In the midst of the concussion era, Raffi Torres was vilified for charging at Brent Seabrook and sending his head into another stratosphere.
Torres went un-suspended, and it brought the Hawks to life.
Duncan Keith became a man on a mission. Coupled with the emotional return of Dave Bolland, who came back from his own concussion to register a four-point night in Game 4, the Hawks made Vancouver look vulnerable even though the Canucks were leading the series 3-1.
Prior to the season, the vast majority of hockey pundits had picked Vancouver to either win the Stanley Cup or at least to be among the top contenders.
But the Canucks don’t have the type of charismatic stars that appeal to a wide fan base, and once his team is eliminated, the neutral fan usually cheers for the underdog out of either jealousy or the simple desire to see every series pushed to the limit.
In this case, it seems that a lot of fans and even other NHL players truly hate the Canucks.
As Bolland recently told the Chicago Tribune: “It does get pretty painful watching and seeing that team in it. It sucks seeing [the Canucks] there. Typical—pulling hair and biting people. Sort of like a girl. Stuff like that isn’t meant for hockey.”
In Canada, there has been a great deal of debate about the lack of widespread support for the Canucks among Canadian hockey fans.
After all, most Canadians will tell you they’d like to see the country's Stanley Cup drought ended—it’s been 17 years since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens won the Cup.
As for Montrealers, Ottawanians, and Torontonians, the genuine hockey fan is rarely swayed by patriotism when choosing who to cheer for.
Here in Montreal, Habs fans couldn’t care less about Vancouver bringing the Cup back to our home soil.
They look at things from a purely hockey perspective.
And on that score, people admire Tim Thomas, Milan Lucic, Mark Recchi, and even Brad Marchand before they rally around Ryan Kesler’s chilly personality or the Claude Lemieux-like antics of guys like Alex Burrows and Maxim Lapierre.
In the first round against Chicago, neutral hockey fans rallied around the emotional comeback initiated by Keith, Bolland, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Sharp.
That series also proved to a lot of people that Roberto Luongo is too fragile to win a Stanley Cup.
Vancouver escaped by the skin of their teeth, and even though Luongo won four games and played a great Game 7—which, at the time, was widely considered one of the most important games in Canucks’ franchise history—the Canucks were considered lucky.
The overtime hero was Alex Burrows, who’s proven himself to be a consistent and clutch scorer, but is unlikeable because he dives, bites, and otherwise plays the game like a rat.
Against Nashville, a lot of people didn’t know who to cheer for because Nashville’s bland style made them difficult to care for.
Furthermore, Ryan Kesler’s Mark Messier-like performance in that series was a singular enough achievement that hockey fans could appreciate him for breaking through Nashville’s stifling defense and willing his way to victory.
This time, it was Kevin Bieksa’s turn to step up his game and provide Vancouver with several monumental goals, including the Game 5 double-overtime winner to send his team to the Stanley Cup Finals.
In rounds two and three, Vancouver also controlled the tempo and rarely had breakdowns that tested their collective psyche, so fans never got to see them scratch and claw their way to victory the way they did against Chicago or against Boston in Game 5.
And like Torres' shot in the Chicago series, Aaron Rome’s late hit on Nathan Horton helped Boston come to life and play with a renewed hunger.
But there are other factors which, having been disseminated ad nauseum in the media, have somehow popularized the Big Bad Bruins and demonized the Lotus Land Canucks.
The brilliance of Tim Thomas has been the key to people’s hope for the Bruins. Boston is the underdog in this series, and Thomas is the ultimate underdog.
A late-bloomer who didn’t make the NHL until he was in his 30s, Thomas is a fighter and the central reason Boston has kept Vancouver’s potent offense in check.
And then there’s Burrows, Lapierre, Torres, the Sedins, Kesler, and Luongo. Burrows’ bite of Patrice Bergeron’s glove showed a lack of maturity that helped people hate Burrows more than they already did.
Being hated, of course, has always been part of Burrows’ job description.
Then there’s Lapierre, who makes a meal of most borderline penalties, making it difficult for referees or fans to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Krys Barch, some guy no one’s ever heard of who apparently plays for the Dallas Stars, recently took the time to tweet his scathing thoughts on Lapierre: “I don’t know if he has an ounce of man in him. I’d be embarrassed to be his father.”
Thanks for your two cents, Krys.
Then there’s Torres, who strikes a lot of people as an animal who’s just been let out of his cage.
As for the Sedins, they’re not like Alexander Ovechkin or Toews or Sidney Crosby. They do not win by fighting and standing up for themselves or by making breathtaking end-to-end rushes. As Mike Milbury recently insinuated, revealing his own immaturity, the Sedins play the game like “Thelma and Louise”.
Of course, Milbury is kind of the Rush Limbaugh of hockey.
His brash personality served him well in his hockey career as a fighter, but it made him one of the worst general managers in NHL history, and now he’s found a spot on television by freely speaking his impulsive, old-school hockey mind.
But Milbury’s statement also reminds us that many hockey fans think the same way he does.
Earlier in their careers, the Sedins were commonly referred to as "The Sedin Sisters". And even today, despite being one win away from hoisting the Stanley Cup, many people see the Sedins shy away from physical contact and view them as pansies playing a man's game.
Here’s what Oliers defenseman Ryan Whitney had to say about the hated Canucks on a Boston radio show: “This team is so easy to hate it is unbelievable. I’d say that 90 percent of the guys in the league want nothing to do with seeing them win.”
As for Luongo, he could be viewed as the All-Canadian goalie given his accomplishments over the past few seasons, but instead he gets no credit. All we remember are the few moments of fragility he’s shown.
And you can bet most hockey fans will see it as a low blow that Luongo had the balls to insinuate that he would have saved the shot Lapierre scored on in Game 5.
The truth of the matter is that despite leading the series 3-2, Luongo isn’t the front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy—it's Tim Thomas playing the role of the golden boy.
The hockey community hates the Canucks. Despite having one of the most physical teams in hockey and living up to the pressure of being Stanley Cup favourites from the start of the year, the Canucks are still viewed as being a bunch of girls who can’t handle pressure.
So be it.
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