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Canucks fans endure the rain at CBC plaza while watching the first game of the NHL's Western Conference final against the Vancouver Canucks and the San Jose Sharks in Vancouver, British Columbia, Sunday, May 15, 2011.

Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail/rafal gerszak The Globe and Mail

Rain pelted down, but anticipation surged through crowds of Vancouver Canucks fans as they packed bars and streamed down streets in the team's blue jerseys around downtown's Rogers Arena, a city seized by a potential Stanley Cup win.

Outside the CBC, Jeremy Beninger and Michelle Sugden and about 200 others gathered to watch Game 1 of the Stanley Cup semifinals on a big screen on Sunday night. The city partnered with CBC to close one block of Hamilton Street between West Georgia and Robson streets for every game during the rest of the playoffs to give fans an outdoors venue at which to cheer on the team.

"It's unreal, it's the best chance I've ever seen for the Canucks," said Mr. Beninger, 24, a life-long fan who moved to Vancouver a year ago.

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"Everyone's hyped up," Ms. Sugden said. "Some people are babies about the rain. We're staying out."

Nearby, Rob Spofforth held his three-year-old son, Otto, in his arms, in the line for face painting. The pair have come down ahead of each home game during the playoffs this spring for face painting, a good-luck ritual, before watching the games at home in east Vancouver.

"It's pretty fun," said Mr. Spofforth, who's lived in the city for 35 years. "Not that this is a fickle town, but people get on and off the bandwagon pretty fast. After the first two rounds, everyone's feeling good."

The Canucks' erratic history, marked by more failings than success, seems to be fading as this year's team pushes deeper into the playoffs, although the always-present anxiety has not yet abated. The second-round defeat of Nashville was a mostly grinding affair, while the Game 7 overtime win at home against the Chicago Blackhawks, hated rivals, sent Vancouverites into paroxysms of joy.

Mayor Gregor Robertson was among fans partying outside Rogers Arena as the start of the game neared.

"Everyone feels we can go all the way," Mr. Robertson said. "But there's a different tension that comes from advancing through the playoffs. This year, there's a more mature confidence. Getting past the Blackhawks was a big weight lifted."

The tilt against the visiting Sharks marks Vancouver's first arrival in the semi-finals in 17 years, and is only the third appearance ever at this stage for the 41-year old club, the first two being 1982 and 1994, when the team made the Cup finals but lost.

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Rebecca Bollwitt was 14 in 1994 when the New York Rangers broke fans hearts and sparked rioting in Vancouver when they beat the Canucks 3-2 in Game 7 of the final. Born and raised in Surrey, Ms. Bollwitt has celebrated and suffered alongside Vancouver fans from the very start.

"I was born with the ugly yellow V jersey on," said Ms. Bollwitt, a popular local voice whose miss604.com blog is widely followed.

The Canucks sported the so-called V jersey from 1978 to 1984, marked by its garish yellow and a black-and-orange V at the neck. It was the one the Canucks wore during their first Stanley Cup run, an unlikely feat in 1982 when the team had a losing record in the regular season but rolled through the playoffs before being swept by the New York Islanders.

"It's never been easy for a Canucks fan," Ms. Bollwitt said.

This spring's blend of nervous confidence permeates the city. At breakfast on Sunday, Ms. Bollwitt said talk was of the team's potential, and the consensus was unanimous - with an asterisk.

"It was: 'Oh, we're going all the way... I hope,'" Ms. Bollwitt said. "Everyone wants it with all of their hearts. You have to believe that of any year, this is the year."

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Should the Canucks hoist the cup in June for the first time, Ms. Bollwitt predicted a "party that spans for days."

"Vancouver's going to go nuts if and when this does happen," Ms. Bollwitt said before correcting her own asterisk.

"When it happens."

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About the Author
National correspondent, Vancouver bureau

David Ebner is a national correspondent based in Vancouver. He joined The Globe and Mail in 2000 and worked in Toronto and Calgary before moving to Vancouver in 2008. He has reported on a wide range of stories – business, politics, arts, crime – and has covered sports since 2012. More

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