After a frustrating and at times scary series against the Los Angeles Kings, the Vancouver Canucks have once again emerged out of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with hopes of making the next step by advancing to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 1994.
While the young and talented Kings were a tough task for the Canucks, Vancouver’s playoff experience and edge in big game goaltending was too much for the King’s to overcome.
The situation is all too familiar to the Canucks who were overrun last season in a bitter six game series by the Chicago Blackhawks last spring. After lessons learned against the ‘Hawks and Kings in two violent, hate driven series’, the Canucks are ready for revenge against the high powered Blackhawks.
The Canucks and Blackhawks just don’t like each other. Since a brawl late last season that began with goaltender interference and ended in fighting and hair pulling, these two Western Conference powers have been at each other’s throats every game since.
The abundance of hate fuelled storylines and personal battles in the rivalry between the Canucks and Blackhawks is really what sets this series apart from the rest, while Boston vs. Philadelphia may seem like an enforcer’s dream playoff series, don’t be surprised if a few fighting majors are awarded by series end.
The Usual Suspects
Dustin Byfuglien and Roberto Luongo just don’t get along. Whether Byfuglien is to blame for his crease crashing or Luongo should be held responsible for his diving, the battle for position in and around the crease of Roberto Luongo could be the key to winning the series.
Ryan Kesler and Andrew Ladd have had their differences, and while Kesler may be playing down the personal rivalry, these two players don’t like each other and will likely be at the center of the scrums between the two teams come Saturday night. In fact, other than Team USA teammate Patrick Kane who now understands Kesler’s abrasive style of play, I’m sure all the Blackhawks hate Kesler.
After forcing Willie Mitchell to eat his words last spring, Patrick Kane is once again looking to terrorize Roberto Luongo and the Canucks defence corps. Without Willie Mitchell providing bulletin board material for the young sniper, can Kane once again lift his team to victory? Captain Jonathan Toews was also looking forward to revenge on Mitchell after being laid out by the BC native earlier this season, however Toews will have to take it out on Willie’s teammates instead since Mitchell himself is out of the series with a concussion.
Additions Christian Ehrhoff and Marian Hossa haven’t had a chance to get in on the hate yet; however these two could swing the series in either direction. Without Willie Mitchell in the lineup, Ehrhoff will be looked towards to log big minutes shutting down the big three of Kane, Toews and Hossa. In Chicago, the ‘Hawks are hoping their good luck charm in Hossa comes as advertised, Hossa has been to the Stanley Cup finals two years in a row.
It has been well documented that Roberto Luongo hasn’t played his best hockey since the Olympic break; however during the Olympic tournament his work was play was superb. An elite athlete like Luongo doesn’t just forget how to play goal, phases may come and go however Luongo is still a high calibre NHL starter. While the LA Kings were able to get to Luongo throughout the first round, Lu’s timely acrobatic saves late in game one and game five have reminded fans and critics that Luongo is still one of the best in the world and can win a game himself at any point during the series. Luongo’s success will likely depend on the battle with Dustin Byfuglien, the Vancouver defence need to help out their captain and allow him to see pucks and make the save. Coach Alain Vigneault thinks Byfuglien got away with murder last season, so expect that by whistle or crosscheck the Chicago power forward will get all the attention necessary to clear the way this series.
In Chicago, Antti Niemi has emerged as the starter in Chicago. In their opening series against Nashville, Niemi posted a .921 SV% and 2.15 GAA, however opposite the high powered Canucks offence Niemi will again have to prove he is capable of calming the storm for the ‘Hawks. Niemi’s first round numbers are much more impressive than Luongo’s, however both goaltenders have something to prove in the second round rematch between the two teams. Will Niemi’s quiet consistency or Luongo’s ability to make the timely, highlight reel save be the story of the series between the pipes?
Without ’09 playoff Warrior Willie Mitchell available, The Canucks will have to survive behind the leadership of Christian Ehrhoff, who has been by far the Canuck’s best on the blue line this season. The off season addition from San Jose has become the cornerstone of the Canuck defence logging well over twenty minutes a night in round one against the Kings, including 30:35 of playing time in game one. Down the depth chart, defensemen Andrew Alberts, Kevin Bieksa, Shane O’Brien and Aaron Rome will be key to the Canucks defensive success, Alberts physical punishing style is susceptible to the speed and skill of the Blackhawks; however a big hit from any of the Canucks defensemen could drastically change a game, and potentially the series. Exhibit A:
Just as Los Angeles thrived on Doughty and Johnson, so do the Chicago Blackhawks live and die with the play of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. The Chicago tandem has been solid together all season long including their time as line mates on Team Canada; expect them to be on the ice for every key shift during the series. Keith and Seabrook had six points between the two of them during their series against the Predators averaging just over 25 and 20 minutes of ice time per night respectively.
