Are Canucks Canada's best hope?

The Canucks, led by the Sedin twins, are the top league in the NHL right now, and possibly Canada's...

The Canucks, led by the Sedin twins, are the top league in the NHL right now, and possibly Canada's best shot at breaking its Stanley Cup drought. (CARMINE MARINELLI/QMI Agency)

PAT MARTIN, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 11:07 AM ET

While the birthplace of hockey is believed to be on the East Coast of Canada in Windsor, Nova Scotia, no team north of the American border has lifted the legendary Stanley Cup since the Montreal Canadiens won their NHL-record 23rd championship to conclude the 1992-93 season.

Now, an NHL team on the country's West Coast could provide a re-birth of sorts for Canadians longing for the days when their beloved teams dominated the sport.

The Vancouver Canucks appear to be Canada's best chance of breaking a 16- season streak that has seen only the '94 Canucks, '04 Calgary Flames, '06 Edmonton Oilers and '07 Ottawa Senators even advance to the finals.

To add insult to injury, the most recent three Canadian finalists all lost to teams in non-traditional hockey markets of Tampa Bay, Carolina and Anaheim.

However, at roughly the midway point of the 2010-11 regular season, the Canucks sit atop the NHL standings, begging the question: What would it mean to the city of Vancouver or country of Canada, for that matter, if the Canucks broke the drought?

"It would be huge," Canucks top-line winger Daniel Sedin told The Sports Network prior to a recent game in New York. "You look at when Edmonton went to the finals and Calgary too, you could see how big it was. I think Vancouver could possibly be even bigger than that. It would be a lot of fun. Once the playoffs start you can see the fans and the people get really excited, so for us to go the whole way, even getting to the finals would be unbelievable."

A lot has to happen between now and the end of the season for the Canucks to make the Canadian dream a reality, but they appear to be built for the long haul.

Oh brother

Two of the biggest reasons for the Canucks success have obviously been the play of identical twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who play wing and center, respectively, on Vancouver's top line. The two Swedish forwards, drafted second and third in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, are currently third and fourth in the league scoring race.

To say they have a connection on the ice would be an understatement. Daniel is third in the NHL with 27 goals while Henrik leads the league with 46 assists, and their teamwork on the ice is what makes them so special.

"We were close, we grew up together, we were friends and we spent a lot of time together both on and off the ice," Henrik told The Sports Network about his relationship with his brother. "We know we have each other, that makes it easy.

"We played together for a long time and when you spend that much time together you know what he thinks and what he expects of you and what you expect of him."

"He was always kind of the passer so I had to be the scorer pretty much, that's the way it turned out," Daniel said. "He's a really good passer so when you get the puck it's flat and on your tape and it's real easy to do something with it."

The two haven't always played on the same line together, though. At one time, they were both centers who, according to Daniel, played very similar styles.

But that was when they were 12 years old.

"We moved up one age group and that coach decided that he wanted Hank to be the centerman and me to be the wing," Daniel said. "Before that we were pretty much the same kind of player, we were both good passers but didn't score a lot of goals. Since then I had to adapt and learn to shoot a little bit more and work on that part of my game."

Seems like that coach knew what he was doing.

More pieces to the puzzle

As good as the Sedin twins are, the Canucks are more than just a two-man team.

The Sedins form the No. 1 line along with winger Alex Burrows, and second-line pivot Ryan Kesler's breakout season is taking a lot of pressure off the big guns. Kesler, known more as a shut-down defensive center, is just two goals off a career high of 26. Kesler has been flanked by Jannik Hansen and Mason Raymond, who have 13 goals between them this season.

"It's a good feeling to know you don't have to score every game," said Daniel, who actually scored twice in a win against the Washington Capitals on Friday. "A lot of guys are contributing too. That's the best scenario you could have. We have two, three lines that can go out and score on a regular basis, and the fourth line has been great too, so it's been good."

Add a third line that features newcomers Raffi Torres, Manny Malhotra and holdover Mikael Samuelsson, who have combined for 25 goals this season, and the Canucks have a pretty formidable top-three lines.

"We added some key pieces in the offseason that we needed to address," Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo told The Sports Network. "A couple guys on the third line are really contributing in every aspect of the game. They are defensive and physical, but chipping in offensively as well."

Building from the back

To go along with a deep group of forwards, the Canucks boast a solid group of defensemen. Two newcomers, Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard, have made the type of impact the team envisioned when it brought them in this offseason.

"They are steady d-men," Luongo said. "Last year we had a good d-core but we had a lot of injuries. We've been healthy so far this year and we are starting to really get to know each other as a group and come together."

Hamhuis has paired up with a resurgent Kevin Bieksa to form a shutdown pair, while Alex Edler and Christian Ehrhoff combine as the team's top offensive pair.

"He not flashy but he does his job right," Luongo said of Hamhuis, who was a free agent coveted by a number of teams this summer. "He's very solid defensively and doesn't make mistakes. He has some offensive skill in there as well."

Add Ballard, who was acquired in an offseason trade with Florida, Aaron Rome, and Andrew Alberts to the mix for a pretty diverse seven-man unit.

"I think we are tougher to play against," Henrik said. "We brought in a couple defensemen that made us stronger in the back end and the forwards we brought in make us a deeper team. When you have four lines and three d-pairs that play the same way and trusts each other, it makes us a really tough team to play. We aren't the biggest team or the team that's going to fight every night, but the way we play makes it tougher to play against."

The next step

As good as the Canucks look so far this year, regular season success means nothing if it doesn't translate to playoff glory.

"We know this year and the upcoming year it's going to be the playoffs that count for us," Henrik said. "We expect from ourselves to be in the playoffs and we are on the right track to be there. For us, it's about the playoffs."

The past two playoffs the Canucks fell to the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round, but Vancouver doesn't seemed worried about facing the defending Stanley Cup Champions this year.

"I don't think we mind playing anyone at all," Henrik said. "It doesn't really matter who we play. We are a different team this year. We brought in a couple guys that made our team better. We are tougher to play against, it's different now. With the new salary cap era, you are going to see different teams each year. [Chicago] doesn't have the same team and we don't have the same team so it's different that way."

Daniel echoed his brother's statement.

"They obviously beat us two years in a row," he said. "We feel that we can beat them no question now. They had a better team than we had the last couple years, but this year we have completely different teams. We have five, six, seven new guys, and they had to rebuild their team too, so it's a team like anyone else. They are the Stanley Cup Champions, so in the playoffs, we would love to meet and beat them."

So what about being Canada's next great hope in terms of bringing a Stanley Cup back to the birthplace of hockey?

"We have a good team, but this team needs to go a long way in the playoffs," Daniel said. "We've had a good team a lot of years, but we haven't been able to go a long way, just to the second round, that's it. For the Vancouver Canucks, we need to go long way to get the recognition. I don't think we deserve that right now because we haven't done that."

Yet.


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