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Ben Vinnick skates on the ice with a towel on his stick prior to the Vancouver Canucks play the San Jose Sharks in game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs in Vancouver May 1, 2013. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Ben Vinnick skates on the ice with a towel on his stick prior to the Vancouver Canucks play the San Jose Sharks in game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs in Vancouver May 1, 2013. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Playoff fever cooling among Canucks fans Add to ...

As the day ebbed, as a pristine spring afternoon in Vancouver tilted toward evening, there were – just one hour before the puck dropped for the Stanley Cup playoffs – tickets available.

Not from scalpers, charging egregious rates. No: tickets for Game 1 of the first-round scrap between the Vancouver Canucks and the San Jose Sharks were available on Ticketmaster, or for walk-up at Rogers Arena. There weren’t a lot but at 6:30 p.m. PT a smattering of tickets, ranging from expensive to very expensive, could easily be had.

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Welcome to a city no longer impressed by merely making the playoffs, or at least one where the citizens can rouse some skepticism of paying extreme rates for a team arguably past its prime. Perhaps that is why, in one example, two seats, 5 and 6, in row 7 of the upper bowl section 321 were still to be had, at $223 per. Or, maybe, take a look at Section 105 in the lower-bowl, big spender, where a number of options were available. Say, Row 17, seats 9 and 10, for $411 per. With a thousand-dollar bill, that leaves ample change to afford arena beer.

Scalpers had it easy Wednesday night. There was no real work at all for them.

“It’s expensive to live here and it’s expensive to watch hockey,” said one scalper, Mark, in a grey sweater and blue jeans, who has worked the gig on-and-off for some 30 years. “Just like real estate in Vancouver, it’s affordability.”

Like others in his trade, he declined to give his last name. He blamed Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini for making playoff tickets too expensive. His colleague interjected, saying fans could snatch heavily discounted ducats, $50 per for the upper bowl: “It’s a fire sale.”

So-so ticket sales – from a club that claims 400-plus consecutive sellouts going back a decade – are emblematic of fading ardour for a hockey team that two springs ago nearly won the Stanley Cup. On Wednesday evening, across the downtown peninsula, there was not even a frisson of any real anticipation. On English Bay, citizens gathered to enjoy the warm day, after work. A few cyclists on the seawall wore Canucks jerseys. On Granville Street, much the same. Bars near Rogers Arena, like Library Square or Shark Club, were busy but not lined up.

Outside the arena itself, the Canucks hosted a modest party, with a couple hundred of fans mostly in Canucks blue milling about.

All in, it was mostly quiet on the Western Front, and 180 degrees from two Junes ago, when liquor stores were closed many hours early for home games during the Cup final against Boston. At the corner of Hamilton and West Georgia, the riotous epicentre, one could not even feel an echo on Wednesday of the 100,000-plus people who had jammed the street on June 15 for Game 7 against Boston. A loss, and riot, was the result. The scars of that conflagration are now psychic only; no tangible signs remain. A light flow of late rush-hour traffic rolled by – not a single car with flying a Canucks flag.

Follow on Twitter: @davidebner

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