Season Series: 2-2.
As the second round begins Thursday evening, here’s a few quick hits on what to watch for as the Canucks try to move on to the third round for the first time since 1994:
10. Nashville’s Plumbers. I’m sure many fans were screaming at their TVs during round one: “WHO THE F*** IS BEN SMITH?” Well get ready fans. Nashville is a team of non-stars who do an amazing job playing a team game. Martin Erat and Patrik Hornqvist are two of Nashville’s leading scorers, Sergei Kostitsyn is the better looking brother (I’ve seen Andrei in person) with Russian flair, Joel Ward, Blake Geoffrion (unbelievable blood lines this kid has), Mike Halischuk are up front and find ways to score big goals. Often injured but uber talented speedster Steve Sullivan plays on the PP and the 4th line(!), and JP Dumont has been a healthy scratch, only seeing ice time during Erat’s injury. The defense aside from Norris favourite Shea Weber and US Olympic Team member Ryan Suter, are also a bunch of unknowns, unless you’re a Vancouver Giants fan, as junior stars Cody Franson and Jon Blum return, along with Kevin Klein (who?) and probably the most well known Predator to Canucks fans, Shane O’Brien (more on him later). I purposely left out three more of Nashville’s role players, which brings us to #9.
9. The Smithson/Tootoo/Spaling Line. This line was unbelievable in game 6 vs. Anaheim. Tootoo (1-4-5) and Spaling (2-2-4), along with Smithson forecheck their asses off and wreaked havoc on the Ducks D. Tootoo is a human wrecking machine and the Canucks D better keep their heads up.
8. Raffi Torres. Will Torres return to his old self and punish more opponents on the forecheck without crossing the line? Ever since the Seabrook hit, Torres’ physical play has tailed off. He came back with a good game 7, but it’s still nowhere near where it needs to be. If Torres can be as effective as Tootoo, that’d be a fantastic wash in my opinion.
7. Special Teams. Nashville was rocked by Anaheim’s PP to the tune of a playoff worst 63.6% PK efficiency, while Vancouver’s PK is 7th at 79.3%. These numbers stray dramatically from the regular season and will be undoubtedly a major key in how the games will be won (both teams’ PP% are at 22.2%). Duncan Keith exploited the Canucks’ weak coverage of the points in games 4 and 5, and it will be very important for the Canucks PK to not allow Shea Weber’s cannon of a shot to be unleashed. If Weber can be neutralized, I like Vancouver’s chances.
6. The Sedins. The twins lead the team in scoring against Nashville in the regular season, with Danny putting up 4 and Henrik 3 against a stingy Predator defense. We can all agree that the gingers really need to step their game up a few notches for the team to be successful. Henrik passing off a 2-on-0 chance in game 7 showed weakness, but with the Hawks out of the way, I’m looking forward to the return of the twins that we’re used to seeing.
5. Carrie Underwood. Dear Cameramen, more camera time for her, please. Mike Fisher doesn’t need to score or fight for her to merit screen time. I look forward to seeing her during every stoppage in play. Thank you very much.
4. The Battle of the Vezina Finalists. The consensus here at canuckz.com is that Tim Thomas will win the Vezina, so Roberto Luongo and Pekka Rinne have something to prove to all the GMs who voted. What’s surprising is that neither goalie (I guess we can throw Thomas into the mix as well) has played well so far in the post season. Luongo has been pulled twice, and has statted at a 2.97 GAA and a .903 SV%. Surprisingly, Rinne hasn’t been better, with a GAA of 3.29 and a .876 SV% (he has also been pulled once). While both are tied in the most important stat (wins), I’m predicting that both goalies will be much better with better support from their defense, but I’m going to give the edge to Luongo. Getting over the hump in game 7 should do wonders for him. “You can’t achieve greatness without overcoming adversity.”
3. Kesler/Burrows/Raymond. With the Sedins not producing in game 7, this line was by far the best Canuck line. Their overall speed should create tons of problems for Nashville, especially in transition. This will be important especially if Nashville starts plugging up the neutral zone (which they will).
2. Old Friends, New Enemies. Shane O’Brien returns to Vancouver with one thing on his mind: vengeance. I find it hilarious how so many members of the media have said that OB has “changed” and that he’s much more disciplined. All you need to do is look at his 14 PIM in 6 games, where his team was burned for 4 PPG while he was in the box, to see that when it comes down to it, nothing really has changed. I actually liked OB as a 5th or 6th defenseman. I found him very underrated but his lack of discipline was a huge problem, on and off the ice.
On the flip side, but definitely less controversial, will be Dan Hamhuis playing against his former mates. Hamhuis looked terrible in game 6 vs. the Hawks, and was burned on Toews SH goal in game 7, but Hamhuis will not only be pumped to play his former team, he’s been feeding Alain Vigneault everything he knows about the Preds. OB may be doing the same, but for some reason, I don’t find his cerebral skills to be as valuable.
1. MORE CARRIE UNDERWOOD. ‘NUFF SAID.