April 13 2011 09:47AM
The Canucks and the Blackhawks are different teams this year.
The Canucks are better and the Blackhawks are way less dickish.
(Photo by Jessica Haydahl/NHLI via Getty Images)
Game Day Recon: Western Conference Quarterfinal Game 1 - Blackhawks @ Canucks
Can the Vancouver Canucks finally defeat the Chicago Blackhawks in a 7-game series? Have the Canucks off-season improvements been enough? Will the personnel losses to the Blackhawks doom them? Will the Canucks incredible regular season carry forward into the playoffs?
We will finally get some answers to all those questions, starting today as Game 1 of the Canucks/Blackhawks first round series goes tonight in Vancouver.
Game Time: 7:00 PM PT
The thing about the year's edition of both the Blackhawks and the Canucks is that Vancouver got a whole lot better and Chicago got worse. At every position and role, Chicago might be good. In fact they might be very good, but this year Vancouver is better. All of the elements of the Canucks game that were questionable in last year's series against the Blackhawks, the Canucks have addressed them. The Canucks had diminished, shaky defensemen. Luongo chased pucks all around his crease. Their bottom 6 forwards showed no grit or fight factor.
Those limitations have all been addressed with the deepest defense in the league, a new goalie coach and new focus for Luongo and a revamped bottom two lines.
And further to that, the Blackhawks are a lesser team than the two editions that beat the Canucks in consecutive playoffs rounds. The Blackhawks were immensely successful in getting under the skin of the Canucks best players. The usually unflappable Daniel Sedin looked like he was gonna cut a bitch last year. Roberto Luongo was being prison-ified by Dustin Byfuglien. And the Canucks power play was soundly bent over. The players who provided all that grit and jam against the Canucks are mostly gone from the Blackhawks. Byfuglien, Ladd, Versteeg, Burish, Madden, Eager... all gone. And the Blackhawks have to start the series without Dave Bollard - king rat #1 for the Hawks - with a concussion, and it's unknown when exactly he'll be able to return to the lineup. That is a significant amount of prick missing from last year's lineup. And that prick factor was arguably the #1 reason why the Blackhawks beat the Canucks two straight years.
There remains the specter of the Blackhawks mojo hanging like a pall over this team and the city. But you have to believe that the Canucks have a different view on life after their incredible season this year.
The Three Keys
Here are the three keys for the Vancouver Canucks tonight:
1. Will someone please hit Patrick fkn Kane? Kane is an all-world talent. There is no denying that. He's a great passer and very elusive. To a bafflingly high level. He seems to evade any type of contact, which was especially true over their past two playoff series. With the Canucks top 6 defensemen all together, it would behoove them to smack the stupid haircut off him and pile him through the boards. When he has time and space, he is creative, and visionary. A great serve man to the rest of the Blackhawks' volleyers. So Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard, will you please hipcheck Patrick Kane into a waiting cab?
2. Stay disciplined. First, the Canucks need to maintain their composure, just from a mental health standpoint. But the Blackhawks have a great PP and there is no need to give the opposition any advantages. And Chicago's 1st unit PP group is dynamite. The Canucks need to play to the edge, but not over it. A difficult challenge, but a necessary one to undertake.
3. Win the first period. The Chicago Blackhawks were the league's highest scoring team in first periods this season. The Canucks were the best defensive team in first periods this year. A big battle. But for the Canucks, this very first period in their first game against their playoff nemesis will be, BY FAR, the most important and critical period of their post-season, no matter how far they progress in the playoffs.
The Vancouver Canucks must play calm, focused, disciplined and ready to score. Just like they have all season. All they have to do is remember how they've started games all year long. And do it again. No panic. No loss of composure. No straying outside the system they've employed all year.
Here are your top 5 links for today's game:
1. Tale of the Tape: Blackhawks @ Canucks (Canucks.com)
2. Days of destiny set up the Canucks' future (The Province)
3. For Sedins, ‘we’re ready to do it ... this is our time (Vancouver Sun)
4. Canucks/Blackhawks Preview (Yahoo! Sports)
5. A Look At The Opposition (Second City Hockey) << SEE WHAT THE ENEMY HAS TO SAY!