April 28 2011 09:21AM
"Hey buuuuuuuudy. Party tonight at the Roxy? WOOOOOOO!!!!! Seriously, Shane. You'll be there right?"
"Yeah, you know I will."
(Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
The Vancouver Canucks look to put their first round triumph in the rear view mirror as quickly as possible. The Predators finally got out of the first round and face a formidable opponent, again on the West Coast.
Round 2 starts tonight!
The series is all about which team can put the past behind them faster. The Predators got their long awaited first-round series victory, while the Canucks slayed that mythical dragon that is the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs.
Ok. Mission accomplished, right? Hardly. Now both teams move on to try to climb the next mountain, and for both teams, they have a pretty significant challenge in front of them.
Let's break down this series.
The Canucks have back-to-back Art Ross winning twins, and a 3-time Selke candidate, all having career or near-career years. The Predators top scorer had 60 points. The Canucks top 2 centers had 60 goals combined this year... But had 0 goals against the Blackhawks. The Canucks have 2 powerful top lines and a lot of depth to round out their offense.
The Canucks have a big advantage up front, but the Preds score by committee and they do that very well. They had 22 goals in their 6-game series against the Ducks, so they can score. But that may have had more to do with the Ducks porous defense and shaky goaltending.
The Preds scored only 3 goals in their 2 wins over the Canucks this seasons... But so did the Canucks. The difference is that Kevin Bieksa was out for both losses, Hamhuis was out of for one. One of the Canucks losses shows a Canucks D featuring Tanev, Oberg and Sauve. And the Preds managed 3 goals. And the Preds now go from facing a questionable Ducks D and shaky goaltending to a very deep Canucks D and a Vezina candidate.
Advantage - CANUCKS
The Predators have arguably the best defense pairing in the league right now, with Norris favourite Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. After that they have a rookie and a sophomore (who are both former Vancouver Giants), a diverse actor, and a former drunk Canuck. I kid, I kid... a little. Blum and Franson, while good, still have a lot of NHL games to play to be considered threats, they're good, but they're very young and they aren't PK Subban, so they aren't making up for any defensive lapses with spectacular goals. Kevin Klein is a serviceable D-man, with decent speed and very little offense upside. Then there's Shane O'Brien. Oh Shane, welcome back baby. SOB's exploits at the Roxy are well chronicled and he still has a huge penchant for taking stupid penalties. He's getting regular minutes, but he's back to being a 6th defenseman. The pairing of SOB/Franson is an Achilles heel for the Preds and the Canucks need to shoot the arrow squarely at those two.
As for the Canucks, their defense is deep and strong. It showed its mettle against the Blackhawks and has more to prove. Former Pred Dan Hamhuis had a terrific series against Chicago and I suspect he has a lot to prove against his former mates. When the Canucks had Kevin Bieksa in the lineup against the Preds, they scored only 1 goal in two games. Not to suggest that Bieksa was THE difference, but he gave them back their depth.
Advantage - CANUCKS
The Canucks have a Vezina candidate. The Predators have a Vezina candidate. Yeah, there's no point in going further from that. Luongo and Rinne are both fantastic.
The only advantage comes if either goalie gets seriously hurt. The Canucks go to Schneider, the Predators go to 8888. But that's just unlikely.
The only possible downfall for the Predators is the fact that they've ridden Rinne a LOT to close the season. If fatigue becomes a factor, then the Canucks have an advantage. There's no way to foresee that at this point, especially with the Preds getting a bit of break after their series with the Ducks.
The possible downfall for the Canucks is if Luongo is emotionally spent from his win over the Blackhawks that he has nothing left in the tank for the Predators. I doubt it, but goalies are weird creatures, filled with all sorts of eccentricities. Besides, if Luongo does end up curled in a corner sucking his thumb, the Canucks can turn to Schneider.
It ain't gonna happen. The Predators are NOT the Blackhawks. They're just another team with no back story for Luongo or the Canucks.
Advantage - EVEN
The Predators were 25th on the powerplay. The Canucks were 1st. That's the play here. Both teams were excellent on the PK, as is to be expected with great goaltending and solid top defensemen. But if the Preds get chasing and start taking penalties, the Canucks have a big opportunity. If Shane O'Brien becomes a factor and starts running around, making regular visits to the sin bin, the Canucks could bury the Predators.
Advantage - CANUCKS
Both Vigneault and Trotz achieved firsts in that first round. Trotz finally got his team out of the opening round, and Vigneault finally beat the Blackhawks. And dare I suggest it, I think Vigneault actually outcoached Quenneville this time around, by changing the Sedins to play more and subtle changes to the lines. They're both excellent coaches with a lot to prove. The question is: who motivates their team more following a first round for each team where they overcame a significant hurdle. Right now... It's WAY too close to call.
Advantage - EVEN
The Canucks worst enemy is once again themselves. Can they overcome the emotional fall-off from their series against the Blackhawks to get back up for this series against the Predators? Can they manufacture enough hate to get going again? Can they play their style and overtake the Predators strong goaltending and league-best top defensive pairing?
Yep. I think they can. Plus, the Predators just don't have the horses or the firepower to beat the Canucks 4 games.
Canucks in six.