- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Try as they might, the Vancouver Canucks are human.
Being one victory away from what will be the first Stanley Cup finals appearance for most of the roster is tough to ignore, no matter how many clichés were launched at the assembled media Monday.
The Stanley Cup finals.
It's on the tip of their tongues now.
"It's kind of funny. Dan Hamhuis and I were just talking about what we'd do with the Cup for the weekend," Canucks winger Tanner Glass said Monday after practice. "That's something you always have in the back of your mind. But you approach it right, as one game. This team, all year long, we haven't looked past the next practice or game. The mood hasn't changed; just a regular work day today."
Glass certainly caught himself there. No one on this team wants to look ahead. But the fact is, it's incredibly hard not to, especially with the news that Sharks captain Joe Thornton, San Jose's best player this postseason, is going to gut it out Tuesday night in Game 5 with a suspected shoulder injury.
The pathway to the Cup finals has never looked clearer for the Canucks, whose last appearance came in 1994. Reaching the Cup finals and winning it all were the team's clear priorities when training camp opened nine months ago.
"This is a place we expected to be at all year," Glass said.
For Sami Salo, who has been with the Canucks for nine seasons, the Cup finals are where he long ago dreamed he might be, but never got there despite some very good teams here.
"This would be awesome," said Salo, the third-to-last player chosen in the 1996 NHL draft (239th overall). "Thirteen years ago, my career started. It was a dream come true just to play my first NHL game in Ottawa. Moving on to Vancouver and playing with great players like Markus [Naslund] and Todd [Bertuzzi] and Mattias [Ohlund] it just seems like this team has grown up the past few years, losing twice to Chicago. We knew what kind of mistakes we made in those series. We've grown past that. The guys have shown from Day 1 this year the improvements, not just from the offseason but mentally, as well."
This season's journey alone is worth the trip to the finals for the 36-year-old Salo, as his career hung by a thread when camp opened and the long road back from a ruptured Achilles clouded his future. He smiled Monday when asked how he would have reacted if someone told him back in September that he'd be scoring two big goals in the Western Conference finals to put the Canucks on the brink of a Cup finals berth.
"I would have taken that offer right away," said Salo. "It was so unclear, my future, at that point. There was no real progress on my injury. I knew it would take a long time and there was no guarantee I would come back. If somebody would have said that then, I would have been pretty happy for sure."
But Salo isn't the longest-serving Canucks player; that honor, perhaps surprisingly, falls on the Sedin twins. When did they all grow up on us? Henrik and Daniel have been in Vancouver since the 2000-01 season, two years before Salo came over in a trade from Ottawa. It's hard to believe it's been over a decade; the Sedins have come a long way from their early NHL beginnings, when some critics believed they might be too fragile for this league. As it turns out, former Canucks GM Brian Burke was right when he decided to move heaven and earth to draft both of them.
But Henrik wasn't getting caught up in all that Monday. His team also had 3-1 series leads over Chicago and Nashville this spring, but couldn't win Game 5. The Canucks captain talked about having a killer instinct.
"For me, it's when you're up in a series like this, you don't relax and think you have three games to get it done," said Henrik. "You have to treat tomorrow as the last game, and that's what we need to do. For me, that's killer instinct."
Easier said than done?
"No, I don't think so," said Henrik. "When it's a Stanley Cup final spot on the line, it's not a tough thing to do."
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Just one win away from a Stanley Cup finals berth, Vancouver needs to do what it couldn't in previous rounds: finish off the opponent early.