Canucks vs Senators: It’s Heritage Classic time in Vancouver

The Vancouver Canucks host the Ottawa Senators at BC Place, and both teams are fighting for a playoff spot and two pivotal points.

Tim Hortons doughnuts

Tim Hortons doughnuts

First, the spectacle…

The Heritage Classic will be the third outdoor game in Canada. Not ever, mind you, but the third outdoor NHL game in Canada. And the Vancouver Canucks get to host it. It’s a special afternoon, one which can and should be enjoyed by the city and the 50,000 in attendance – the ’94 Cup run team will be there, the Ottawa Senators will be there, the CBC will be there, and the NHL will be there, because this is a league game and not a Canucks game. (If you don’t know what I mean, the NHL operates and runs all its outdoor games, including the Heritage Classic, the Winter Classic, and the Stadium Series. It sells the tickets and it hosts the venue – it simply uses the city and the setting like we use a rented room.)

“These games are the games you remember after your career’s over,” said Ryan Kesler on Saturday, speaking to Canucks TV’s Joey Kenward. “I’m sure everybody in here’s excited.”

The game starts at 1 p.m. at BC Place, and is sponsored by Tim Hortons, so get downtown and get your double-double, if that’s your thing.

“I didn’t expect too much walking in, but it looks great,” said Canucks captain Henrik Sedin. “If the roof is open, too, it’s going to be a great atmosphere.”

“I’m really excited, for sure,” said Canucks d-man Jason Garrison, who grew up in White Rock, B.C., a smaller community an hour south of downtown Vancouver and the home of our Peace Arch News.

“It’s been a highly anticipated week, and there’s been a lot going on, so it’s gonna be fun to get at.”

Second, the reality…

The Vancouver Canucks are mired in a slump that really isn’t just a month or two long. It’s a season long – even their early-year wins were clouded by doubt and the realization that they hadn’t beaten many Cup contenders, with losses to Chicago, Pittsburgh, San Jose, and Los Angeles hanging over their heads in October and November.

Now, Vancouver is fighting for a playoff spot. And so is Ottawa, with both the Canucks and the Senators on the outside looking in on their respective conferences.

“1 o’clock tomorrow, you have two teams that are in, kind of in the same situation, trying to fight to get in,” said Canucks coach John Tortorella. “Hopefully we’ll be all business then.”

Ryan Kesler is the guy at the centre of Vancouver’s trade rumours – rumours that will only intensify and maybe materialize before Wednesday’s NHL Trade Deadline. Daniel and Henrik haven’t scored since (insert ancient date) and Alex Burrows hasn’t scored since last season.

Roberto Luongo, despite turning in perhaps his best season since 2007, when he was nominated for a Hart Trophy and single-handedly took the Canucks to the second round of that year’s playoffs, will not be starting in goal today.

The job instead goes to Vancouver backup Eddie Lack, who has allowed one goal in his past two games, a win and a shootout loss.

I’m just here to play, man,” Luongo told reporters on Saturday. “I don’t want to start going through this whole thing again.”

This decision will no doubt be distorted, used to revive talk of Luongo, the Canucks, and a goaltending controversy. There is no controversy, really, because Luongo is Vancouver’s undisputed starter.

But Lack is the hot hand. Several teams run with their backup when he’s sprinting, and that’s the case with Lack.

Or, there really could be drama backstage.

Either way, the truth is in the in-between, as it always is – the excitement of the Heritage Classic is real, but so are the standings.

“I kinda forgot about the Heritage Classic a little bit, with what’s been going on lately,” said Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa, the pragmatist. “But I walked in, pretty amazed and they’re obviously taking good care of us. I think it’ll be even more amazing when you see the stadium packed.”