When we missed the playoffs last year, there was a fair bit of shock and confusion. After all, we started the season with Roberto talking openly about competing for the Stanley Cup. And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only fan buying into the pre-season hype. The chat boards were full of commentary about “what needs to happen for us to win the Cup this year?”
The only voice of reason was emanating from the bouche of Coach V. He was asked by a reporter, what he did feel were their chances were to win the Cup this year? Does anyone remember Vigneault saying, “well this is a tough conference and we need to make the playoffs first.”?
Didn’t you just love the modesty? I mean here was a guy, fresh off winning the Jack Adams award (AKA, the Kiss of Death Cup) cautioning the fan base that we would be in tough just to make the playoffs.
Come on! All he had to do was have the best goaltender in the world sing “Put me in Coach, I’m ready to play…today!” and everything would magically fall into place. And not only put in big Lou but also that highly rated D-corps that was partly responsible for the third best GAA in the league. And surely the Sedins were ready to take that next step towards stardom. And Markus and Mo would resurrect the remnants of the West Coast Express and well hell, even a blind squirrel can find his own nuts occasionally. We were a lock on the playoffs and would most certainly put a hurtin’ on whomever stood in our way on the road to Lord Stanley’s Cup.
As the season wore on, and the injuries mounted up, we still believed. Hell, we were coming down to the last couple of weeks of the season still fighting it out with the hated Minnesota Wild for first place in the division. All those injuries and we were in a heated battle for first place. Fasten your seat belt, kids cause here we go! And then the wheels came off in the last two weeks and suddenly we ended up with the 10th pick in the NHL draft.
Talk about whiplash.
And at the beginning of this year, suitably chastised, we didn’t talk about winning the Cup. We talked about our chances of making the playoffs. And there was a lot of “if, then” statements. If we get this going, then that should happen. If we get Roberto back on track, then we should be competitive every night. If the D stays healthy, then we could make the playoffs. If we get a scoring winger for the Sedins, then we’ll at least have one good line. And so on and so on.
Oh yeah, and the team that announced that it had it’s sights set on the Division title this year? Why, that would be the Edmonton Oilers. They had a great finish last year as some of their young talent really began to fly. Sure, Rollie the goalie was finished, but Matt Garon looked like a very good long term solution. And Sourray would be healthy again. In addition, they had traded the deadwood and got stars like Lubomir Visnovsky and a potential fireball in Gilbert Brule. The Oiler PP would be unstoppable. And the Oiler PK had been very good already, so no problema there!
When questioned, Lowe and MacT responded far differently than Vigneault had a year earlier. They openly admitted they had their sights set on the Division title and even tossed around words like “elite” when talking about their team. The Oiler young guns were featured front cover on The Hockey News as most pundits predicted they would take the Northwest. Edmonton fans were overjoyed.
And here we are, the last week of the season and the Oilers are all but out of it, their season shredded.
Now I rehash this business, not to put down the Oilers. First off, they could beat us tonight. They’ve settled our hash before and there is nothing so dangerous as a wounded animal. And make no mistake, the Oilers are wounded. Their fan base is in full revolt as season ticket owners talk openly about cancelling their season tickets if owner Daryl Katz doesn’t make some serious changes. Starting with putting the shoe to MacT.
Now, there is a guy on the Edmonton chat boards by the name of Dashing Silver Fox, who provided a realistic counter point most of the season (or a hugely negative opinion, if you just can’t stop believing) and his overarching point has been that MacT may not be the only problem in Oiltown. DSF bedevils his own fan base by pointing out the realities that Sourray is the only 20 goal scorer on the team, superstar Ales Hemsky isn’t even in the top twenty in points (he’s 47th) and the horrendous contracts handed out by Kevin Lowe could handicap any Oiler efforts to right the ship for years come. A new coach just might not get ‘er done.
Again, don’t be fooled by all this folks, cause the Oilers are capable of scoring in bunches (they tuned up Columbus this year a couple of times) and old Rollie is still capable of shutting the shutters (ask the San Jose Sharks). So, we are anything but a lock tonight.
But it shows you what rose colored glasses can do.
Sure, we’ve been winning. But we haven’t won anything yet…except maybe an opportunity. So that what the 82 game marathon is all about. Winning an opportunity. That’s all we’ve earned.
And tonight was an example of the Canucks at the end of an eight game road trip. I know that one of those games was at home against the Ducks the other night…but when you leave a day later it feels like you’re still on the road. There’s no sense reporting on a game like this. Rollie kept them in it and we couldn’t cash in on some decent chances.
So we were out of gas and it showed. And young Sam Gagner continues to show that he’s a late season performer. The Oilers keep their slim playoff hopes alive although they’ll still be hard pressed to make it to the post season. And we fall from third to fifth…but really, we’ve been looking ahead to the Flames game for a couple of weeks now. And players will tell you that they play all season to get home ice advantage, but I’ll take the counter point here. I don’t think home ice advantage is all that much in the post season. To win the Cup you need to win on the road as well as at home…and we can talk about that now because we are in the playoffs. We can say it out loud now.
Our quest is to win the Stanley Cup.