VANCOUVER – There are some very nervous Canuck fans in Vancouver.
The anticipation that surged through the city over predictions the Canucks would win the Stanley Cup has turned into fear of suffering one of the biggest upsets in franchise history.
Wide grins of excitement have been replaced by clenched teeth. Anger is mixed with disbelief.
The Canucks being forced into a Game 7 against their hated rival, the Chicago Blackhawks, has some people so upset they don’t even want to talk about the team any more.
“It affects the people’s mood,” said Vince Murdocco, who along with his family operates Calabria Cafe, billed as the oldest coffee shop on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive.
“They don’t want to talk about it. It’s become a faux pas.”
At the nearby Cafe Roma Sports Bar, a man shook his head sadly over the thought of what could happen if the Canucks are knocked out of the first round of the NHL playoffs.
“If they lose, the city is ruined,” he shrugged.
What frustrates most people is how fast the Canucks fortunes have gone sideways.
The commanding 3-0 lead Vancouver held in the Western Conference quarter-final series has crumbled like one of the cookies Murdocco sells. The Canucks are in danger of becoming just the fourth team in NHL history to let an opponent overcome a three-game deficit.
“After the 5-0 loss (in Game 5), one fan I know took off his jersey and threw it in the garbage,” said Murdocco. “That was a $110 jersey.
“They won the Presidents’ Trophy. That might be their Stanley Cup.”
The Canucks have twice lost in the Stanley Cup final, but both those runs were surprises. This year was going to be different.
The city’s hopes were fuelled when the team had the NHL’s best regular-season record. The club set franchise records for 54 wins, 117 points and 27 road victories. The Canucks scored more goals than any team in the league and allowed the fewest.
Daniel Sedin led the league in scoring with 41 goals and 63 assists for 104 points. Netminder Roberto Luongo is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the best goaltender in the league.
Lose Game 7 and this year’s Canucks become another team who couldn’t live up to expectations.
Seeing the Canucks flounder in the playoffs has become as much a part of spring in Vancouver as cherry blossoms and gas prices rising.
“The Canucks have never proven to me they are a playoff team,” said Joe, who didn’t want to give his last name. “I believe we have too many soft players that play in the playoffs.
“They are a great regular season team. But for some reason some of the stars seem not to produce in key moments.”
After every loss, callers to radio sports programs vent their anger. The team’s heart is questioned.
There are calls for coach Alain Vigneault to be fired. Some believe the Canucks still lack a big, power forward that can dominate in the playoffs.
Luongo, who has a history of folding against the Hawks, is often the lightening rod for criticism. He was in net when the Canucks lost Games 4 and 5 by a combined score of 12-2.
The goaltender, who is completing the first of a 12-year, US$64-million contract, was on the bench when rookie Cory Schneider started Game 6 Sunday night. When Schneider was hurt in the third period, he was replaced by Luongo, who allowed the winning goal in overtime.
Murdocco thinks Luongo is being unfairly singled out.
“Without Luongo, they are nothing,” he said. “They wouldn’t be here without him.”
Mike Gillis, the Canucks’ general manager, said Monday one reason Vancouver has been forced into a Game 7 is because the referees are making calls against his team.
Gillis’s claims, and the Canuck plight, didn’t generate much sympathy from other fans.
“This is why NHL fans dislike this team so much,” said one posting on TSN.ca. “Suck it up and play.
“I think the nucks already lost game 7. Not one player showed any emotion in post game interviews. Not one player admitted they have to take responsibility. . . No leaders. No balls. Not ready to compete for the cup.”
Not all Vancouver fans are ready to abandon ship just because of some choppy waters.
“We have the biggest bandwagon jumpers,” said one caller to Team 1040, the Vancouver radio station that broadcasts Canuck games.
“There are always doubters about this team. Give the team a chance. Be loud. Be proud.”
Most of the Canuck players tune out the noise around the team.
“We don’t really read the paper,” said forward Alex Burrows.
“People are passionate about their team. As a player, you want to be in a market where people are passionate about their team and want us to be a good team. For us, the main focus is to play a good game on the ice.”