"This game is sometimes about getting the bounces," head coach Alain Vigneault explained Tuesday night - and, boy, did he get that right.
Vigneault's Vancouver Canucks are in the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1994 for some easy-to-identify reasons, and one that's impossible to quantify: Amazing good fortune in their series-clinching, 3-2 double-overtime win over the San Jose Sharks.
Where to start?
On the night they defeated the Sharks to win the Western Conference final, the Canucks received dazzling play from the Sedin twins, who dominated virtually every regulation shift. They received timely saves from goaltender Roberto Luongo, after being widely outshot for the second game in a row. They received a gritty performance (plus the tying goal) from Ryan Kesler, who pulled up lame in the second period, but found his way back into the lineup and was skating hard again by the end.
They also received quality work from defencemen Keith Ballard and Chris Tanev, both of whom were pressed into service because of injuries to Christian Ehrhoff and Aaron Rome. No other NHL team can go eight deep on the blueline the way the Canucks can without missing a beat - and that depth was a key to eliminating San Jose.
But the Canucks also scored the tying goal and forced overtime thanks in part to a controversial icing call in the final minute that gave them one last chance to win an offensive-zone faceoff. Then they produced the winner on what is surely the craziest play to clinch a Stanley Cup playoff series: Kevin Bieksa's dribbler that ricocheted onto his stick off the stanchion. As everybody else on the ice froze, trying to locate the missing puck, Bieksa was alert enough to put his head down and blast away at the net.
Is it karma? Destiny? Or just the randomness of a game that moves fast, where the momentum can turn on a single play or shift, and the only truism that really matters is that in the end, you make your own luck?
"That's what good teams do," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin assessed. "We were able to come back, we've got a good feeling in there and we work hard for each other. It's a fun team to be part of."
Narrow escapes have been the overriding theme of the 2011 NHL playoffs, where the three teams left standing prior to Wednesday's Boston Bruins-Tampa Bay Lightning game have all had close calls along the way.
Vancouver's came in overtime of Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks when a Chris Campoli turnover led to Alex Burrow's winning goal - and a berth in the second round. Boston lost its first two games of the first round to the Montreal Canadiens and have been rolling ever since. Tampa was poised on the brink of elimination three times in the first round, but ultimately roared back to eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins.
But for a break here, or an odd play there, all three could have written significantly different postseason scripts - and yet, one will ultimately navigate these dangerous currents and emerge with the Stanley Cup.
The Canucks will enter the final as heavy favourites, thanks to their 117-point regular season - 14 more than both Boston or Tampa. Maybe the best news of all is how well Henrik Sedin is playing again, after muddling through the series against the Nashville Predators with an undisclosed injury.
Sedin was part of the Swedish team that won an Olympic gold medal in 2006; Luongo was part of the Canadian team that won in 2010. If the Canucks are looking for omens, here's one in their favour: The Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1977, after Montreal hosted the 1976 Olympics; and the Flames won in 1989, after Calgary hosted the 1988 Olympics.
The Flames, in '89, had a similar first-round, seven-game overtime escape and pretty much cruised the rest of the way. The 2011 edition of Vancouver has only lost three times in two rounds since its Houdini act in the opening round, too.
"It's a tough journey to go through to get here," said Sedin, comparing marathon NHL playoff runs to lightning-quick Olympic tourneys. "The Olympic medal, it's a short tournament, you play a few games, you get a few bounces, you're there.
"This," he acknowledged, "is way tougher."Report Typo/Error