Anything can happen.
You’ll hear it all the time from hockey fans – even pundits – when describing a given team’s chance at success. Often, it’s flimsy logic employed by people who desperately want to believe the squad they support is better than it is.
You’ll hear Montreal Canadiens fans, once play resumes after the Olympics, saying if the Habs can just nail down a playoff spot, who knows what can happen. In the vast majority of cases, what happens is the average team in question immediately gets exposed by a superior squad and is quickly brushed aside.
But the “anything can happen” declaration doesn’t always ring hollow. As Team Canada plays its first contest of the Vancouver Games Tuesday, puck-obsessed fans from coast to coast need to remember this event is one tenuous hockey tournament.
The Hockey News picked Canada to win gold on home soil simply because no country can put together a collection of talent that matches the Maple Leaf contingent. And if the Canadians were to square off in a set of seven-game series with every other nation, we’d have felt all the more comfortable identifying the Canucks as clear favorites.
Of course, there won’t be any extended showdowns in Vancouver; just a short preliminary round leading into a single-game elimination setting where, you guessed it, anything can happen.
When you’re facing goalies like Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist, American Ryan Miller or Finn Miikka Kiprusoff, there’s always a chance they simply go into lockdown mode and propel their team to victory the way Dominik Hasek famously carried the Czechs past Canada and all the way to gold in 1998.
And forget the big boys for one second; how many games have Habs fans seen Jaroslav Halak steal this year? Is there really no chance the plucky Slovak puckstopper comes up with the game of his life in Vancouver and leads his teammates to some kind of stunning upset?
The NHL playoffs are designed to, round by round, weed out the pretenders until we’re left with one richly deserving champion.
The Olympics, by contrast, lend themselves much better to results that prompt unexpected jubilation in one nation, while another country is left looking skyward and collectively thinking, “I can’t believe that just happened.”
This article also appeared in the Montreal Metro newspaper.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursday and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.
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