There was a draft lottery last night. Fans of the fourteen teams who missed the playoffs keyed in, hoping that their team could move up a few slots in the order, hoping to secure a better prospect that would eventually help to turn the franchise around. As someone who has been following the Oilers all year, I can‘t help but think that it would have been far nicer not caring.
The Canucks are in that position now.
Right now, with game one set to go in Vancouver tonight, everything and anything is possible. The Sharks are playing Anaheim; not only are the Ducks not far removed from winning the Cup, but they play a physical (even dirty) game, and the Sharks have much to prove in the postseason. The Red Wings have shoddy goaltending, Chicago is young, Calgary is beat up; in short, the Western Conference is wide open for the taking by a good team.
And the Canucks are a very good team. The optimism is easy to see. From Terry Jones column today:
The Vancouver Canucks play their first playoff game of the first round here tonight against the St. Louis Blues. And defenceman Willie Mitchell has the parade route mapped out and planned already.
He sees a Stanley Cup flotilla.
“Put us on boats and take us around the sea wall of Stanley Park and then end up at the Convention Centre,” said the native of Port McNeil on Vancouver Island.
“That would be the ultimate. It would be really, really cool,” Mitchell said after practice yesterday.
Mitchell, a Canucks fan growing up as a kid, said “because of the ’94 chaos” when fans rioted on Robson after losing Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final here to the New York Rangers, a traditional parade down that street or Granville ought not be the plan. Obviously he’s given some thought to it.
“It’s my dream. It’s what I play for.”
On the other hand, there is room for pessimism. The Blues are the hottest team in the Western Conference, and the Canucks play them tonight.
Even if the Canucks get past the Blues, it’s hard to picture the Sharks losing a seven game series to anyone. Detroit boasts a forward and defense corps so good that even Chris Osgood, with his 3.09 GAA and .897 SV%, won three times as many games as he lost. Calgary came within a hair of winning the division, Chicago is up and coming, the Blue Jackets are coached by a winner and have both a hot goaltender and one of the game’s better talents in Rick Nash. Anaheim is not long removed from winning the Stanley Cup.
But that supposes the Canucks even make it past the Blues. They have a better power-play than the Canucks. They have a better penalty-kill than the Canucks. Chris Mason is playing over his head, and as any hockey fan knows, a hot goaltender is key in the playoffs. The pessimism was easy to see. From USA Today’s game preview:
“Talk to guys who won the Stanley Cup and they’ll tell you the first round is the toughest,” Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchell said. “That’s why this is so special this time of year because every team that got to the dance is good, and it becomes a matter of the will to win, the desire to elevate your play to the next level. If you don’t you’re probably going home in four or five games.”
So, optimism or pessimism? Willie Mitchell can’t decide, but we’ll get to see which feeling is more justified, starting tonight.