For 40 seasons the Vancouver Canucks have wallowed in mediocrity.
Of those 40 seasons, there have been clear and sometimes surprising outliers, bursts of light and promise in a sea of otherwise relative darkness—some of it sustained, but more of it fleeting. Flashes in the pan.
Through it all, the aura and respect of being Goliath has escaped them.
Until this season.
This season, the unmitigated success of the franchise has been well chronicled, and it’s resulted in the regular citation of three words which have never before existed in this town simultaneously: potential, expectation, delivery.
The last one is up for debate, and a work still-in-progress, but there is ample room to concede that this team has put its potential to proper use, and largely already delivered on its own expectations, as well as those outside of the organization.
First in points, first in wins, first in goals scored, first in goals against, first in power-play percentage, second in penalty-kill percentage (off-the-mark by a half a percentage point), and an absolute truckload of trophies, awards and honors: Another Art Ross Winner, a Hart Trophy finalist, a Selke finalist, the William M. Jennings Trophy, a Vezina finalist, a Jack Adams Award finalist and a General Manager of the Year finalist.
Then, Tuesday night, Western Conference champions.
Then, Tuesday night, Stanley Cup finalists.
(And the odds-on favorites, to boot.)
For Canucks fans, this is all new and enthusiasm-curbing territory. The fact is that the mood in this town is not one of hysteria, or unbridled celebration or excitement. Tuesday night, Granville Street erupted, but outside of that, the reaction has been less madness, more jovial-relief.
A few years ago, if you had told a Canucks fan that their beloved team would be in the Finals in a few seasons, and that the mood of the city would be tempered, relaxed and simply impressed when they got there, they’d of had you committed.
Their team has been here before, but never like this. Never the team to beat, let alone the team to beat all playoffs. Let alone the team to beat all regular season. Let alone the team to beat all regular season since last years offseason—when the team traded for Keith Ballard and signed Dan Hamhuis, Manny Malhotra, Raffi Torres and Jeff Tambellini, a series of moves which drew applause and labels of contender-ship from many a respected analyst.
On all of this, the team has unquestionably delivered, but in doing so they have reconfigured their own expectations and potential.
Now that they’re here—where they expected to be anyways—their expectations and those of their fanbase have unquestionably risen to ‘all or nothing.’
From the perspective of expectation and potential, it simply does not matter who they play now.
It’s officially their Cup to lose, and only they can lose it, only they can beat themselves.
Put another way, it cannot be taken, only lost.
They've proven they can play it loose, run and gun, and they've proven they can play it tight, tooth and nail. They've proven they can play it physical, muscle on muscle. They've proven they can play it any way anyone else wants to play it—and win, with gas still left in the tank doing so.
There have been speed-bumps and heart attacks along the way to be sure, but with every villain and face of adversity slain they've grown another inch taller and put on another pound of muscle and added another bounce to their step and their swagger.
When Game 1 starts next Wednesday, June 1, the Canucks will only be battling themselves, and trying to continue their current and largely uninterrupted campaign of bucking their own history into oblivion.
The Canucks will have to bring more than this, more than that, and the kitchen itself, simply because they can.
Because they can, they must.