Canucks must embrace the role of the villain

In the end, they looked dazed and unassuming. There was never a team so clayed in a mould that was so unable to live up to their tremendous expectations. This wasn’t just about the surefire belief that the Miami Heat would be walking away as the 2011 NBA Champions, but, as the bad guys, with the world rooting against them, the Heat looked fearful and rolled over as the seconds ticked away on the basketball season.

Where LeBron James and his crew failed, the Vancouver Canucks must relish all that comes with that tag that they have not held many times in their history. This is a Stanley Cup Finals series wherein National Post columnist Bruce Arthur described the Canucks and the Boston Bruins battling for the “moral high ground,” and mentions that the “the prevailing wisdom says the Canucks are the more despicable outfit.”

Arguments can be made back and forth, hurled like popcorn and racial epithets cross-country directed at another Joe Sixpack who happens to wear black and gold instead of blue and green, on which team has more scoundrels. Canucks fans can point to the past transgressions of Zdeno Chara and the wicked association of Gregory Campbell with the NHL’s front office, but the fact remains that there may as well be a picture of Verbal Kint or Emperor Palpatine dyed on the shoulders of the Canucks to many of the members of the press box.

One reporter mocked Maxim Lapierre for a dive during Game Five while Lapierre was speaking to the media. A number of Boston reporters took Canuck netminder Roberto Luongo’s analysis about Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas’ aggressive style as an insult to the inevitable Vezina Trophy winner and probably Conn Smythe Trophy winner. National and civic borders appear to play no bias when in-game comments from members of the press-and-peanut gallery take issue with the Canucks’ hacking, slashing, diving and *sigh* biting.

There is no doubt that the Canucks are playing a game in an unconventional manner. This is not your father’s style of hockey, but after years of playing the lovable losers and rag-tag group of underdog misfits who never quite made it. The Canucks can’t exactly clean up their act for Game Six in time for the end-of-season banquet and expect rave reviews. This is the Stanley Cup Finals, and the Canucks are 3-2 off of winning goals from the agitator Lapierre, the biter Alex Burrows, and Raffi Torres, who concussed Brent Seabrook his first game after returning from suspension for a head-hit on Jordan Eberle.

In the 1970s after the Philadelphia Flyers won two Stanley Cups as the Broad Street Bullies, they were vilified by the press for degrading the game of hockey to a test of pugilism and poor sportsmanship. Those days are now fondly remembered by nostalgic members of the press corps. The Canucks approach of ruthless puck possession and referee manipulation is one that goes unprecedented among successful teams throughout the ages.

Whether the Canucks win Monday night, or go at it against Wednesday during a crucial Game Seven for the Stanley Cup, the last thing they can do is ignore the play that has made them successful all season, play that went largely ignored by hockey’s Eastern fans as the Canucks play in their isolated corner of the continent. They are crafty, opportunistic, despicable, unloved, and one win away from their first Stanley Cup as a franchise.

Own the title. Play to the reputation, and unlike the Miami Heat, silence the critics. You know the old adage, on the books being written by the winners. History vindicates the villain.