If you're reading this, it's a good bet you're from south of the 49th parallel and looking to dabble in the NHL postseason. The sports buffet on your channel of choice includes hockey playoffs, and you're a sports fan with time in the evenings and beer in the fridge...so hockey playoffs it shall be.
Now, the big question when entering the realm of a new sport is which team to cheer for. It's a crucial decision (if it can be called a decision), because it will determine the amount of frustration or joy you get out of your hobby.
To that end, let me present some food for thought as you mull which NHL bandwagon to jump on.
Narrowing the Field
Your nationalistic instincts probably tell you to throw your lot behind an American team...but No! Do not cave!!
This first point is crucial, for from it springs all other paths. There is only one true way: Go Canadian. This will earn you huge respect from any hockey fan worth his or her pucks.
Supporting an American team that isn't Detroit or Chicago will earn you only shame. Supporting Detroit will heap hatred upon your shame. Supporting Chicago will just earn you heaps of disappointment.
Canada invented and cherishes the game of hockey, and for you to maximize your investment it's best to get on a bandwagon full of rabid fans. The Great White North is definitely where you want to focus your boosterism.
Two Teams, One Choice
Heading into the second round, there are just two Canadian teams in the running: the Ottawa Senators and the Vancouver Canucks.
Ottawa is a great team, and may go far in these playoffs but they're a relatively recent addition to the NHL, having entered the league in 1992. If you aren't from Ottawa, or at the very least actually Canadian, you shouldn't get involved with a new team. It just isn't a good idea. Follow their progress, of course...but don't get too attached.
Instead, go with the team that has an illustrious NHL history stretching back to 1970. Go with the team that has tasted more than its fair share of playoff disappointment over the years. Go with the team that is now, finally, on the brink of something great.
Go with the Vancouver Canucks.
Fine-Tuning:Getting to Know Your Vancouver Canucks
Now that you've chosen the Canucks, you need to develop an appreciation for and understanding of the team, if only so you can back up your pick.
Don't worry, I can help.
You Never Know What to Expect
The Canucks were picked as Stanley Cup contenders in 2005-06. Instead, they imploded spectacularly at the end of the season and failed to make the playoffs. This year, they were expected to struggle, and posted one of the league's worst records in the first half of the season...before going on a tear and winning the Northwest Division.
The Canucks rode their momentum to a 3-1 series lead against the Dallas Stars in the first round of the playoffs. Then they failed to score in the next two games, allowing Dallas to come back from the brink and force a Game Seven. The result: a 4-1 Canucks victory, with the winning goal coming from the hugely popular Trevor Linden.
Trevor Linden wears the number 16. At 37 years old, he's the oldest member of the team. By far. He briefly left the Canucks after the arrival of Mark Messier at the beginning of the 1997-98 season. This period is not talked about by Canucks fans. It's too painful. After years in the wilderness, Linden returned to Vancouver, and has elevated his play in the playoffs (including the series-winner against the Stars) after posting mediocre numbers during the regular season. In fact, Linden only scores mind-bendingly important goals: He's the all-time leading goal-scorer and point-getter in Game Sevens among active players. If a goal isn't important, Trev may miss even a gift-wrapped opportunity but he always delivers come crunch-time.
The Coach Is A Call-Up
The coach of the Canucks is a first-year Vancouverite named Alain Vigneault. He coached the Montreal Canadiens a few years back, but most recently led Vancouver's farm team, the Manitoba Moose. In his virgin season in B.C., Vigneault posted a franchise record for wins, and is now set on taking his overachieving underdogs deep into the playoffs. Watch him get the job done.
The Canucks pulled a draft coup by nabbing twin superstars-in-waiting, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, second and third overall in 1999.
These two look the same, dress the same, and play the same. They drive the same make of car, and wear the same equipment. Their point totals and games played differed by no more than +/- 3 at any given time during the season. Identical twins have eerie "twin powers" they can tell when a sibling is in danger or about to give birth...or in this case, when a sibling is standing in front of the net ready to receive a preternaturally perfect pass to score a game-winning goal.
It's awesome to watch.
The Canucks have only made two trips to the Stanley Cup Finals: in 1982 (25 years ago) and 1994 (13 years ago*). That means they go to the Stanley Cup Finals about once every 12 seasons. Back a destined winner. Or if not a destined winner, at least a team destined to take the Finals to Game Seven. And hey third time's a charm, right?
(*There was no NHL season in 2004-05 because of the lockout...which means this season is number 12. Perfect huh?)
Best Goalie in the World
The Canucks have Roberto Luongo (you may also call him Bobbie Lu, Louie, or MVP, as you wish) in net. He is the best goalie in the universe. In his first season with the Canucks, he broke the franchise record for wins in a season and at one point got hit in the throat by a puck in practice, spent the night in a Montreal hospital, then checked himself out the next day and went on to post a shutout.
In this his first postseason (he spent the last seven years with the perennially-shitty Florida Panthers), Luongo has a record of 4-3 with a 1.47 goals against average. It's worth noting that in each one of those losses his forwards failed to score even one goal, which makes it tough for the goalie to win. But don't despair, the Canucks do have...
Goal Scoring Prowess
Besides the aforementioned Mr. Canuck and the Swedish Twins, the Canucks have a defenseman named Sami Salo whose slapshot travels faster than you've ever driven. They also have the only Danish player to ever appear in the playoffs in Jannik Hansen, a 6'4" giant named Taylor Pyatt, a redheaded brawler known as Jeff "Cowan the Brabarian" (who gets ladies bras thrown on the ice every time he scores, by the way), and a couple of other guys who can, and sometimes do, put the puck in the net.
You know it's playoff hockey when you see stands full of frenzied fans whipping white towels around in little circles. Some might call it silly, others might call it the best fan invention since the wave...but Vancouver fans know it's our tradition.
It began in our first run to the Cup a quarter-century ago, when hockey legend Roger Nielsen was coaching the Canucks and the officating stunk so bad that Nielsen put a white trainer's towel on a stick and waved it from the bench, surrendering to the crappiness of the calls. When the Canucks returned home for the next game, they were greeted with an arena full of fans waving towels. A tradition was born.
You can even get in on this one at home towel in one hand, beer in the other, hockey on the tube.
Think you can handle it?
Welcome to the bandwagon.