high again. It's also time to thank the team for an incredible season. With Gillis in charge, and the team's core locked in on reasonable deals – the Canucks are in a good spot going forward. And here it is, the universal phrase of solace. By tradition it is offered to all sports-fans as a form of comfort at the end of a season that came up short: “there's always next year.” And it's true, unless it isn't. Keep up hope, Canucks fans. And stay safe, I think you'll want to be around for what comes next.