With the rollercoaster ride that was the 2008-2009 season finally coming to an end last weekend, the Vancouver Canucks have not only secured themselves a playoff berth and home ice advantage, but they also managed to earn their second Northwest Division title in three years. But by setting such a high bar with their regular season success, the question as to whether or not the Canucks will prove to be force during the playoffs has been brought to light… again.
The Canucks clinched the top spot in their division last Saturday in Denver against an injury-plagued Colorado Avalanche team with a 1-0 overtime victory, in which they only needed a single point to take their Calgary Flame rivals out of the running for first place in the Northwest. Vancouver now prepares to face the sixth-seed underdog, the St. Louis Blues, in a first round series that is sure to encompass a ton of media coverage as these two teams get set to go head-to-head in the first round for the first time since the 2003 Western Conference Quarter Finals, a series which the Canucks took 4-3.
This season, the Canucks and Blues faced each other a total of four times and of those four games played, Vancouver only came out on top twice. Though a 50/50 record may not thrill Canuck fans, the fact that the Blues have not qualified for the playoffs since before the NHL lockout and are expected, though not guaranteed, to enter the first round with three of their best players on the injury reserve list (Eric Brewer, Paul Kariya, and Erik Johnson), does perhaps, if nothing else, let fans relax, if only a little bit.
However, it’s also a known fact that the Canucks post-season success has also been limited, since they made it to the Stanley Cup finals against the New York Rangers in 1994, so limited that Vancouver has failed to make it past a single semi-final round in the playoffs since their miracle run. But on the flip side, if you were to ask me in September if the Canucks were going to win the division and in January, during their lengthy loosing streak, ask if they were even going to make the playoffs, I would probably have responded with something along the lines of “dream on,” but it’s funny how much can change over such a short period of time.
The Canucks’ February turnaround has instilled new hope and faith amongst fans, and also makes it difficult to write this team off from doing any serious playoff damage. With consistent point production from the Sedin Twins, a blue-collar work ethic from Ryan Kesler and Alexandre Burrows, and a stingy Roberto Luongo between the pipes, there seems to be nothing holding the Canucks back from making a statement against the Blues in the first round. But where have we heard this all before? Oh, that’s right, virtually every playoff run that the Canucks have ever been on in the last decade or so, with different names, of course, but you get the gist.
And let’s be honest, Vancouver is one of the biggest hockey markets in the entire league and is more-than-likely going to stay that way for years to come, but I am a firm believer that the people who support this team deserve more than to watch them fall out of the playoffs in the first or second round, or worse yet, to miss the post-season entirely. Is that too much to ask for, that a team not only makes the playoffs on an annual basis, but also gives the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks of the league a run for their money? If it is, then why bother playing hockey with golf season in full effect.
The truth is, the Canucks are on the same mission they’ve been on for 39 years and that mission is to, at long last, win hockey’s Holy Grail, the Stanley Cup. And with all the pieces of the puzzle there, it’s now only a matter of putting them together and letting the rest take care of itself.