(2) Chicago Blackhawks (112 points)
(3) Vancouver Canucks (103 points)
By the numbers, Vancouver ranked #2 in the league with 3.27 Goals/Game for a grand total of 268 goals scored overall. Chicago ranked #3 with 3.20 Goals/Game and finished the year with 262 goals scored. The Blackhawks can seemingly score at will and will press the Canucks defenders at every turn. This time however, the Canucks can go even deeper than the hawks on the goal-scoring front so it should make for some excellent games.
The Hawks rely on a number of very strong, powerful scorers and augment that with Patrick Kane’s sniper abilities. Nobody expects Ben Eager to be putting up points but the lines that don’t score are big and tough to play against. Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp are the three big guns on this Hawks squad, which is nothing new to look at. Patrick Kane had his way with the Canucks last year so it will be on everyone to attempt to contain him as much as possible. Dustin Byfuglien will be up to his usual ‘goalie-interfering-self’ which shouldn’t catch the Canucks off guard as they dealt with it last year and every regular season game since.
The Canucks showed in the first round how even their third line is going to be putting the puck in the net. Steve Bernier brought his game up another level, as did Kyle Wellwood and that helped bring the Canucks from the edge of disaster to domination. In years past the Sedin’s also couldn’t be expected to show up every game. They proved the last two seasons that they will be there when they are needed and that’s all you can ask for.
Advantage: Canucks – The Hawks are a quick attack but they are top-heavy. The Canucks depth shined in the last two games of Round 1 and will roll lines again to attack in waves.
By the numbers, Vancouver was ranked #12 in Goals Allowed/Game at 2.66 and an overall of 218 goals. The Kings came in at #6 here with 2.48 and an overall total of 203. The Hawks were a better team defensively and with the exception of Bryan Campbell (who isn’t a defensive stud by any measure) did not have to endure too many injuries. They also have the luxury of playing Byfuglien on the back-end when they do have injuries which allows for some change-up looks that might confuse the Canucks. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will be given the task of slowing the Sedin’s. Good luck guys.
The Canucks defence held up like the Great Wall of China when playing 5 on 5, but crumbled like the Berlin Wall on the penalty kill. Some of that blame falls on the forwards as Alex Burrows was a major culprit of not adjusting positions quick enough on the PK. Andrew Alberts was the main problem as he seems slow and lazy most of the time but still has enough upside to potentially help out. My advice to AV would be don’t play Alberts in any circumstance, but what choice does he have?
Alex Edler was absolutely magnificent in Round 1 and although he didn’t punish people as much after the first game, he showed he is willing to do what is necessary to win.
Advantage: Hawks – In years past I would say this would be a Canuck advantage, but the Hawks have Campbell back and more options to attack with. They may not be as responsible as other teams but they are quick and aggressive.
The chart below shows the regular season stats for the two goalies we will see in round 2:
After battling with Cristobel Huet for top spot, Antti Niemi became the obvious choice as he was winning games more often than not. Niemi stays low to the ground and isn’t very strong on his glove hand so it will be up to the Canucks to focus on those weaknesses and attempt to exploit them. Niemi is very quick however and is capable of shutting teams down with his crazy legs. I wouldn’t expect to see Huet, but this is definitely a better situation than facing Nik Khabibulin.
Luongo wasn’t phenomenal in the first round but he was very good and made almost every critical save at the right time. The problems for Luongo were related to the team as a whole, mostly on the PK and his ability to come up with the big save at the big moment really killed the momentum for the Kings. After contending with Ryan Smyth, his next step is the even more challenging Dustin Byfuglien who was too obvious in last years’ playoff matchup about running Lui. This guy will crash into Luongo at every opportunity and guaranteed the refs will miss half of it, so this is where the Canucks need to forget about all that and just move his big frame out of the way and Lui the best chance to stop the puck.
Advantage: Canucks – In this situation Luongo has the experience and the ability to be the big game goalie. Niemi is essentially a rookie who didn’t seem like he was comfortable against Nashville, a team that can barely score. He’s got his work cut out for him in this series and will rely more on his D-Men than ever before.
Here it gets tricky to analyze:
|VAN||20.9 (6th)||81.6 (18th)|
|LAK||17.7 (16th)||85.3 (4th)|
The Canucks Power-Play will pose a much bigger threat than the Predators did to Nashville. The Hawks Penalty Kill however was much better than the one the Kings put up so it might just be a push. There are too many variables and talented players to know what to expect but both teams will have an action plan on what to do. The Hawks will crash Luongo at every turn on their power-play as he is very prone to being distracted and has a history of getting involved in the extra-curricular activity that helps nobody. The Canucks for their part need to focus on throwing everything at Niemi in an effort to catch him off guard after his slow but shaky series against the Preds.
Advantage: Even – Both teams can score and they will score. Only the PK will determine who wins this battle. Based on round 1 I would give it to the Hawks but they will be in deeper waters against the Canuck attack whereas the Canucks are coming off the worst penalty killing stats ever. It should only get better from here.
It was clear after the first 3 games of the first round that the Terry Murray was finding the weaknesses in the Canuck team and exploiting it. AV for his part did a phenomenal job of mixing his lines to find the better matchups and correct the issue in time to knock the Kings right out.
Joel Quenville is a damn good coach and I’m a big fan of his style of play. The only issue for him will be keeping his composure and not getting carried away with the officiating as he tends to do. The Canucks have had their problems in that area where the players and the organization (and me) may have been whining, AV kept his cool and kept his focus on the game. Quenville needs to follow suit in order to be successful and set a good example for his team.
Advantage: Canucks – Alain Vigenault has grown into a more complete and well-rounded coach than he was when he arrived in Vancouver. His demeanour is always confident and positive and it shines through even in player interviews now. Joel Quenville is a good coach but he doesn’t bring you anything you can’t get from Lindy Ruff, Jacque Lemaire, Brent Sutter, Dave Lewis etc…
Hawks: John Madden – Madden was acquired for his playoff pedigree and although he didn’t show it too much in round one, this guy is capable of providing the leadership necessary to go all the way. His strong two-way play was needed and will be of value in this round more than the last.
Canucks: Pavol Demitra – Demitra is starting to find his form again and is back to 80% of what he was during the Olympics for Slovakia. His past playoff hardships mean nothing now and he needs to focus on providing balance and manning the point on the PP. If he gets going he can alleviate the stress on the Sedin’s.
Canucks in 6 – It’s the revenge factor for the Canucks this year as they want to prove they deserve this second crack at the Blackhawks. Chi-Town may have been craving a sexier matchup like the Wings, but trust me, this will be the best series of Round 2 regardless of outcome.
About the Author
Written by Luke Mirza