VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Watching Canucks fans raise hell last night in downtown Vancouver reminded me of the guys who get paternity-tested on Maury, learn they're not the father and launch into the Ickey Shuffle. Some people are so beat-down that mere relief tastes like a miracle. The Canucks had the best record in the NHL this year, and their fans still are in that whipped-dog category.
The last time the Canucks got past the second round of the playoffs was '94, when the Rangers beat them in Game 7 of the finals. When the Canucks lost that year, smashed fans smashed store windows, and cops perfumed the downtown with tear gas.
At the Railway Club before last night's game I asked two Canucks fans whether they'd riot, one said he was ready: "I've got a backpack full of lemon juice, got my balaclava, some body armor …" (Except, as a Canadian, he probably said "body armour.") We laughed. The other had been at the Game 6 last year where the Blackhawks drummed Vancouver out of the playoffs. A despondent Vancouverite in the washroom afterward announced: "Man, you know what we should do? We should riot." Somehow that burst of initiative didn't launch a revolt.
"It's one of those things," the guy at the bar told me. "If you have to ask, it's not going to happen."
Win or lose, the Canucks had already Spudded themselves. Up 3-0, they slept through two awful loses (7-2, 5-0) and fumbled away Game 6 in OT. They were about to become the fourth NHL team ever to cough up a three-game playoff lead — and as a top seed in the first round, no less. Fans here have been in such a panic they've taken to using f'ly-worded language on blogs their mums could see. I'm about as superstitious as an abacus, but even I knew it was a bad sign when the CBC led its 7 p.m. broadcast with pre-game filler then kicked it to a segment on assisted suicide.
A quick Alexandre Burrows goal in the first period evened things out. The Canucks outshot Chicago like mad in the second and in the third looked ready to run out the clock after Duncan Keith was called for hooking with about three minutes left. Then Jonathan Toews evened things with a shorthanded goal he stabbed past Roberto Luongo while skidding on his knees, and it was 1-1. "People are going to start punching babies," a woman at the bar said.
Then in OT, Burrows yanked a puck out of the air, sprinted a few feet and blasted a slapshot over Corey Crawford's shoulder. It was so fucking (sorry, mum!) miraculous that Granville Street flooded with hoot-hollerin' Canucks fans high-fiving strangers and more. No tear gas-worthy mayhem, but I did see one guy running by a shop window slow down and give it a little shoulder-check. Maybe casing the joint.
Sam Eifling is an American journalist living and tweeting in Canada.