A question for all the angst-ridden, long-suffering Vancouver Canucks fans, still pining for the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship after a 40-year wait:
Growing up, playing street hockey or rep or house league or any other level of the game, did anyone ever dream of winning the Stanley Cup in Game 6 of the final?
Of course not. Nobody did.
It was always Game 7 when that near-mythical trophy was raised - one game, winner-take-all, with all the attendant emotions that go into that sort of decisive contest, including adrenalin, history, nerves, fatigue. So when Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault spends his entire post-game press conference Monday night harping on just a single theme - that their 5-2 loss in Game 6 is already in the past - you can take him at his word that it truly is long forgotten.
Game 7s stand on their own.
They do not owe anything to events that may have happened previously in the series, which is both a good thing and a bad thing for the Canucks. It is good because they can erase the memory of another so-so Roberto Luongo outing immediately from their minds. It is bad because all the positive karma associated with Luongo's strong play at Rogers Arena in this series (a 0.67 goals-against average, an otherworldly .980 save percentage) may not be a factor either.
Game 7s bring the unexpected. In 2009, the Pittsburgh Penguins won a seventh game against the defending-champion Detroit Red Wings, with uber-star Sidney Crosby injured and unable to play for most of the game. Against a team with Detroit's composure and pedigree, it seemed like a daunting task. But Max Talbot (Max Talbot?!) won it for them anyway, scoring a pair of goals.
In 2006, the Canucks' Raffi Torres played a seven-game final as a member of the Edmonton Oilers. Torres's Oilers won a comparatively easy 4-0 decision over the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 6 and appeared to have all the momentum on their side. The Oilers had a long and storied history of coming through in big games; the Hurricanes were interlopers from the Southeast Division, who looked positively worn out by the travel in the Stanley Cup final and were relying on a rookie goaltender, Cam Ward, in net. Every factor, except home-ice, favoured Edmonton. Home-ice prevailed. Carolina regrouped and won the last game 3-1.
So there is ample precedent for Vancouver to bounce back from not just one but three disheartening losses, all in Boston, and still find a way of finishing in the winner's circle.
It would certainly put the capper on one of the most unusual rides in Stanley Cup history just to get to this point. Since the expansion era began in 1968, no team has ever been outscored in the playoffs and won the Stanley Cup. In fact, it has never come close to happening. The worst goals for and against differential in belongs to the 1971 Montreal Canadiens, who were a plus-12 that spring - scoring 12 more goals than they surrendered. That aforementioned Carolina team was a modest plus-13.
Vancouver? They are an astonishing minus-7, after being outscored 18-7 in this series by the Bruins. Most teams that go minus-7 in the regular season miss the playoffs altogether, they do not win the Presidents' Trophy as the league's overall champions. The Canucks' playoff numbers point to a handful of blowout losses they've absorbed along the way, including a couple in Round 1 against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The fact that they've regrouped and found ways to win is probably the most heartening development they can focus on, as Luongo walks the sea wall to collect his thoughts ahead of Wednesday night's game, and every other player manages his own preparation his own way.
Wednesday night, the Canucks get a chance to make history and there is something about winning in what is absolutely, positively the final game of the season that will make this a final people will debate and discuss for years to come.
Aesthetically, it may not be pretty, but for drama and unexpected twists and turns, it has virtually no comparison in recent years. Moreover, when all is said and done, nobody will ask about the journey or the bumps along the way, if the Canucks happen to prevail.
The only thing that will matter is the result.