Suddenly, the Vancouver Canucks have emerged as the team to beat in the Stanley Cup finals.
"Obviously, we're a more confident team right now," Vancouver forward Trevor Linden said as the Canucks prepared to meet the New York Rangers tonight in the decisive seventh game of the NHL's championship series. "I think that at the start we were in awe of the situation and maybe the circumstances. We're used to things now, and we're focused on one thing, and that is winning."Coming into the finals, the Rangers were overwhelming favorites to win their first Cup since 1940. They had finished with the best record in the NHL and had beaten the second-best team, the New Jersey Devils, to advance to the final round.
By comparison, the Canucks had the 14th-best record of the 16 teams in the playoffs and, some thought, were lucky to be playing the Rangers for the league championship.
After all, hadn't they barely escaped the first-round series with Calgary by winning three straight games in overtime after losing three of the first four?
As it turned out, that first-round triumph only toughened them for the finals, where they have also come back from a 3-1 deficit to force a seventh game.
The Canucks are 5-0 when facing elimination in these playoffs. Their 8-3 road record has had something to do with that. The Canucks became only the fifth team in NHL history to win Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals on the road while trailing 3-1 in the series.
Meanwhile, the Rangers feel they have been playing their worst hockey of the playoffs.
"In Game 5, we had an opportunity (to win in Madison Square Garden), but we didn't seize the moment," defenseman Jeff Beukeboom said, recalling a three-goal Ranger rally in the third period that tied the game at 3 before the Canucks rallied to win 6-3.
"Also at the time we weren't sharp at all. We played a lot better in Game 6 (a 4-1 loss in Vancouver), but we played our best hockey in the first four games, and we haven't played up to that level in the last two games."