On at least one occasion this season, fans in Pacific Coliseum were so quiet that a visiting writer suggested the seats be checked to see if they were occupied by cardboard dummies.

An October contest against the Washington Capitals and the Stanley Cup finals in mid-May are worlds apart, however, and the 16,413 who will attend Sunday's fourth--and possibly concluding--game against the New York Islanders are expected to raise their towels in one last ear-splitting salute to their improbable heroes.

"Three months ago, playing in the Stanley Cup final was probably the furthest thing from my mind," said Vancouver defenseman Harold Snepsts. "I think back to when there were letters in the paper every day asking what was wrong with the Canucks and all you heard on the radio was people making fun of us. It seemed like all the whole city wanted to do was nothing but clean house."

Now all the city wants to do is jump on the Canucks' bandwagon. For the first time in its 12 NHL seasons, Vancouver has won a playoff series--not one, but three. That the Canucks have only a miracle shot at overcoming the Islanders' 3-0 lead has affected the enthusiasm only slightly.

The focus of the Canucks' fans has been the towels, which became a unifying symbol after Coach Roger Neilson and two players wrapped towels on stick blades in Chicago and waved them at referee Bob Myers in a satirical gesture of surrender.

During the Islanders' 3-0 victory here Thursday, most of the sellout crowd waved towels and screamed on cue every time a siren wailed.

Returning home from the two defeats on Long Island, the Canucks were met by several thousand fans.

Fans waited in line for two days, watching Tuesday's game on TV sets provided by the Coliseum, to buy tickets to Thursday's game.

The Province of British Columbia spent $12,751 for full-page ads in the two Vancouver dailies, congratulating the Canucks on their success. Letters protesting that expenditure are already appearing in the same papers.

Before the Stanley Cup went on display Thursday at the Hotel Vancouver, impatient fans repeatedly called NHL officials to ask what time they could see it. Thursday afternoon and all day Friday, the curious flocked into the hotel lobby for a closeup of the Cup. Today's Stanley Cup luncheon, a freebie affair for media, NHL officials and guests in past years, was opened to the public, at $50 a ticket.

It had been 57 years since the last time a Stanley Cup final was contested on the Pacific Coast, with the Victoria Cougars beating the Montreal Canadiens. The only time the Cup ever resided in Vancouver longer than a couple of days was in 1915, when the Millionaires defeated Ottawa.

A Vancouver paper reprinted the story of that glorious victory on Thursday. On Friday, its banner headline on Page One read: "Fans' towels mop up tears."