COLUMN: Playoff hysteria returns to Lower Mainland

The National Hockey League playoffs began this week, bringing with it all manner of Canucks-related hoopla

And so it begins.

The National Hockey League playoffs began this week – the hometown Vancouver Canucks opened their series against the San Jose Sharks Wednesday night – which means, for the foreseeable future, hockey fans in the Lower Mainland are going to be a little bit on edge.

Expect some people’s priorities to change, too, as the Canucks’ playoff schedule takes precedence over all types of other obligations.

Cancel all meetings. Skip the kids’ soccer practice. Reschedule all elective surgeries. Hold all calls.

All for a game.

Lockout? What lockout?

(In the interest of full disclosure, I rescheduled a dentist appointment to ensure I wouldn’t miss the first period Wednesday, so I’m not just pointing fingers here.)

The playoffs, however long they last for the dear old Canucks, are going to dominate the news landscape, too.

Another gang-related shooting? That’s all well and good, but have you heard the real news? Luongo is starting in net!

The provincial election is less than two weeks away? Who cares – what’s the team going to do about that power play?

Space aliens have landed on Marine Drive and aren’t paying for parking? Sounds more like a page 10 story. Now, on to more pressing concerns… why isn’t Ryan Kesler at practice?

OK, maybe that last one’s a bit far-fetched, but the point remains the same: We are a crazy, crazy bunch when it comes to our Canucks.

I don’t quite know how it got this way, either. I’ve followed the Canucks my entire life, and I can’t remember the playoffs being quite the growing swell – swallowing everything in its path – that it’s been the last few seasons.

The team’s Stanley Cup run of 2011 no doubt played a part, as fans’ expectations have now grown to “Stanley Cup or bust” territory, which is a far cry from 10-15 years ago, when tickets to games were easy to come by – not to mention reasonably priced – and the team simply making the playoffs was cause for celebration.

So, too, has social media played a role in the team’s popularity boost, as fans have been able to connect far easier than in the pre-Twitter age. This has been a good thing, as it’s allowed diehard fans to know, in real time, when likeminded individuals are cheering and waving team flags down on Scott Road in Surrey.

On the other hand, there was the small matter of that Stanley Cup riot, which grew in scope as would-be rioters spread news of the action through social media channels, thus inviting more ne’er-do-wells into the fray.

The Canucks are big business in this province – I know, I know, that’s breaking news – so it only makes sense that the team’s presence escalates as the games become more important.

The situation is similar in other major Canadian cities, too, especially this year in Toronto, where the Maple Leafs have qualified for the post-season after a drought so long – nine years – that the team’s last playoff game was not broadcast on television in high-definition.

It’s not much less chaotic here, though. Where else could Joe Cannata – the Canucks’ unheralded minor-league goaltender – actually make the news, as fans and media alike scramble to answer the question: What if Roberto Luongo gets hurt before Cory Schneider is back?!

The team’s fourth-line – which plays about eight minutes out of 60 each game – is also a focal point this week, for those of you crossing out boxes on your “playoff hysteria” bingo cards.

So yeah, it’s all a little bit over the top.

But it’s fun – perhaps even healthy – to have things to cheer for, to get excited about. And for all those non-fans, well, it won’t last forever.

But no matter how long it does last – a week, a month, all summer – one thing is certain.

It’s about to get loud.

Nick Greenizan is a reporter at the Peace Arch News.