The Vancouver Canucks are on a roll. They've collected points in eight of their last ten games. They're 3-1-1 on their current road trip, a tour of some of the Eastern Conference's toughest buildings. And they're back in a playoff spot, sitting third in the Pacific Division, two points up on the fourth-place Arizona Coyotes, thanks to a 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins Thursday night.
It's hard to wrap one's head around their continued survival, especially since this is a team in the middle of a truly aggressive on-the-fly rebuild. They're not even being coy about it anymore. On Thursday, rather than playing perfectly serviceable veteran forwards Adam Cracknell and Brandon Prust, they plugged in 18-year-old Jake Virtanen, then signed and immediately recalled 23-year-old Utica Comets centre Mike Zalewski and dressed him instead.
It's a wonder the Canucks aren't constantly covered in plastic sheets and FrogTape™. The franchise is remodelling.
And yet, despite all the youth and turnover (and poor play), and even without their top two centres in Henrik Sedin and Brandon Sutter, the points keep coming for this ramshackle group. The playoff dream refuses to die. It's got hockey fans all over Metro Vancouver wondering: can this team -- this visibly mediocre hockey team -- honestly make the playoffs?
If they can, they might be the only Canadian team to do so. Imagine that.
Yes, there may be more at stake here than Willie Desjardins' unassailable playoff record. (In 11 years of coaching, he's never missed the playoffs.) The Canucks -- these Canucks, who routinely give up 40 shots a game -- are, at present, the only Canadian club in a playoff spot. From Dan Rosen at NHL.com:
The rapid decline of the Montreal Canadiens has put Canada in jeopardy of being shut out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since the NHL-WHA merger in 1979 gave the NHL six Canadian teams.
Of the seven Canadian teams, only the Vancouver Canucks are in a playoff spot entering Friday, and they just moved into it Thursday with a 4-2 win against the Boston Bruins. The Canucks have 16 regulation/overtime wins, which makes them prone to losing in a potential tiebreaker scenario.
As you can see, Rosen doesn't have much faith in Vancouver, and that's fair. 16 regulation/overtime wins is a laughably poor number. Only the Edmonton Oilers and Columbus Blue Jackets have fewer.
But this is your best hope right now, Canada. These Canucks. I know you've never embraced them, and you've routinely balked at the suggestion that the country could ever unite under their banner, even back when they were good. (They aren't right now.) But as it stands, the Vancouver Canucks are all you've got. Canada's team by default.
There's another option, of course: at any time, we could let go of the idea that only teams based in Canada are Canadian. After all, pretty much every playoff roster will be outfitted with enough CanCon to have their games broadcast on CBC radio. Small towns nationwide will still be rooting for their home-grown talents, and the Cup will still be coming home to some of them.
A Stanley Cup playoffs without a Canada-based team is a far cry from a Stanley Cup playoffs without Canada. But somehow this logic continues to escape Canadians, who sob in the shower like Tobias Funke any time they look at the NHL standings and forecast a postseason without one of The Seven™.
Which means the nation may have no choice but to get behind these Canucks, Canada's unlikely hero. Help us, Vancouver. You're our only hope.
Welcome to the bandwagon, suckers.