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A city and franchise revels on the cusp of its first Stanley Cup

VANCOUVER, B.C. -- This beautiful city deserves a Stanley Cup and it certainly feels like the chalice will be delivered sometime soon.

I just spent five days in Vancouver last week and it's hard to carry a grudge against the city and it's great fans.

Sure it would be nice to see my hometown Boston Bruins win their first Cup since Bobby Orr and Co. hoisted the grail on the Madison Square Garden ice in the spring of 1972. The Bruins are an Original Six team, playing in the NHL since 1924, and Boston's long-suffering fans are thirsty for the Cup.

But let's face it: Vancouver is no less deserving. Start with its "We Are All Canucks" campaign. Hockey was invented in Canada, but no Canadian team has won a Cup since the Montreal Canadiens won it in 1993.

While there are certainly plenty of Canadians who think of tony Vancouver as a non-French, non-tundra, latte land, there's always going to be pride in bringing the Cup back north of the border.

Vancouver has been in the NHL since 1970, but has never won the Cup even though it's got beautiful Stanley Park with a statue of Lord Stanley, the man who donated the big silver bowl in 1893, originally as a reward for winning Canada's amateur hockey championship.

Saturday night, Vancouver fans celebrated as if they'd already won the Cup. (Reminded me a little of the Miami Heat at the end of Game 2 against Dallas.) Rogers Arena was electric when Alexandre Bellows scored his spectacular, wraparound goal 11 seconds into overtime to give the Canucks a 2-0 series lead, but it was the activity outside the arena which indicated that Canucks fans think they've already won it. More than 70,000 watched the game at outdoor sites around the city. Replica Cups were hoisted and kissed. It went on until long after midnight.

The series shifts to Boston this week for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Wednesday, respectively, and the odds are heavily in favor of Vancouver. Of the 46 teams to take a 2-0 lead in a Stanley Cup Final, all but four have gone on to win the Cup. Prior to this season, the Bruins were involved in 28 playoff series in which they fell behind 2-0; Boston lost every time. The Bruins broke the streak in this year's first round, recovering to beat the Canadiens in seven games after dropping the first two at home.

The Stanley Cup Final has not been kind to the Bruins since Orr and company dissolved in the mid-70s. This is Boston's sixth trip to the final since last winning it in '72, and the Bruins are an aggregate 5-22 in those six series. Dating back to 1978, Boston has lost 12 of its last 13 Cup final games.

All the momentum is going Vancouver's way. There's an old saying in hockey that you never give up a goal in the first minute or the final minute of any period. The Bruins did both in Vancouver. They lost a 1-0 Game 1 when Raffi Torres scored with 18.5 seconds left in regulation. In Game 2, the Bruins led, 2-1, with 10 minutes left, allowed a goal to Daniel Sedin, then watched in horror when Burrows faked Tim Thomas into the Tim Horton's donut sign and tucked the puck into the empty net after only 11 seconds of overtime.

Heaping salt in Boston's wound, Burrows is the guy who bit Patrice Bergeron in a Game 1 dust-up, but was not sanctioned by the league.

On a night when he might have been suspended, Burrows had an assist and two goals in Vancouver's 3-2 win. He'll be Public Enemy No. 1 when the series resumes at the Boston Garden tonight.

It's hard not to just throw up your hands and admit that this is the Canucks' year. Vancouver scored more goals, and allowed fewer, than any other NHL team. That's usually a formula for success. They've got the Olympic gold medal goalie and Vezina Trophy nominee in Roberto Luongo. They've got the high-scoring Sedin twins and they've got the emotional boost provided by the return of Manny Malhotra, who almost lost his eye when he was hit with a redirected puck in mid-March. Malhotra's return to the ice Saturday night lifted the entire province of British Columbia.

The Canucks also have the annoying Green Men, who taunt visitors from seats adjacent to the Rogers Center penalty box. The Green Guys plan to be in Boston this week and should probably hire body guards.

Vancouver fans will be taking it to the streets again this week. Granville Street is the "center ice" of the downtown fan zone and it will be closed off this week when fans gather to watch the Canucks in Boston. Police don't want a repeat of the 1994 nightmare when Vancouver fans rioted after their team was eliminated in a Cup final Game 7 against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

If the Canucks stumble once in Boston, they'll have a chance to win it at home on Friday night. It'll be the biggest thing to ever happen in Vancouver. Bigger than the Winter Olympics.

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