Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Will jersey jinx get in the way of the post-Olympic hat-trick?

The year after Canada won no gold medals at the Montreal Olympics, the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup.
Canada was shutout again at the Calgary 1988 Winter Olympics, but the Flames were Stanley Cup champions in 1989.
Canada's record 14th gold medal was in hockey at Rogers Arena. Can the Vancouver Canucks complete the post-Olympic hat trick?
The President’s Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks will eliminate the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks from the first round in six games.

Chicago won the 2009 and 2010 series when Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo became a sieve. That won't happen in the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs. These are better Canucks and lesser Blackhawks.
Jonathan Toews, and only Jonathan Toews, can disprove this prediction.


Rogers Arena is like a second home to the Manitoban. He led Canada to the world junior championship at the former General Motors Place in January 2006, was drafted there in June 2006 and became Canada’s leading point-getter in the 2010 Winter Olympics with eight when it was briefly known as Canada Hockey Place.

He was voted the Olympic tournament’s best forward and had the first goal in the 3-2 golden overtime win over the United States. If the Canucks contain Toews, they will advance. Simple as that.

The bigger question is, will the Canucks go all the way and become the third Canadian team to win a Stanley Cup the year after the Olympics came to their rink?

In 1976, the Montreal Forum was a multipurpose venue for the Summer Olympics, hosting the basketball gold medal match, boxing, handball, volleyball and gymnastics. Romanian 14-year-old Nadia Comaneci won her three gold medals and registered a perfect 10.0 score in the home of the Habs.

On May 14, 1977, Montreal completed a sweep of the Boston Bruins with a 2-1 overtime win at the Boston Garden. The Canadiens won 60 games to finish first overall in the regular season.

In 1988, the Olympic Saddledome in Calgary was the site of hockey and figure skating at the Winter Olympics. Katarina Witt repeated as gold medalist in women's figure skating for East Germany.

On May 25, 1989, the Flames doubled the Canadiens 4-2 in game six of the final at the Forum. Calgary was first overall in 1989 after winning 54 times.

Vancouver 2010? The Cold War is no more. Eastern Europeans had a dismal Winter Olympics.

Canada failed to win gold at Montreal 1976 and Calgary 1988. In Vancouver, the home and native land won 14 gold medals on home ice and snow. The last came inside the Canucks’ home rink on Feb. 28, 2010.

That overtime win against the United States in the biggest, most-watched game in hockey history was Luongo's most-recent championship match. Canada won in spite of him.

The Canucks finished first overall but their fate in the 2011 playoffs rests on Luongo’s shoulders. If his playoff record is still a mediocre .500 by the end of spring, he will be on the trading block. If he's on the ice if the Canucks are the last team standing in June, then he'll be a bigger local legend than Trevor Linden and Stan Smyl.

* * * * *

Are the Canucks jinxed by design?

The Canucks were just 1-6 when they wore blue, green and white in the playoffs during the first go-round. That sole win was in their April 15, 1975 playoff debut in the Montreal Forum against the Habs. The only other stick-in-rink victory was the 2006 first round, game-seven knockoff of the Dallas Stars.

In 1978-1979 they switched to the Oh Henry-coloured, flying V jerseys with the downhill skate/spaghetti plate logo. They won the Campbell Conference in 1982 and 1994, but did not capture the Stanley Cup either time. Both times, the Calgary Flames were first-round victims. The Flames are not in the 2011 playoffs.

Since reverting full-time to the stick-in-rink in 2007-2008, the Canucks swept the St. Louis Blues but lost to Chicago in 2009 and beat the L.A. Kings but lost to Chicago in 2010. That's a record of 12-10, but more importantly two second-round eliminations. So, in their entire history, the Canucks have just 14 wins in the nice-looking blue, green and white.

The Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames were sporting red jerseys when they captured the Stanley Cup the year after their cities hosted Olympics. The Canucks -- who came oh-so close in red, yellow and black in 1994 -- need to play colour-blind and win 16 games this spring.

Easier said than done.

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