April 11 2011 10:59PM
Look! Burrows has now obtained the power of levitation. That should come in handy in the playoffs.
(Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
The Vancouver Canucks and the Chicago Blackhawks will meet in the playoffs for third consecutive year. While the Blackhawks deservingly won both previous editions of their playoff battles, the Canucks are a much improved team over the last two years.
But it seems like it was written in the stars that if the Vancouver Canucks want to progress in the playoffs, they will have to beat their conquerer. Will the third time be the charm?
This will be the third attempt for the Canucks to beat the Blackhawks in the playoffs. But a lot of things have changed from their two previous meetings. And it starts with the time of year, both previous meetings were second round matchups. Does that help or hurt the Canucks' chances? It's probably irrelevant, but it's a fun little fact nonetheless.
Let's break down the two teams and how they compare this time around.
Both teams boast formidable offensive weapons on the their top two lines. Chicago has Toews, Kane, Hossa, and Sharp, while Vancouver has the Sedins, Burrows, Kesler and Samuelsson. As for the bottom two lines, both teams have a bit of a struggle to find true scoring punch, but Vancouver does have a bit more depth and more grit to their bottom six. Both teams are also dealing with some injuries and missing players up front to start the series. Chicago will be without Troy Brouwer and Dave Bolland, although we'll likely see Brouwer back within a game or two. Vancouver is without Manny Malhotra until next season (assuming he returns at all) and Raffi Torres for two more games because of suspension. When Torres ruturns, add him to Hansen, Glass, Oreskovich and Lapierre and the Canucks have some great tenacity in the bottom six forwards. While this is an edge, especially given Chicago lost the likes of Ladd, Byfuglien, Eager, and Burish in the summer, it's only a slight edge in my eyes, until the Canucks can prove that they can use it to their advantage. And given the Canucks struggles to find an adequate replacement for Malhotra as 3rd line center, it may take them a game or two to get sorted out. The Canucks don't have that much time to do that.
Advantage - EVEN
It comes down to one simple fact. The Blackhawks' defense is thin and the Canucks' isn't. When the Blackhawks have one of the most dominant bluieline tandems in a decade in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, after Brian Campbell, the Blackhawks' blueline thins out pretty quickly. Chris Campoli has been decent as a new acquisition, but Niklas Hjalmarsson is inconsistent at best, Nick Leddy is an unproven rookie. Their depth beyond that is almost non-existant since Jordan Hendry is out for the season. Keith and Seabrook have logged huge minutes all year long and are taking the lion's share of the work. Their top 3 defensemen average 23 mins or more, while no other defensemen has more than 18:30 a game. And while Seabrook is having a marginally better year statistically, both Keith and Campbell are having noticeably worse years. If one of Keith, Seabrook or Campbell goes down with an injury for more than a game, it would be a serious blow to their blueline.
As for the Canucks, they now boast arguably the best top 6 defensive corps in the playoffs.The Canucks have dealt with injuries to their defense all year and, as such, are battle-tested and prepared to deal with changes. The Canucks have five defensemen who averaged over 20 mins per game, while Alex Edler was their high minute man at 24:17 per game, and he only played 51 games. So while their defense suffered some major injuries, they're also rested and ready for a long run. And even if they do suffer another injury on the blueline, which just seems inevitable at this point, they have Andrew Alberts and Aaron Rome waiting in the wings, both of whom have been admirably soldiers for the Canucks all season. The Canucks blueline minutes are spread out evenly and for good reason - it's damn good and deep.
Advantage - CANUCKS
Corey Crawford has been very good in his first full season in the NHL. And he had to be, as Marty Turco had his worst year ever as a pro and was quickly relegated to backing up his rookie partner. Crawford has been the de facto starter as a result, and he's handled his duties admirably. He does still have his moments of inconsistency though, as he's been pulled twice in the last 16 games. The issue with Crawford is the fact that this is his first year in the playoffs. He has played a grand total of 1 game and 16 minutes of NHL playoff hockey. So he is an unknown, as far as how he will perform. Of course, the same could be said of Niemi last year for the Blackhawks and that worked out okay for them. It's hard to imagine they could have successful back-to-back years in the playoffs with two different goalies with no playoff experience.
While Marty Turco is having his worst year as a pro, Roberto Luongo had his best year as a pro and appears to be in full stride. Luongo, along with backup Cory Schneider captured the Jennings trophy for lowest GAA. It is clear to folks who have watched Luongo all year how his game has changed. He is calmer, playing deeper in his net, and handling all the pressure that has ben bestowed upon him. And the same can be said for Schneider, who is probably the league's best backup and has numbers perfectly in line with Luongo's. A perfect example of how things have changed for Luongo is the fact that he has only let in 4 goals in a game once since Christmas, and that was way back on Jan 11 in a game that went to overtime. Sure Corey Crawford is good, but Roberto Luongo has been excellent.
Advantage - CANUCKS
The Vancouver Canucks were 4 games away from being the first team in the expansion era to end the year leading the league in Goals, Goals Against, PP% and PK%. They nailed the first three, and had a slight dip to see their PK% fall to a tie for second. The Canucks special teams have been fantastic all year long. Their PK may have suffered with the loss of Malhotra, who was their defensive faceoff specialist. But now that the Canucks have all six of their top defensemen back, along with a goalie who is playing at the top of his game, it may not hurt them as bad as originally anticipated.
As for the Blackhawks, their power play is pretty close to being as formidable as the Canucks. With their top 4 forwards and defensemen like Keith, Seabrook and Campbell, it's easy to see why their power play is so potent. But the PK is a different story. And this has a lot to do with their lack of depth on defense a rookie goalie. However, the Blackhawks were 2nd in the league in the least number of times shorthanded. So while their PK may be awful, they just don't spend a lot of time shorthanded. Add that to the fact that the Canucks were 20th in PP opportunities at home, and the Canucks edge on the PK suddenly becomes pretty insignificant.
Advantage - EVEN
Joel Quenneville is the Yankees to Alain Vigneault's Pedro Martinez. Coach Q has been AV's daddy for the past two playoff years. I'll keep this short and sweet. Until Vigneault can prove once and for all that he can outcoach Coach Q in the playoffs, I'll maintain that Quenneville will always have the edge here.
Advantage - BLACKHAWKS
The Blackhawks just ain't what they were last year. They don't have the grit and sandpaper that helped win them the Cup last year. And they don't have the depth in either their forwards or their defense to absorb any type of personnel loss. The Canucks added some much needed grit in players like Torres, Lapierre and Oreskovich, while players like Hansen and Glass have stepped their game up a level this year. Oh and let's not forget that Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler are having career years, as is Roberto Luongo.
Canucks in six.