In contrast to last season’s second round matchup, this series the Vancouver Canucks appear to have the advantage up front heading into this year’s rematch. The Canucks ability to alternate between the streaky Sedin, Sedin, Samuelsson/Burrows top line has propelled the Canucks to become scoring powers in this year’s playoffs. Following the twins, Selke nominee Ryan Kesler and speedy winger Mason Raymond add a second dimension to the Canucks offence that is hard to contain. Kesler will likely grab the assignment of checking Chicago’s top line of Kane, Toews and Bickel so expect Canuck depth forwards like Pavol Demitra, Jannik Hansen, Steve Bernier and Kyle Wellwood to play a large part in the Canucks scoring production during the series.
Similarly to last season, Patrick Kane is the story to the Blackhawks scoring attack. Take in to account the scoring touch of Captain Jonathan Toews, off season addition Marian Hossa and known crease crasher Dustin Byfuglien and the Chicago forward corps is as dangerous as ever. Chicago is capable of scoring on the rush with speed and skill or by bringing it in tight with traffic and shots provided by big bodies like Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd. While every team has always placed a net presence in front of Luongo, Dustin Byfuglien’s personal brand of traffic seemed to really get to Luongo last year. Expect Luongo vs. Byfuglien to be the key to the series.
- Willie Mitchell, Day to Day (concussion) Questionable.
- Ryan Johnson, Day to Day (broken foot) Game time decision.
- Ben Eager, Day to Day (Illness)
- Kim Johnsson, Indefinitely (Upper body)
The Vancouver Canucks have made huge strides this season up front, The emergence of Henrik and Daniel Sedin as big time NHL stars has created a dynamic scoring attack for the Canucks. While the Canucks defence can be suspect at times without Willie Mitchell to calm the storm, the return of Ryan Johnson will gives a major boost not only to the power play but also to the morale of the Canucks. Duncan Keith and Keith Seabrook’s strength will not be enough to stop the multi line Canuck attack, Canucks in seven.
New and Notes
- Andrew Alberts will start in game one over the healthy Aaron Rome. Rome is the better defenseman, however against big bodies like Byfuglien Alberts is needed.
- Can’t get enough of the storylines in this series? Puck Daddy offers 10 things to know about Chicago vs. Vancouver.
- Derek Zona via From The Rink believes The Worst Hockey Fans In Canada are none other than Vancouver Canucks fans, I believe the view is better from the playoffs high road.
- Painfully Obvious Hockey 101: To score on Roberto Luongo, create traffic.
- Pierre LeBrun is a wise man; he also took the Vancouver Canucks in seven games.
- Not so wise: declaring Chicago has the edge in goal against the Canucks. Apparently the game times in the Kings vs. Canucks series were far past Mr. Rodgers bed time, it’s evident he hasn’t watched Luongo at all.
- The Canucks have been keeping up on Antti Niemi and believe they will have to go upstairs to score on the Finnish netminders during the series.
- Alex Burrows has something to prove as a goal scorer in the second round of these Stanley Cup Playoffs.
- How bad is it that “Chelsea Dagger”, the Blackhawks goal celebration song was a dirty pleasure on my iPod before the ‘Hawks ruined it forever?
- First Charles Wang says every team should make the Stanley Cup Playoffs, now an inspired fan claims the Islanders could beat any team in the West. My mistake, the Sharks of all teams scare “Dominik” and the Isles.
- Via Puck Daddy: Nicklas Backstrom is the man, and everyone should know it. His “Your Girlfriend Loves To Wear My Hockey Jersey” T-shirt is one of the best pieces of hockey culture clothing ever in my opinion, and frankly I want one. Did I ever mention my birthday is May 31st and I’m a size large?
Official Flying V 2010 Playoff Predictions – Round Two
After going 4/4 In the Western Conference, but a horrendous 1/4 in the East, I look to find my playoff stride in the second round of playoffs. I will never doubt Philly again. As I tweeted yesterday, here are my second round series picks.
West: Canucks (7) defeat Blackhawks, Red Wings (7) defeat Sharks.
East: Penguins (6) defeat Canadiens, Flyers (6) defeat Bruins.
So, after a year of sorrow for Luongo and company, the Canucks have their shot at redemption. For me, I also get a chance to exorcise the demons of last year’s playoff loss; a year of smug looks from Blackhawk fans is enough. Enjoy the game tonight fans, the wait has been much too long.
Filed Under: Vancouver Canucks
About the Author: Kevin Vanstone is a long time sports fan and Canucks die hard from White Rock, British Columbia. He is currently attending the University of Victoria pursuing a Writing degree, and in his spare time writes about all things Canucks hockey as well as news and notes from around the NHL.