The Series #1 Vancouver Canucks (54-19-9, 117 pts.) vs. #8 Chicago Blackhawks (44-29-9, 97 pts.)
Regular Season: Vancouver took the season series with a record of 2-1-1, winning their two most recent contests. The Blackhawks took the first two games of the series, including a 7-1 drubbing back in November. Roberto Luongo made 32-saves in a Canucks 3-0 shutout of the Blackhawks on December 3rd.
History: What’s that old cliche that describes the Canucks and Blackhawks recent history? Oh yeah: Bad Blood. These two clubs are meeting nice and early in this year’s postseason. Chicago has eliminated Vancouver in each of the last two years, but this time the Blackhawks come in as an underdog having barely squeaked into the playoffs on the last day of the season. The Blackhawks will have many new faces this time around, but the three biggest Canuck killers of them, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and “Chelsea Dagger” will be there. The Canucks have a history of disappearing late in postseason games versus the Blackhawks, so Roberto Luongo and the defence will have to shake their demons if this year is to be different.
The Case for Vancouver: The Presidents’ Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks boast elite talent on their top two lines, and a ton of depth in the bottom six forwards and on the blue line as well. Their power play was tops in the league and their penalty kill was the NHL’s third best, so execution on special teams could make or break the series for Vancouver. Roberto Luongo has had his troubles with the Blackhawks in playoffs past, but he is coming off what has arguably been the greatest regular season performance of his career. He’s far and away the most talented goaltender in this series, but he’ll have to put that skill on display if his Canucks are to advance. Also working in Vancouver’s favour: no Dustin Byfuglien this year.
The Case for Chicago: Um, they’re the defending Stanley Cup champs? The Blackhawks trump the Canucks with regards to recent playoff success, but they’re a much different looking team than the one that bested Vancouver in last year’s Conference Semi-Finals. Chicago’s success may ultimately depend on how head coach Joel Quenneville plays the matchups. Vancouver will be without one of their best two-way players and boss on the faceoffs in Manny Malhotra. That could force Alain Vigneault to use Ryan Kesler in more of a defensive forward role, which is something he was asked to do much less this past regular season. Chicago can match Vancouver on the power play, but their PK… that’s another story.
- 5-on-5 GF/GA Ratio: Vancouver, 1.24 (2nd); Chicago, 1.20 (4th)
- PP: Vancouver, 24.3% (1st); Chicago, 23.1 (4th)
- PK: Vancouver: 85.6% (3rd); Chicago 79.2% (25th)
- Goal Differential/Game: Vancouver, +0.95; Chicago, +0.39
It could come down to Vancouver’s power play versus Chicago’s penalty kill. Chicago’s 25th ranked PK is no match for Vancouver’s top ranked regular season power play, at least on paper. Of course, championships aren’t won on paper – but the Blackhawks would be wise to exercise restraint and stay out of the box versus the Canucks. Corey Crawford should be watched closely as well. If he ends up on the wrong end of a blowout loss or two, don’t be surprised to see Marty Turco get the call the next night. Unless Turco’s spent the break between the regular season and playoffs sipping on the elixir of life, having him in net should be a last resort for Chicago.
This could very well be one of the best series we see in the entire postseason, and the recent history between these two teams should make for some great hockey and just the right amount of drama. In this installment of Vancouver vs. Chicago in the playoffs it’s the Canucks that bring more depth and scoring power to the table. Canucks in six games.