Like it or not, it's up to Vancouver

 

Calgary could not do it. Montreal did not even come close to doing it. And now, it is up to you, Vancouver. You are all we have left: the last Canadian playoff team standing and the only hope the country has of repatriating the Stanley Cup to its proper home for the first time since Montreal captured the famous trophy in 1993.

 
 
 
 
 

Calgary could not do it. Montreal did not even come close to doing it. And now, it is up to you, Vancouver. You are all we have left: the last Canadian playoff team standing and the only hope the country has of repatriating the Stanley Cup to its proper home for the first time since Montreal captured the famous trophy in 1993.

The country needs you, Vancouver. But do the Canucks warrant our unconditional love?

Are Daniel and Henrik Sedin really capable of inspiring mass devotion the way Jarome Iginla did, back in 2004, when Calgary rolled out the Red Mile and came within a game of winning it all? Would it be right for Mats Sundin to lift the Cup in anything but a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater? And on the ice, will Vancouver be able to slow down a young Chicago juggernaut led by Jonathan Toews, a captain, and a good old Canadian boy at that.

Away from the ice, let's just be frank: Vancouverites often possess a certain smugness, a holier-than-thou, we-have-the-mountains-what-do-the-rest-of-you-Eastern-suckers-have attitude that overlooks some key elements. Yes, Vancouver has the mountains. And the rain. It has the ocean. And more rain. It also has the Canucks, and the rest of us, when it comes to rooting for the Stanley Cup's return to its original home, have a decision to make.

There is an even bigger decision to be reached in San Jose. What to do with Joe Thornton?

The Sharks fired Ron Wilson because he could never get a team that was very good in the regular season past the second round of the playoffs. His successor, Todd McLellan, had a couple more weapons to work with -- a revitalized Rob Blake, a Cup winner with Colorado, and the dangerous Dan Boyle who captured the prize with Tampa Bay. But most of all, he had Thornton and career Shark Patrick Marleau to lead San Jose to a 117-point regular season and a President's Trophy.

Expectations around Silicon Valley were high entering the playoffs. They always are. But the results were even worse than years past: six games and out, and beaten by Anaheim, the Sharks' California rivals. Three of Thornton's five points came in one game. In three other games, Big Joe went pointless.

So, what to do in San Jose? How to fix a winning team that cannot win a playoff round? How to convince your franchise player that hockey legends are made in June, and not in mid-December? - If San Jose's losses are legendary, Calgary's might be the result of a curse: The Curse of Nikolai Khabibulin.

Chicago's No. 1 goaltender appeared to be on his way out of the Windy City at the start of the season after the Blackhawks signed free agent Cristobal Huet to a four year, US$22-million deal. But there he was in Game 6, making 43 stops in the 5-1 series clincher in Calgary.

Khabibulin has a career mark of 22-5-2 against Calgary in the regular season. That doesn't include the four wins he had against the Flames in the 2004 Stanley Cup final, when The Bulin Wall was located in Tampa Bay, or the four wins he added this year.

If Khabibulin had not extinguished the Flames in Game 6, then perhaps Mike Keenan's bad karma would have doomed Calgary in Game 7. Keenan won the Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers in 1994, snapping a 54-year franchise drought. But Iron Mike is the parched one now, and has not won a playoff round since 1996. - All Detroit does is win playoff rounds --and Stanley Cups

(four in the past 11 years). Chris Osgood has been on three of those teams, and was the starting goaltender twice, including last year. He has a 56-29 playoff record with the Wings, and 13 shutouts. And he is the Rodney Dangerfield of goaltending.

The only question about Detroit when the playoffs began was, would Osgood be good enough to beat Columbus rookie Steve Mason? And for once, it was a fair question.

Osgood posted a 3.09 GAA and .887 save-percentage in 46 regular-season games. Even he admitted he was not very good. But true winners -- unlike, say, a Joe Thornton (see above) -- often win when the games matter most. Osgood has a shutout, a 1.75 GAA, and no losses on his record in the 2009 playoffs as the Wings get ready for Anaheim. Now he has another upstart to face in Jonas Hiller. - Montreal had high hopes with the Canadiens celebrating their 100th anniversary season. There was magic in the air, ghosts all around -- The Rocket, The Flower, Big Jean Beliveau -- and, best of all, a first round match-up with Boston.

Beating Boston in the playoffs was practically a divine right for the Canadiens. Just ask Don Cherry. It did not matter that Montreal was missing Andrei Markov, their best defenceman. It didn't matter that Boston was the best team in the Eastern Conference. The ghosts, and past history, would prevail.

Except an old ghost came back to haunt the series. Michael Ryder, a Canadien, until Montreal let the former 30-goal man skate away last summer after making him a healthy scratch in eight of 12 playoff games in 2008, had four goals and seven points in a four-game sweep. "I've kind of forgotten what happened last year," Ryder said. "I'm a Bruin now." And the Bruins are the team to beat in the East.

joconnor@nationalpost.com

 
 
 
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Who will be the NHL's worst?
 
Sabres, easily
Hurricanes
Some other team
Don't know, but would love for my team to get McDavid!