This image (along with this song) has haunted Canucks fans for almost an entire calendar year. Patrick Kane, mouth guard dangling and all, scoring the insurance goal late in game 6, his third goal of the night. The Canucks insist that they should have won that series, to which I disagree (they had fewer points than Chicago, and were beaten in six!). The Hawks were the better team last year, and throughout the regular season have been the better team this year. No doubt, they are the favourites. With that said, this series should be a close one and could go either way, depending on a few keys of the series:
Traffic in Front of Luongo:
The Blackhawks were very successful last season getting traffic in front of Roberto Luongo, bumping him, falling on him (accidentally on purpose of course), basically completely throwing him off his game. The Canucks defensemen will need to make life miserable for Blackhawks wishing to crash the crease. But more importantly, Roberto Luongo needs to not let it bother him. Last year he showed his frustration, which only fueled the fire.
Traffic in Front of Niemi:
Something I never understand about teams in the playoffs is that when a team is playing a star goalie, they try to get lots of traffic in front, but when they play a mediocre goalie, they’re not so concerned with it. Just because Antti Niemi doesn’t have a great resume shouldn’t mean that the Canucks shouldn’t become concerned with screening him, bumping him, etc. He put up good numbers against the Predators in round 1, but he’s never really been tested mentally as much as he will this series. Shaking his confidence will be key.
Seabrook and Keith:
No doubt Joel Quenneville will try to get this pairing out against the Sedin line as much as possible. The Sedins will need to outplay them to win the series. It’s also important because both Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith play so many minutes. If the Sedins can tire them out or the other lines can wear them down with body checks and sustained pressure, it will go a long way to helping the Canucks’ cause.
Shutting Down the Hawks Top Guns:
The Blackhawks have a lot of fire power. Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp, etc. are very dangerous players and the Canucks will need to keep them in check. That job will be shared primarily by the Canucks defense corps. This is the biggest mismatch going into this series. With 2-3 potent scoring lines, their d-men will be tested big time. Last year the Canucks D seemed incapable of handling the Hawks speed. This year the Canucks have pretty much the same group, save for Christian Ehrhoff in for Mattias Ohlund.
I believe the X-factor of this series is revenge. The Canucks seem to still be pissed off about last season’s playoff loss and they seem more mature. I also think they’re better equipped to deal with the roller coaster ride that Chicago can take you on with their crazy goal spurts.
What’s Different this Time:
Going into last season’s playoff series against the Blackhawks the Canucks were on a roll. They had ended the regular season well and steam rolled a good young St Louis Blues team. Roberto Luongo was sensational in that series.
The 2008-09 edition of the Canucks was bigger and slower than this edition. Gone are Mattias Ohlund and Mats Sundin. Willie Mitchell is gone due to injury. In are Christian Ehrhoff and Mikael Samuelsson.
As for the Blackhawks, all of their young players are a year older and a year better. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith have gone from good young players to bonafide superstars. Hossa, Niemi and Madden are the notable additions to their lineup while Havlat, Khabibulin and Barker are the most notable players no longer with their club.
This is a Canucks blog but it is not a homer blog, I’m going to say Chicago in 7. The Canucks have a great opportunity to beat the Blackhawks but they will need either Kevin Bieksa to play like he hasn’t played like in two seasons or Roberto Luongo to get on a roll like he hasn’t been able to do for a few months. Both are unlikely, which is why I believe Chicago will come out with the series victory.