Canucks welcome Stanley Cup expectations
Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin for one welcomes the pressure of trying to become the first Canadian club to win the Stanley Cup in 18 years, and the first Canucks team in 40 years of existence.
"We think about it every day," Sedin said in a conference call a week before the playoffs.
"To win it here in Canada in a market like this, that's something you dream about in the summertime when you spend your hours in the gym and everything," he added. "Being here for a long time you realize how important this is for people and for the town."
Montreal won the Cup in 1993, and the only No. 1 regular season team from Canada to enter the playoffs since then was the smaller market Ottawa Senators of 2002-03, who failed in their championship quest.
The accolades have been plentiful this season for the Canucks.
Daniel Sedin could be named league MVP, after twin brother Henrik took that Hart Memorial Trophy honour last season.
Goalie Roberto Luongo, with help from backup Cory Schneider, has put Vancouver in line to win the team's first William Jennings Trophy for best goals-against average.
After clinching the franchise's first ever Presidents' Trophy signifying the best NHL regular season club, the Canucks dropped two straight to the last place Edmonton Oilers.
"It's a long season and we've played at a very high level for most of the year and I think when you clinch first place overall in the league and you're looking at trying to get through the regular season as healthy as possibly, you probably let off the gas a little bit," said Gillis.
Ah, there's the rub.
Among the factors Stanley Cup teams usually have in common is a manageable level of injuries during the two-month grind of the playoffs. The Canucks have marched to the top spot despite a string of injuries, and hope that the "hockey gods" have no more great misfortune in store along those lines as the post-season begins.
It is believed that defencemen Alex Edler (back), Dan Hamhuis (concussion) and Andrew Alberts (wrist) will be able to play in the first round, but the Canucks lost two-way centre and faceoff specialist Manny Malhotra to a serious eye injury.
Henrik Sedin is OK with the fact that the Canucks can't fly under the radar this time around, believing the pressure and expectations in one of the top hockey markets around is more than adequate preparation.
"The only difference is [this season] we have a better team from top to bottom. The players management brought in this summer made us better," he said.
The pressure will be greatest on the Sedins and goalie Luongo.
Gillis credits the twins for answering the organization's challenge amid contract extension talks in 2009 to take their play to another level.
The GM was matter of fact about netminders being judged primarily on whether they've won a Cup or not.
"I think it's somewhat unfair because it is a team sport. However, when you're in a position to win, if you want to be considered one of the greatest goalies in the history of hockey, you need to step up and have your 'A' game."
Gillis added that no one puts more pressure on Luongo than the goaltender himself.
Vancouver doesn't know who will the eighth seed, with the possibility they could be facing the Chicago Blackhawks for a third consecutive spring.
"I think our team right now is a very different team in terms of mindset that's come about through those two losses to Chicago and hopefully we can translate it to success this year," said Gillis.
Vancouver's opening playoff round will be carried on Hockey Night in Canada.