Canucks and Beyond

Canucks-Avalanche Flashback

03/16/2011 at 5:24pm EDT

Back in the old days, I used to have a tag on this site for posts largely related to how much I hated the Colorado Avalanche. (Not hate-hate, but you know, good old fashioned hockey hate.) But I haven’t used that tag for a very long time obviously—much more fun to take shots at truly good teams then ones that actually do suck, by my own logic—but that doesn’t mean that a moment like tonight is any less enjoyable.

It has been a banner season for the Vancouver Canucks, and the franchise can ensure another one will go into the rafters of Rogers Arena with at least one point Wednesday night.

The Canucks will clinch the Northwest Division with a win or post-regulation loss against the Colorado Avalanche at Rogers Arena. Vancouver, which carries a six-game winning streak into this game, currently leads second-place Calgary by 20 points and the Flames have only 10 games remaining.

Clinching the NW Division with 10 games remaining on the schedule would be fantastic all on its own. But against the Colorado Avalanche, there’s a sweet justice to that, if you think back a few years.

Do you remember suffering through the final game of the 2003 season? That year, Vancouver gave up its hold on the the NW Division title which rested in its grasp right up till the final game of the season. In that game, they faced an L.A. Kings team they had every reason to believe they could crush… and they didn’t even have to crush them, just get one single point to clinch the division.

We were optimistic…surely they’d buckle down and pull that one point off, right? Alas…

The lead up to that game was full of anxiety for Canucks fans. At the time, both Vancouver and Colorado were contenders for that title, but both limping badly through the final stretch of the season. Still, Vancouver managed to command a decent lead for a time which seemed like it would be enough to pull it off. But as they kept losing, the division tightened more and more, and finally they came to that fateful game.

The Canucks lost 2-0.

I still remember how shocked we were. Of course anything can happen in hockey, but it was a monster collapse and hard to fathom as it was happening.

The end of the game made headlines throughout the hockey world as captain Markus Naslund spoke to the crowds from the ice as the final buzzer sounded, sharing his famous assessment of what happened to his team:

“We choked,” said Canucks captain Markus Naslund following the team’s 2-0 loss to the Kings. “But we’re going to change that. We’re going to play a lot better in the playoffs. I can promise you that.”

The consequences of that loss were truly daunting. Falling into fourth place led the Canucks to a first round match-up against the St. Louis Blues, a team which had perennially made the playoffs in those days, but could never seem to have any success there. And yet this year, they were going in healthy and with some of the best players in the game—they were the universal favorite to take the series. Alternately, the Avalanche went on to face Minnesota, considered a far more attractive opponent in the first round.

It was an upsetting time to be a Canucks fan and the media and fans were apoplectic in their response to the end of the regular season. And of course Avs fans were so overjoyed, they drove us all half-insane with their smugness.
Somewhat Irrationally, I guess I’ve hated the Avalanche ever since. :)

However, there was a happy turn of events to follow very shortly.

In the first round, Minnesota eliminated the Avalanche in 7 games. I can still remember the wailing and whining coming out of the Denver Post at the time. A beautiful thing.

And for Vancouver, an even more astonishing result. After falling down in the series 3-0, the Canucks came back to take their playoff round in 4 straight games. (Update: as Josh points out in the comments, my memory was a bit faulty. Canucks actually rallied from a 3-1 deficit, not 3-0). Hard to forget the euphoria of that final game… and I suppose maybe I should be a little more charitable to the Avs. After all, if we hadn’t “choked” down the final stretch, who knows what would have happened.

Nonetheless, I’ll be crossing my fingers for that single point out of tonight’s game. Times may have changed as the Avs themselves are a heartbeat away from mathematical elimination, but old ghosts never go very far away.

For a Canucks fan with a long memory, this wouldn’t be a bad way to clinch a division title.

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