Canucks vs. Oilers: All a bloodless rivalry needs is a playoff series

Can this second-round series succeed where the previous playoff meetings have failed, and produce a bona fide Canucks-Oilers rivalry?

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It was Oct. 14, 1979. Just 69 ticks remained in the game, and the Edmonton Oilers were desperate find an equalizer against the Vancouver Canucks. Moments after they pulled their goaltender, Wayne Gretzky leaked out from behind the net, took a cross-ice pass from Kevin Morrison and roofed a backhand over Vancouver Canucks netminder Glenn Hanson to rescue the Oilers in a 4-4 tie.

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And thus, a rivalry was born.

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Well, no. Not really.

Despite playing 268 more games since that 1979 meeting — the second-most games all-time the Canucks have played against any team — there is no rivalry. Not even the Great One’s first career NHL goal could provide a base of mutual disdain.

Familiarity has not bred contempt.

There’s a long history and geographic proximity, but hate has been muted. There have been two playoff meetings, both won by Edmonton. The exposure of ’86, when the first-place Oilers swept Vancouver 3-0, then a six-game series win in 1992.

They might not like each other too much, but the overriding theme is respect.

“They’re a great hockey team. Elite, skilled,” Canucks defenceman Ian Cole said Tuesday, a day before Game 1 of their second-round meeting.

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“That’s a great hockey team over there, and they have been for a very long time. We’re going to have a challenge on our hands for sure. We know that we’re gonna have to be really crisp, but we feel confident in here that we have a good chance to win.”

The Vancouver-born players repping the neighbouring province are just excited to be here. No knives are out nor being twisted.

“None of my close friends (are cheering against us), I don’t think. I hope not,” Ryan Nugent-Hopkins told media this week. “I know … a lot of people are a little torn here but it doesn’t matter, it’ll be fun.”

We can only hope that these games produce the same level of intensity that is coursing through the respective fan bases on social media right now. We’ve got cursing six-year-olds, crybaby analysts crying foul, and bullying social media campaigns.

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One Boston Pizza thought it would be a fine idea to support the Oilers with a marquee message to “bring the Cup home” … except for the one small fact it was in Penticton. That would be British Columbia — Canucks country.

The backlash was swift and the sign was soon replaced with a more Canuck-centric message.

Despite the Canucks being five-points better than the Albertans in the regular season standings, most of the pundits — the same among us trying to invent a rivalry — most are predicting Connor McDavid and Co. to slice through the Canucks like the ghosts of Gretzky.

“I don’t know if the guys listen to that stuff,” said coach Rick Tocchet. “But we’ve just got to play our own hockey. Obviously we’ve got to tweak some things … the other stuff, you just block it out. I mean, the game is played on the ice.”

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A good rivalry always needs a villain, and Evander Kane is ready to put on Brad Marchand’s black hat for this series, but will it elevate the Oilers to the same level as the Flames and Bruins?

“You’re in the second round. There’s only eight teams left,” said Tocchet. “Edmonton’s in our way, and we’re in their way. That’s a rivalry to me. You can’t take this for granted. This might not happen again. For some guys, you might not get this chance again.

So the stakes are high, and that builds a rivalry. You should be angry and mad and or whatever it takes inside your body to get your game to that level. Fight it. And I think that’s how we build rivalries. I could happen the very first shift of the game, but maybe it’s happened right now. I don’t know. But you’d better have it.”

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