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Vancouver fans are worried after their team's dreadful performance in the past two Stanley Cup finals games in Boston. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS/DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Vancouver fans are worried after their team's dreadful performance in the past two Stanley Cup finals games in Boston. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS/DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

GARY MASON

High anxiety in Vancouver Add to ...

The game hadn't been over 10 minutes when the phone board at radio station CKNW in Vancouver exploded.

"Here's where I'm going to play coach," the first caller told Sportstalk host Dan Russell. "Why not play Cory Schneider in Game 5 and get the team's adrenalin going again?"

"Because if you can't win with your $10-million goalie you have bigger problems than just him," Russell responded. "It's [Roberto]Luongo or bust."

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"Well, I'm sorry," the caller interjected. "Then we're not going to win. It's as simple as that."

And so it would go well into the evening and continue throughout the day Thursday on almost any radio station you cared to listen to in British Columbia. The Boston Bruins' back-to-back victories over the Vancouver Canucks evened the Stanley Cup final at two games apiece and inflicted incalculable damage on the notoriously fragile psyche of Canucks fans everywhere.

Beneath the pleas for calm being issued by the team's most faithful supporters is a growing sense of panic and dread in the province. Vancouver's burgeoning legion of fans has rarely had its loyalty and belief tested in these playoffs - at least since the team survived a first-round scare against the Chicago Blackhawks.

But now, after two lop-sided losses against the Bruins, the Canucks' often fickle followers are beginning to contemplate the possibility that this may not be the year the team slays all those playoff ghosts of the past after all. That 40 years of postseason futility becomes 41.

"Honestly," popular Vancouver sportscaster Don Taylor said Thursday. "I sense less a feeling of panic in the city and more a feeling of people being resigned to the team losing. It's like, 'Okay, now the real Canucks have shown up. This is what we've had for 40 years. It took them a while to appear but here they are.'"

Taylor has been taking the pulse of Canucks fandom on television and radio for more than two decades. He agrees that while there may not be any fans in the NHL more passionate about their team than those rooting for the Canucks, there may not be any who are more neurotic either.

Inside British Columbia, those pledging support for the team are famous for deserting it at the least bit of adversity. After the team's 4-0 loss to Boston on Wednesday, emergency rooms throughout the province would have been filled with Canucks fans who'd injured themselves jumping from the team's bandwagon.

Some would say they come by their capriciousness honestly.

"It comes with a 40-year history of, I'm not going failure, but some really bizarre circumstances that have added up to a lot of disappointment," Taylor said. "I'm not sure there is any other franchise in the league in which you associate so many players with failure."

Vancouver's phenomenal regular season-accomplishments and Stanley Cup hype have led to a deep surge in fan support. On the West Coast, it has become trendy to wear Canucks colours. This could work in the team's favour as it faces a monumental examination of its character.

It could be that the allegiance of those who were drawn to the team more out of fashion than sincere interest is better suited to survive the loyalty test the Canucks' recent play has spawned. They don't have that history of failure tempting their fidelity to the team.

Not surprisingly, Luongo has become the focal point of much of the debate and hysteria the team's current predicament has created. Goalies are always in Vancouver. It's why former general manager Brian Burke called the city a "goalie graveyard." After Game 2, Luongo was being talked about as the No. 1 candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the most valuable player in the playoffs.

Now many of those same fans who were touted his goaltending prowess are suggesting Schneider, the backup, start the next game. As a goaltender in Vancouver you are either a hero or a bum, sometimes in the same game.

The current state of anxiety in British Columbia will either be heightened or alleviated depending on what happens in Game 5 Friday. Should the Canucks lose to stand within a game of defeat, the apprehension and unease will likely reach historic levels.

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