VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) - Judging by the jersey-wearing, face-painted masses crowding into downtown Vancouver on Wednesday night, this city's passion for the Canucks has eclipsed even Olympic fever.

"It's like the Holy Grail," Canucks defenseman Sami Salo said of the Stanley Cup. "Nothing compared to the Olympics or the world championships."

Vancouver's fans seem to agree.

The streets around Rogers Arena were a sea of green and blue sweaters at a street party despite Game 1's 5 p.m. local start time, right when most people were just getting off work. Downtown bars had patrons lined up out their doors, and thousands gathered under threatening clouds for outdoor viewing parties on giant screens.

A live DJ entertained players in impromptu street hockey games closer to the arena, and fans milled around a statue of former Canucks coach Roger Neilson waving his infamous white towel from the team's 1982 run to the Stanley Cup finals.

Jim Potter waved money around instead, pulling out a wad of bills and happily shelling out $750 - double face value - on the street corner for a pair of upper deck tickets.

"I've been waiting for this my whole life," the 29-year-old fan said. "It's our team, a team we've cheered forever, so in some ways it is bigger than the Olympics."


NO MANNY: Canucks center Manny Malhotra was unable to return from his career-threatening eye injury in time for the finals opener.

Malhotra hasn't played since a deflected puck hit him in the left eye on March 16, but he returned to practice with Vancouver two weeks ago. He was declared ready to play last weekend, but he missed practice Tuesday, and didn't suit up for Game 1.

Malhotra is a faceoff specialist and an excellent defensive forward. The Canucks used a fourth line featuring Jeff Tambellini, Alexandre Bolduc and Victor Oreskovich.


GREEN INITIATIVE: The NHL is watching its water footprint at the Stanley Cup finals.

NHL Green, the league's sustainability initiative, unveiled plans Wednesday to make the finals into the first water-neutral playoff series in league history. The league will restore at least 1 million gallons to Oregon's Deschutes River after tracking every gallon of water used at both Stanley Cup finals arena - even in the ice.

"This is a monumental statement on the part of the NHL, its fans, teams, and players," said Todd Reeve, the vice president of watershed programs at the Bonneville Environmental Foundation. "This commitment to match water used on the ice and in the arena with an equal amount restored to a critically dewatered river represents a cutting-edge commitment to sustainability."

The foundation sells water restoration certificates that are used to replenish depleted water sources and damaged ecosystems. Most of the water in the Middle Deschutes River is diverted at Bend, Ore., by water rights holders, according to the foundation.


NOTES: The Canucks hope they can maintain a curious pattern for Canadian clubs from cities that hosted the Olympics. The Montreal Canadiens won the 1977 Stanley Cup after their city hosted the 1976 Olympics - and then the Calgary Flames won the 1989 Cup after the Winter Olympics visited in 1988. ... Just one of the past seven Presidents' Trophy winners has gone on to win the Stanley Cup, and just seven have done it since the trophy was first awarded in 1986.