The Vancouver Canucks wake up Thursday morning, alive in their first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings - but barely.
The future of Roberto Luongo is unknown - but it suddenly looks like his future is not in Vancouver. He was a spectator for Game 4 - benched for a Vancouver must-win - and watched a sterling performance by his understudy Cory Schneider, the backup-turned-starter who seems certain to start Game 5.
While barely alive, the Canucks return home revived, down 3-1 in the series but alive, buoyed by Schneider’s fantastic work and the spirited play of Daniel Sedin. The star scorer, returned from concussion, led his team in shot attempts, and, more deeply, provided notes of rhythm so missing from Vancouver’s discord in Games 1, 2 and 3.
And, now, Game 5, a long four days away, on Sunday in Vancouver after Coldplay occupies Rogers Arena Friday and Saturday nights. So while Pittsburgh-Philadelphia have their Game 5 Friday, with a Game 6, if necessary, going Sunday, Vancouver and Los Angeles wait.
It is, at least for Daniel Sedin, perfectly scheduled. It has been nearly a month since he was concussed by Duncan Keith’s elbow to the head and his convalescence time provided little opportunity for fitness, skating little, barely exercising, with Sedin on Tuesday saying his physical conditioning is the worst it’s been in five years. Four days till Game 5 helps, even if Sedin is apparently already quite hale, second among Canucks forwards (just behind Henrik) with 19:33 of ice time Wednesday in Game 4.
The extended break is probably big for all the Canucks, a team that faced the harrowing brink of elimination. If Vancouver had been swept, the squad would have been the first regular-season NHL champion to fail to win a single playoff game since the 1937-38 Boston Burins, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The break, for L.A., could be bad news. By Sunday, it will be a week since the team won Game 3 and held its commanding 3-0 lead, all of its momentum possibly seeped away.
But can the Vancouver Canucks win three more?
Can the Pittsburgh Penguins?
Few teams, in any sport, ever do. Going down three games to zero, in a seven-game series, is not just a mountain to climb. Winning four after blowing three is a near impossibility, having happened just four times in the history of pro hockey and baseball in North America (and it has never happened in basketball).
As rare as the rally is, it nearly occurred, by odd coincidence, twice this week, twice in two days in fact.
On Tuesday, a major junior hockey team pulled off the feat. On Wednesday, another major junior team had the chance - but came up short.
In the second-round of Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs, the Halifax Mooseheads overcame the Quebec Remparts, first falling back three, then storming back to tie. Halifax was the stronger team coming into the series but in Game 7, as in the series, the Mooseheads fell behind, 2-0, 3-1, 4-3, each time rallying on goals from their captain, Cameron Critchlow, before the team snatched victory in overtime.
Come Wednesday, in the second-round of the Western Hockey League playoffs, the Kamloops Blazers ran out of miracles against the Portland Winterhawks. Evenly matched ahead of the series, Portland went up on Kamloops fast and in Game 4 led 4-1 after a period. Kamloops was 40 minutes from being swept but rallied to win 5-4. In Game 6, Portland was up 5-2 after two periods, 20 minutes from ending it. Kamloops won 7-6, scoring the winner with 21 seconds left to force Game 7. On Wednesday the Blazers dream died, as Kamloops succumbed 2-0 to Portland.
While extraordinary in coincidence, the past, recent or otherwise, matters little to the Canucks or the Penguins. There’s a reason why most teams down 3-0 eventually lose the series, whether in a sweep, or five, or six, or seven- the team that goes down early is generally the lesser team. With Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, it’s pretty even, so given the Flyers lead, it’s still very hard to see the Penguins winning three more.
On the Vancouver side, the Canucks might be argued as the superior team, given the regular season, but the Los Angeles Kings, and Jonathan Quick, have looked very good. Without the heroics of Cory Schneider Wednesday night, the Canucks this morning could be starting their summer.