Sports fans go nuts when things don't make sense to them.
Have you looked at the Western Conference standings recently? If you're a Vancouver fan, you probably haven't, you smug bastard, so let me fill you in: there are 2 points separating the 5th-place team and the 10th-place team. This is where you gasp, or maybe here: of those six very good teams, only four will be making the playoffs.
If you didn't gasp, you obviously don't live in Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, Anaheim, Dallas, or Calgary. For fans and players of those teams, it's a stressful time; every game in the Conference has meaning, even the ones in which your team doesn't play.
However, for the time being, Canucks fans are taking it easy. It's a pleasant feeling, this--a rare feeling. When it comes to these late-season clusters, the Canucks are regularly in the thick of things. This year, however, where Vancouver is nine points clear of second-place Detroit, and seventeen points clear of the aforementioned thick.
Enjoy it while it lasts, Canuck nation. In ten games, everyone starts back at zero.
Considering the Canucks are currently 103 points from zero--the furthest from zero of any team in the NHL--that's going to be pretty hard to stomach, but it's what happens. In truth, all the regular season does is determine where games will take place; what takes place during those games cannot be predicted.
Anything can happen in the playoffs. Couple that with the team's lofty expectations, and you have the potential for the largest letdown in the history of Vancouver sports.
Think about it: in past years, the Canucks have gone into the postseason no higher than the second seed in the West. They've lost every time, too, but really, what did we expect? They've never been the best. Year after year, we were effectively banking on the same chance that could bite us now, banking on the Canucks playing better than they reasonably should have. In each case, the eventual loss simply operated as a reality check. The annual ousting has always been begrudgingly received, justified by the sad truth that, despite our optimistic denial, the Canucks were never the best team.
In the history of Vancouver hockey, there was one instance when our expectations got out of control. Do you remember when it was? The year was 1994. In 1982, we could understand the loss, because it was the Islanders; In 1994, we couldn't justify anything. We seemed unstoppable, and despite that, we were stopped. It hardly made sense.
Sports fans go nuts when things don't make sense to them. 1994 didn't make sense. So we rioted. We flipped the pool.
This year's expectations may also be unreasonable. In fact, they may also be beyond reason. Considering the year we've seen, the unprecedented success, the broken records, a loss this year would hardly make sense.
It's going to be very hard to justify a playoff loss this year, to understand it, and there's really no guarantee that it's not coming. Granted, the Canucks are the best team, in theory: they lead almost every major statistical category and they've got elite goaltending, defense, scoring, special teams, depth and leadership. Sure, there are a lot of reasons they might win and a lot of reasons they should be predicted to do so.
But they still might just lose, for no other reason than because one out of every two teams has to, and, eventually, fifteen of sixteen. And we need to be able to accept that without breaking stuff.
Let's be clear: if it wasn't possible for the best team in theory to lose in reality, there'd be no point in staging the playoffs at all. It happens, often for no discernible reason. The pundits can point to a lack of some intangible, to a choke, a collapse, or even simply the perfect matchup for the underdog, but those are typically just ways for the experts to explain away the sad truth of their field: at its base, everything they say is worthless because hockey, like any game, can be completely random.
I say this not to be a downer, but rather, so that nobody flips the pool.