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Striking First

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks
While Canuck Nation whips itself into a white towel frenzy hoping to see the home-boys shoot down the Stars tonight, here's a little something to keep in mind - winning the opener in any playoff series would certainly seem like the desired result and yet for the Canucks and several other National Hockey League teams the outcome of the first game in a given playoff series recently has meant absolutely nothing.

And this is equally important to remember should the result not be the one the rabid hockey fans in this city are pulling for tonight.

Somewhat inexplicably, the team that has won the first battle has gone on to lose the war in each of the last four series the Canucks have been a part of. In 2002, the Canucks marched into Motown and beat the Red Wings 4-3 in overtime on Henrik Sedin's wrist shot that beat Dominik Hasek. The Canucks even won the second game of that series but wound up losing in six games.

A year later, the Canucks laid an egg in their series opener against St. Louis getting blown out 6-0 at G-M Place yet rebounded nicely to win four of the next six games to beat the Blues in seven. Riding the momentum of their rally from a 3-1 series deficit against St. Louis, the Canucks rolled into the second round in the spring of 2003 and beat Minnesota 4-3 in overtime in the first game with Trent Klatt deflecting home the winner. Yet the Canucks faithful needs no reminding what happened from that point on.

The last time the Canucks were a part of the NHL playoff picture - in 2004 -- they started out in style dousing the Calgary Flames 5-3 on home ice to grab the early lead. Unfortunately, that win in the series opener proved to be the kiss of death yet again with the Canucks bowing out in an epic seven-game struggle.

In fact, seven of the last 10 playoff series the Canucks have been involved in going back to the spring of 1994 have seen the winner of the opener come out on the wrong end of things when all was said and done. That includes the Canucks beating the New York Rangers on Greg Adams' overtime slapshot at Madison Square Garden in Game One of the '94 Final and we all know how that series ended.

And it's not just the Canucks who've seen strong starts in playoff series fail to yield the desired results.

Check the outcomes of the first round of last year's post-season and you'll see that four teams won their openers and went on to take their series, but four others did not. In fact, the two finalists - Carolina and Edmonton - both lost the first games of their opening round series (against Montreal and Detroit) and both would also lose the first games of later series and still survive to meet for the Stanley Cup.

Now, none of this is to suggest that teams don't want to win the first game of any series. It really just serves to illustrate the point that it takes four wins to advance in any series and the first game is just that - one game.

So when was the last time the Vancouver Canucks won a series opener and went on to polish off their opponent? I'm glad you asked. It just happens to be last the time - and only other time -- the Canucks faced the Dallas Stars in the post-season in 1994 when they won the first game 6-4 at the old Reunion Arena and sealed the deal with a 4-2 victory on home ice four games later.

With those towels waving, Canucks fans have to be hoping that bit of history repeats itself in this series.

Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at
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