Of all the enjoyable things about watching the Canucks in playoff hockey, whether it be battling from round one onwards, the animosity of being in an opponents building, or the role of the press in hyping a match-up, the thing I miss most about the Canucks not being involved in the quest for Lord Stanley's Cup is seeing which players elevate their game to a higher level throughout the run for the Cup.
During the exhibition season there are a multitude of story lines to follow about how a team will be formed, who will make the cut, and how fast a group can bond to play for one another come opening night. Although these are important things to worry about, in retrospect it amazes to me to compare a team's roster after Game 1 with what they start with during Round 1 of the playoffs. Historically, there are changes on every line and new defencemen as well after the 82 game war of attrition.
When U.S. Thanksgiving arrives (this year it was November 28th), a quick look at the standings usually tells us who's in the playoffs and who's out with almost certainty. The Canucks were 9th in the Conference on that date, three points out of a playoff spot. The only change was Dallas usurping Phoenix to make post-season play. You start to wonder what the other 55 games (give or take) are for when there is only one switch in the playoff teams, but nonetheless the season continues on.
Fast-forward to the final 10 games of the year and all the talk is about playoff preparation or the fight to make the cut for the teams holding a mathematical chance of being there for the big dance.
And then it begins.
The black and blue marathon to make the Final, which only guarantees you a 50-50 chance of winning the Cup and nothing more.
It's that path along the way, and which player endures and stands out, that fascinates me. In bringing it back to the Canucks, it's the enjoyment of watching which team member rises to the top as April turns to June. Would it have been Alex Burrows, whose season was marred by injury? How about Chris Higgins and his tireless work ethic? Or maybe Jason Garrison tastes post-season play again and excels!
Perhaps Eddie Lack continues on with his remarkable turnaround from pre-season question mark due to injury recovery, to the defacto starter for what would have been a opening round match-up with the Anaheim Ducks had the Canucks put together a late season run.
Instead, all that is left is asking what happened and why, while watching other team and their players trudge forward to a final celebration that will be completed by June 19th at the latest.
In following the opening round of Stanley Cup hockey so far, it's difficult to predict which team is destined to raise the Cup, but what's missing the most for me is not knowing which Canuck would have opened eyes and turned heads with his increased level of play.