By Dan Bernstein--
CHICAGO (WSCR) Here's all you need to know about the mental titans that are the Vancouver Canucks.
Outside their arena, immortalized in sculpted bronze, is a statue of Roger Neilson, their head coach from 1982 to 1984. Neilson is depicted waving a towel on the end of a hockey stick, as he did famously in the 1982 playoffs against the Blackhawks when he felt his team was being unfairly penalized.
Just so we're clear here; it's not, say, a six-time champion, like some statues outside of some arenas we may know -- it's a statue of a guy whining about officiating.
Yes, Neilson's grandstanding started the oh-so clever Vancouver tradition of waving towels (even though the Pittsburgh Steelers first popularized the "Terrible Towel" thing in 1975 – don't tell anybody), but it's still odd that a team would want to remind posterity of some worthless complaints from a coach who won nothing.
These Canucks, preparing tonight to become the NHL's first-ever top seed to be eliminated by an eight-seed after winning the first three games, are carping now about an overtime non-call of Bryan Bickell's hit Sunday on Kevin Bieksa.
"You tell me the difference between that hit and Raffi Torres," insecure General Manager Mike Gillis moaned to the Vancouver Province. "This one was worse. [Bickell] left his feet." Gillis also made sure to note the 'Hawks 15-10 power-play advantage in the last three games, probably while waving a towel on the end of a stick like an idiot.
Miserable goaltender Roberto Luongo – tonight's announced starter -- is the individual embodiment of the psychological weakness programmed into the Canucks' DNA. He is highly talented, highly paid, and an absolute wet puddle of nerves whenever an Indian-head sweater is within three feet of him. He did the Skate of Shame off the ice in both games four and five, and then didn't even have the guts to sit on the bench when his backup started game six. He came in because of an injury, and surrendered the winning goal in OT after spitting out a juicy rebound, upon which Ben Smith pounced.
I have no proof that he's ever visited a sports psychologist, but he sure sounds like it. Luongo has been reduced to spouting such things as "It's a great challenge for us. It's fun to be part of a game seven," and "You can't worry about what's happened the last three games."
One could picture him about to go all new-agey, intoning a mantra to get his chakras aligned. Probably something like "Help," "Yikes," or "Oy, that red light's on again."
A fragile team is about to face a game that could etch them in NHL history for dubious reasons, and all Canucks involved are completely, entirely, debilitatingly aware of it. The oppressive dread is saturating the organization from the top down, making for anxious executives, skittish coaches, a goalie wound tighter than mandolin strings, and players prone to dumb, reactive penalties when things start to go wrong.
Rogers Arena will thrum with energy tonight, with fans exhorting their team and each other so as not to confront the raw current of paralyzing fear that lurks underneath, more real and powerful than the pretend hope.
Get those famous, signature white towels ready, since they're perfect for wiping up flop-sweat.
Or the remnants of a historic meltdown.
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of "Boers and Bernstein" since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein's blogs here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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