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Roy MacGregor

Laughter in Vancouver as bounces go all their way Add to ...

Vancouver Canucks fans now know how long it takes for luck to turn.

Just 29 seconds.

That's 18 seconds on Wednesday when, in the dying moments of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, stone-handed Raffi Torres unexpectedly slipped a puck in behind Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas to give the Canucks a 1-0 victory.

And 11 seconds on Saturday night, the amount of overtime required before Alex Burrows - surely now hockey's least-likely superstar - scored on a wraparound to give Vancouver a 3-2 victory and a two-games-to-none lead heading into Monday's Game 3 in Boston.

That would be Alex Burrows who, if the NHL had decided his bite to the hand of Boston's Patrice Bergeron deserved punishment by suspension, would not even have been playing this night.

Something has happened to Vancouver's hockey team this spring and it cannot be explained by X's and O's or a panel of talking heads on a sports channel.

You could even call it "blind luck" if referring to the astonishing goal that vaulted the Canucks into this final round: a puck bouncing off a stanchion in overtime and ricocheting to the stick of defenceman Kevin Bieksa, who chops a "knuckleball" shot into the San Jose net with every player on the ice - the Sharks goaltender included - still trying to figure out where the puck went.

They survived a Game 7 overtime against Chicago Blackhawks in the first round as well, with Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo making a spectacular save off Chicago's Patrick Sharp before Burrows - this spring's overtime hero - steals a flawed pass from Chicago defenceman Chris Campoli and scores an unassisted goal to win the game.

Perhaps the secret lies in Burrow's signature bow-and-arrow shot toward the rafters when he scores - his personal tribute to best friend and Canucks prospect Luc Bourdon, a happy-go-lucky 21-year-old who died three years ago in a motorcycle accident.

Or perhaps it is merely what Thomas Jefferson thought of luck - "the harder I work, the more I have of it" - as there can be no doubt that this hockey club, the National Hockey League's top team during the 2010-2011 season, has come this far through drive, determination and old-fashioned hard work.

Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault - who is familiar with bad luck, having been fired as coach of the Montreal Canadiens not long after being a finalist for NHL coach of the year in 2000 - thinks there may be something to the way in which bounces have been in Vancouver's favour this spring.

"You've got to get some bounces," he told the Vancouver media this past week. "You get the bounces because you've been doing the right things for a long time. And I believe Vancouver - and I've said this a couple of times - is due for 40 years of good bounces."

Vigneault's reference goes all the way back to the birth of the Vancouver Canucks, when another new team, the Buffalo Sabres, got to pick first in the entry draft and took now-Hall-of-Famer Gilbert Perreault. Vancouver chose second and got Dale Tallon, a good player but not Gilbert Perreault.

The team has had such a litany of bad luck - bad draft picks, tragedies, a failed trip to the final in 1982 and again in 1994, where but for a late goalpost they, rather than the New York Rangers, might have become Stanley Cup champions - that there is a sense this year, in the 40th anniversary of the franchise, everything might change.

The Vancouver Sun even suggested before this final round began that perhaps the bad "karma" goes all the way back to 1972 and the famous Summit Series, when Phil Esposito called out the fans in an emotional on-ice interview after Canada's 5-3 loss to the Soviets in which he turned, tearfully, on "the people who booed us."

Whatever the cause of this turn in fortunes, it has happened. The team that had trouble drafting traded for a No. 1 pick in Luongo. They struck complicated deals to put the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, on the same team. They drafted Ryan Kesler, their workhorse. They found Alex Burrows somehow, a ball-hockey player toiling in a league so poor he was close to "hanging up my skates" when Vancouver brought him into the organization.

As for this spring, the luck has been astonishing. How could it be that Raffi Torres, the least-skilled puck handler on the team, is able to score that goal in the final moments that wins Game 1? How is it that Boston puts out a weaker line to begin overtime in Game 2, allowing Burrows to hurl down the ice and around the net while Thomas essentially falls out the other side, leaving the net wide open for the winning goal?

Such things happen, once in a while, during the regular season. But in the Stanley Cup final?

And it is not just in the goals that end games; it happens right at the start.

Luongo's first test Saturday night came not from the Boston Bruins but from his own team when Daniel Sedin, seemingly confused over what to do with the puck, fires it back through his own legs - and straight at Luongo, who has to close his pads quickly to prevent it from going in what is known as the "five-hole" between the pads.

"I know he was going to save it," Sedin joked later.

"He tries to go five-hole on me in practice all the time," Luongo joked back. "I was ready. He wasn't going to beat me this time."

Yes, they are laughing in Vancouver.

It's easy to do when the bounces, finally, are all going your way.

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

 

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