It is Vancouver Canucks' time to win Stanley Cup

Nicholas J. Cotsonika
Yahoo! Sports

Dan Hamhuis(notes) grew up in British Columbia. He goes back to his hometown every summer. He said a few folks there have season tickets to the Vancouver Canucks.

He isn't from Burnaby or Surrey, nearby suburbs. He isn't from a place like Kelowna or Kamloops, cities a mere four or five hours away. He's from a small town called Smithers – a northern outpost of about 5,500 people much closer to Ketchikan, Alaska, than to Vancouver.

Even though these folks have to drive 15-1/2 hours or fly two hours to see their Canucks, they do it. They split their season tickets, make the games they can and make sure someone else makes the games they can't.

"They make it work," said Hamhuis, a defenseman who joined the Canucks last summer as a free agent. "I know how passionate this province is about this team. Even right now, I think every small town up there has parades every night after we win. It's pretty funny to see. It's amazing the support. It would be great to get them the Cup."

The Canucks should get them the Cup. They deserve to be favored over the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup final, starting Wednesday night. From Smithers to Vancouver and everywhere in between, there ought to be parades like nothing they've ever seen before.

It's their time. It's their turn.

The Canucks have never won the Cup since joining the NHL in 1970. They have been to the Cup final twice before, in 1982 and 1994, and they came oh, so close the last time. They went to Game 7 before falling to the New York Rangers by one goal.

But this is different. Those were teams that finished second in their division during the regular season and made unexpected playoff runs. This is a team that was built for this moment – over the past few years, months and weeks – and has what it takes to beat the Bruins.

Five times in seven seasons, the Canucks finished with at least 100 points in the regular season. They never advanced past the second round of the playoffs. Twice in the past two years, they lost to the same team in the second round, the Chicago Blackhawks.

So they deepened their roster and their resolve. They added players like Hamhuis and Keith Ballard(notes) on defense, Manny Malhotra(notes) and Raffi Torres(notes) up front. They subtracted behavior like pushing, shoving and chirping after the whistle. Everything they did was with a greater purpose in mind.

"This whole year," captain Henrik Sedin(notes) said, "we’ve tried to prepare for the playoffs – staying on an even keel, not getting too high, not getting too low, getting ready, trying to prepare for each game like we are in the playoffs."

The result was a dominant regular season. The Canucks racked up 117 points, 12 more than they ever had before and 10 more than anyone else. They scored the most goals and allowed the fewest. They ranked first on the power play, third on the penalty kill.

It almost didn't matter. They blew a 3-0 series lead in the first round against their nemesis, the Blackhawks, and benched goaltender Roberto Luongo(notes) for Game 6. It looked like everything would fall apart, that they would be remembered as chokers instead of champions.

But they eked out an overtime victory in Game 7, and they have gotten stronger ever since. Ryan Kesler(notes) carried them in the second round as they eliminated the Nashville Predators in six games. Henrik and Daniel Sedin(notes) came alive in the Western Conference final as they beat the San Jose Sharks in five.

Now they face the Bruins knowing they have won different ways with different players at different times.

They have handled the Blackhawks’ high-end talent and speed, the Predators' suffocating defense and goaltending, the Sharks' depth and physical forechecking. The Sedins and Kesler are the engines up front, but they have a strong supporting cast – and it will be only stronger if Malhotra can come back from a serious eye injury and contribute. Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa(notes) lead a puck-moving defense, and Bieksa was hot offensively during the Western Conference final. Even Luongo's benching seems long ago.

"I've been feeling good the last couple series," said Luongo, who has a 2.29 goals-against average, .922 save percentage and two shutouts, the best numbers of his playoff career in each category.

Not that this is a sure thing. The Bruins are trying to end their own long wait. They have their own high expectations and earned their own way. Although they have won five Cups, they haven't won one since 1972, the Bobby Orr era, and haven't been to the Cup final since 1990, the Ray Bourque era. They had a 103-point regular season and expected to make at least the Eastern Conference final.

They, too, almost went down in the first round. They fell into a 2-0 hole to their hated rivals, the Montreal Canadiens. Already there was talk about the job security of coach Claude Julien and general manager Peter Chiarelli.

But they also eked out an overtime victory in Game 7 and have gotten stronger ever since. The second round brought a cleansing sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers, to whom they had blown a 3-0 series lead – and a 3-0 lead in Game 7 – the year before. They outlasted the Tampa Bay Lightning in the conference final, playing a patient, almost perfect Game 7 to win 1-0.

The Bruins' depth up front compares to that of the Canucks. They have a top two-way forward in Patrice Bergeron(notes) like the Canucks do in Kesler. Their shut-down defense pairing of Zdeno Chara(notes) and Dennis Seidenberg(notes) could frustrate the Sedins the way the Predators' Shea Weber(notes) and Ryan Suter(notes) did. Their goaltender, Tim Thomas(notes), carries the same title Luongo does (Vezina Trophy finalist), but none of the baggage.

His entertaining style and inspiring backstory set him up to be the hero. Thomas might allow some goals, but he makes spectacular saves. He had to prove himself in Europe and the minor leagues before getting his shot in the NHL. Luongo? He's set up to be the goat. He might make a lot of saves, but he allows a few leaky goals. He's a former fourth overall pick who was always supposed to be here and finally has made it now.

"We realize that there's a lot of work ahead of us," Julien said. "Probably the hardest games to win, as you know, will be against a team that kind of dominated the league this year. And we know we're capable of doing it. We certainly don't feel like we're a team that is not capable of winning games against this team, and we're going to have to go out there and prove it."

In the end, the difference should be the Canucks' top-shelf skill, their puck possession and their power play, which has scored 17 goals in these playoffs to the Bruins' five. The Canucks should give their province something it has never had, something their country hasn't had since 1993, and to feel the importance they don't have to be from British Columbia or even Canada.

The Sedins are from Sweden. The Canucks drafted them in 1999 – Henrik second overall, Daniel third – and they have played in Vancouver since 2000. As Henrik said, "This is home for us." They have children who were born in B.C. They have made close friends there.

Year after year, disappointment after disappointment, they have lingered for a little while in Vancouver before heading back to Sweden for the summer. Henrik said they have felt the fans' deep despair, but the fans have treated them with respect.

"They have believed in us for a long time," he said.

It's time to reward them.

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