They almost became the inspiration for an entire city of hockey fans. They were one strike away on two separate occasions. You wouldn’t think that fans of the Vancouver Canucks would be pulling for a team from Texas that was once owned by George W. Bush, but the Rangers' run back to the World Series gave hope to Canucks nation.
The Texas Rangers are the most recent example of a professional sports team that made it all the way to the final round of the playoffs only to fall short, lose one of their best players to free agency and still make it all the way back to the big dance the following year.
They didn’t complain about the short offseason or the fact that Cliff Lee was no longer on the mound for them. They simply put in work all season long and grinded their way to American League supremacy once again.
However, instead of being the team the Canucks could look to for the ultimate inspiration, the Rangers' collapse in the final two games of the 2011 World Series only brings back the painful and familiar memories of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.
Up three games to two in the best-of-seven series, the Rangers simply couldn’t finish the job. Their pitching and defence let them down in Game 6, much like the Canucks' goaltending and defence let them down in Game 6 of the Cup finals. In Game 7, both the Rangers and the Canucks just couldn’t get it done. They were outmatched and were the second-best team on the evening.
It’s not just the circumstances of the Rangers' run to the World Series that’s comparable to the Canucks though. The various pieces of the near-championship puzzle are eerily similar to the Canucks team that came within one game of winning the Stanley Cup.
Aside from the comparison between the offseason departure of Cliff Lee for Texas and the loss of Christian Ehrhoff for Vancouver, think of Nelson Cruz.
He was almost invisible on the stat sheet in the Rangers first round series against the Tampa Bay Rays before going crazy in the next round against the Detroit Tigers. Cruz hit six home runs, had 13 RBI and posted a .364 batting average in the six-game ALCS victory. He went into beast mode and almost single-handedly won the series for Texas.
Does that sound like anyone familiar? How about Ryan Kesler?
Kesler’s beastly performance against the Nashville Predators after not providing much offense in the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks almost mirrors how Cruz performed in the MLB playoffs. Kesler isn’t the only Canuck you can compare to a Texas Ranger though.
The struggles of All-Star pitcher C.J. Wilson in the postseason are all too familiar to Canucks fans. Roberto Luongo is the top goal-stopper for the Canucks, much like Wilson is the top run-stopper for the Rangers. It’s not as if Wilson has been awful in the playoffs, he’s just been inconsistent. He’s had some great starts mixed in with some poor efforts.
The exact same thing can be said about Roberto Luongo. Anyone who followed the Canucks throughout their 2011 playoff run knows about the marvelous shutouts posted by Luongo, but they also know about the games where he was lit up for countless goals on very few shots.
The good news for Canucks fans is that Wilson pitched fairly well in the World Series when called upon, which might just help motivate Luongo to bounce back if the Canucks make it to the finals again in 2012.
Another thing that might motivate several Canucks players is how Josh Hamilton battled through his self-diagnosed sports hernia injury and still put up respectable postseason numbers. That’s not to say the Canucks' walking wounded didn’t battle through their injuries, but many of them failed to produce enough offense in the finals when it mattered the most.
So perhaps the Canucks can still be inspired by the Texas Rangers after all, although the inspiration will be bittersweet if the result in 2012 for Vancouver is the same as the result for Texas in 2011.
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