By Steve Keating
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The chance to win Olympic gold may only come along once every four years but for the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup is an unmatched once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Even for an Olympic city like Vancouver that basked in the golden glow of Canada's hockey victory at the 2010 Winter Games, the chance to watch their team sip from the Stanley Cup trumps everything else.
The pursuit of hockey's Holy Grail is not limited to hockey-mad Canadians and neighboring Americans. Now players from Sweden, Finland, Slovakia, Russia, Germany and more all dream of having their names one day engraved on the iconic silver mug.
"I think this is obviously the biggest game you can play," said Vancouver's Daniel Sedin. "I think you look at Olympic finals, world championships.
"But when you play this long, with good friends and team mates, it's the biggest game you can play.
"I mean, you played 82 games just to get in, then it's a long run in the playoffs, too.
"For sure they are the biggest games you can play in."
Both the Bruins and Canucks have lineups packed with players who have performed on the international stage representing their countries at both the Olympics and world championships.
Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo backstopped Canada to an Olympic gold medal victory last year in Vancouver while Swedish twins Daniel and Henrik stood atop the podium at the 2006 Turin Winter Games.
Bruins netminder Tim Thomas and Canucks Ryan Kesler were U.S. team mates in Vancouver and took home silver, while Boston's Norris trophy finalist Zdeno Chara anchored the Slovakia defense. Vancouver team mates Sami Salo and Christian Ehrhoff manned the blueline for Finland and Germany respectively.
"Obviously the Olympics was one of the biggest stages I ever played on," said Kesler.
"I believe this is bigger.
"I've said it before. We worked extremely hard all year and I've played with these two guys (Sedin twins) next to me for close to five years. I played with Alex (Burrows) longer.
"Every year we work for the same goal. To finally get here and to finally have a chance at achieving our goal, it's something special."
The bond felt by players also extends to a team's home city and fans, while in Vancouver's case, an entire country.
Despite hockey's global growth, it is in Canada, the game's birthplace and spiritual home that the Stanley Cup remains a national treasure.
When Raffi Torres scored with 19 seconds left in regulation to give the Canucks a 1-0 win over the Bruins in Game One on Wednesday it sparked a thunderous celebration not heard in Vancouver since Sidney Crosby scored the golden goal to give Canada victory in the 2010 Olympic men's final.
An online survey conducted by Ipsos Reid prior to Game One found that eight of every 10 British Columbians were excited about the Canucks performance in this year's playoffs.
A similar poll carried out prior to the Vancouver Olympic opening ceremonies just over a year ago found that just half of BC residents were excited for the Winter Games to begin.
"It's like the Holy Grail." said Salo. "It's a very long road to get to the playoffs.
"Only a few players have a chance to play for the Cup."
(Editing by Ian Ransom)