It’s a cliché, but it’s true: your best players need to be your best players. That’s exactly what is carrying the Canucks right now, as they lead the Nashville Predators 3-1 and are one win away from advancing to the conference finals for the first time since 1994.
Ryan Kesler is an absolute stud right now. His goal in game 4 might well be the goal of the playoffs. Up until game 3, everyone was in agreement that he was playing superb hockey, but just wasn’t scoring. Well, with 6 points in his last two games, including two game winning goals, I think it’s safe to say he’s now producing. He’s a Conn Smythe trophy favourite right now.
Everyone’s talking about Ryan Kesler right now, and so they should. But you know who else is producing? Robert Luongo. It was only 10 days ago when half the city believed that he didn’t deserve to start in game 7 versus Chicago, but I bet he has a lot more believers now. So far in this series Luongo is 3-1 with a 1.26 GAA and a .949 SV%. His numbers are absolutely sparkling, yet he isn’t getting the credit he deserves.
Much has been made about the struggles of the Sedins, but I think it has been overblown. They have played against two of the top defensive pairings the NHL has to offer over the last two series. Despite this, Daniel Sedin is 11th in playoff scoring. With three points last night, Henrik is now only one point back of his brother (by the way, we predicted that he would break out before last game). The Sedins can play better, but they’re doing enough right now.
There’s no doubt the Predators are stumbling right now, but there’s lots of series left. If you’ve been a fan of the Vancouver Canucks as long as I have, you know that a series isn’t over until it’s over. Check that, if you’ve been a Canucks fan for the last two weeks, you know that a series isn’t over until it’s over! Regardless, I have a lot of confidence that the Canucks can finish the job, and if they do it will be no small feat in club history. The Canucks haven’t made it to the conference finals in 17 years, and have only done it twice ever. They get a chance to do it one more time on Saturday night.
Ok, before I upset the hockey gods again, let me first state that this series isn’t over. It’s not even close to over.
Ok, with that out of the way, the Canucks need to keep their momentum going and not let up on the Nashville Predators. The Canucks looked dominant in game 3, yet needed a borderline penalty call in overtime to beat these plucky Preds. There’s very little margin of error when you play Nashville, which is why focus must be at an all-time high.
Head coach Alain Vigneault tipped his hand on a few key adjustments at practice designed to improve the Canucks chances for a victory in game 3. Scoring two goals in 8 periods of hockey will tend to lend itself to that.
As we told you yesterday, the Nashville Predators have complained about the Canucks famed ‘Green Men’ and the NHL has taken action to curtail some of their actions. Most notably they won’t be allowed to touch the glass next to the penalty box.
It was revealed during the second intermission of yesterday’s Canucks game on Hockey Night in Canada that the NHL has told the Green Men to knock off some of their antics beside the opposition penalty box. Apparently they’ve been told to not touch the glass. What’s worse is that Glenn Healy agrees with them!
We’re now two games into the Predators-Canucks series and it’s become clear that goal scoring will be at a premium. Both teams have combined to score 2 goals each in 8 periods of hockey. A series for the ages? Not likely…
So where has all the goal scoring gone? Well, in game 1 it was the Nashville Predators who failed to show up and rode the coattails of Pekka Rinne to keep them in the game. In game 2, it was the Canucks’ turn to fail to show up through 60 minutes, putting up a pathetic 15 shots on goal. Meanwhile, Roberto Luongo stood on his head for 59 minutes, before letting in a stinker from behind the net.
One of the great things about this year’s Canucks has been the way the players have absorbed each other’s best qualities. Malhotra’s faceoff skill, Ballard’s hip checks, Sedin body positioning, and Bieksa’s tenacious yet positionally sound defence have been picked up by the entire team.
The stud in the shared skills stable though is certainly Kesler’s sizzling every-inch-matters brand of intense puck pursuit. In game 1, the Sedins back checked and won pucks, Higgins was aggressive at both ends of the rink and even twinkle toed Mason Raymond has turned into a fore checking menace!
If there was anyone who needed an injection of Kesler-tensity it was game-winning Yale-preppy Christopher Higgins whose 3rd line (w/ Hansen & Lapierre) will have to consistently punish Nashville’s lesser defencemen if the Canucks are to win the series.
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.
The biggest game the Canucks franchise has played since game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup finals did not disappoint on Tuesday night. It wasn’t easy, but the Canucks finally got their revenge over their arch rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks. It took good goaltending from Roberto Luongo, a smart defensive corps and a gritty effort by their forwards to edge the Blackhawks, 2-1 in overtime.
I’ve been to two game sevens now. My record stands at .500, but both times, a flair for the dramatic has kept Canucks fans’ hearts pumping non-stop, clammy hands clenched, and knees and feet shaking uncontrollably. My first game seven was in 2004, when the Canucks played the Flames (the game where Matt Cooke scored shorthanded with five seconds left, only to have the Flames respond on the same PP in OT), but that will have to wait for another time. My second, was tonight.