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Vancouver Canucks fans carry a replica of the Stanley Cup before the Canucks play the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final hockey playoff in Vancouver, British Columbia June 1, 2011. (MIKE BLAKE/REUTERS)
Vancouver Canucks fans carry a replica of the Stanley Cup before the Canucks play the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final hockey playoff in Vancouver, British Columbia June 1, 2011. (MIKE BLAKE/REUTERS)

Roy MacGregor

'The biggest game you can play' Add to ...


And yet here, speaking into microphones for the public record, players for the Canucks of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada were saying no matter that Sidney Crosby had scored "The Golden Goal" on this very ice surface barely a year ago, no matter it was right here that Canada produced a 14th gold medal, the most ever by a country in a single Winter Games, that game really wasn't all that big a deal.

By comparison.

These games - the four, five, six or seven that will decide the 2011 Stanley Cup final - are bigger still. Or so Daniel Sedin was claiming as he waited for the puck to drop in Vancouver's opening match against the Boston Bruins, a 1-0 jaw-dropping goaltending duel that went to the final seconds before Vancouver's Raffi Torres scored.

"I think this is obviously the biggest game you can play," said the slightly younger of the Sedin twins. "I think you look at Olympic finals … world championships … but when you play this long, with good friends and teammates, it's the biggest game you can play.

"I mean, you played 82 games just to get in. Then it's a long run in the playoffs - so for sure the biggest game you can play."

"I definitely feel the same way," added Ryan Kesler, the star of last year's Team USA that lost that gold medal to Canada 3-2 in overtime.

"Obviously, the Olympics was one of the biggest stages I've ever played on - but I believe this is bigger."

In Sami Salo's opinion, the Stanley Cup "is like the Holy Grail."

So it has seemed, anyway, as Lord Stanley of Preston's 1892 trophy arrived in town for presentation to whichever of the two teams can be first to win four games.

You could see what Salo meant at times. There was a gigantic Stanley Cup riding around the downtown streets in the back of a pickup - pedestrians cheering its practice parade duty - Stanley Cups on T-shirts, plastic Stanley Cups in the stands and even the actual Stanley Cup at a league reception held in a waterfront Irish pub.

It lay on its side in an open box while weak-kneed media types approached with camera phones and quickly snapped photographs with a respect and reverence that made it seem they came from a culture that takes pictures of loved ones lying in their casket.

Mike Keenan, who won it as a coach, believes the Cup is a living thing with "its own personality."

Its strange effect on ordinary people has long been noted. At the Hockey Hall of Fame, they pose for photographs with it as if it is a celebrity. In small towns across the country on summer days, they will applaud its arrival with a hometown hero as if the Cup itself was the winner.

As the owner of the strip club where Mark Messier took the Cup following the New York Rangers 1994 victory over the Vancouver Canucks said, it marked the "First time I've seen our customers eager to touch something besides our dancers."

Seventeen years after that heartbreaking Game 7 loss to Messier's Rangers, the Canucks are back in the final with yet one more chance for a Canadian city to claim the trophy given to the Canadian people to honour the national game.

No Canadian team, it hardly bears repeating, has won since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens.

This excellent chance at victory matters a great deal here. Mayor Gregor Robertson was afraid to declare "Canucks Day" as planned because the last two times the special day was called so the team lost to the Chicago Blackhawks.

"We've been waiting a lifetime for this," the mayor announced when he chose not to announce the traditional day of honour.

Seventeen years is not a lifetime, obviously, but 40 years is a good chunk of a life - and that is exactly how long the Vancouver Canucks have been in the National Hockey League without winning the league's championship.

No wonder this excited city had been holding its breath for eight days while awaiting the first drop of the puck at Rogers Arena. No wonder the national anthem was roared out by the crowd with an intensity not heard since … the Olympics.

An on-line survey released by Ipsos Reid Wednesday claimed eight of every 10 British Columbians are excited about the opening match of this seven-game series. A similar poll a year ago found only half of the province was equally pumped about the Winter Olympics.

They had every right to be pumped this night, as Game 1 was not decided until here were only seconds left in regulation, the night belonging to goaltenders Roberto Luongo, in the Vancouver net, and Tim Thomas in the Boston net.

One game, with as many as six more to go - the main reason why players could claim, whether it is true or not, that there is something to the Stanley Cup final that not even an Olympic gold-medal game can match.

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