It doesn’t get much better than this. The league-leading Vancouver Canucks, with their franchise record 117 regular season points, won their first-ever Presidents’ Trophy – in doing so, they became the first team since the 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens to lead the league in points, goals for and goals against. They boast the Art Ross trophy winner for the second straight year in Daniel Sedin, and the first pair of brothers to ever accomplish back-to-back scoring championships in him and his brother Henrik. Despite a raft of injuries on the blueline – the Canucks were forced to employ 13 different defensemen through the course of the season – Corey Schneider and Roberto Luongo finished third and fourth in the league in save percentage. Did I mention the team had the best power play in the league, and just missed out on having the best penalty kill to boot?
Yes, it was a hell of a season for the Vancouver Canucks. And what did this earn them? A first round match up against the defending Stanley Cup champions in the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ Chicago Blackhawks.
Okay, maybe not stinkin’. After all, Dustin Byfuglien is golfing in Georgia right about now.
Wait. Patrick Kane is still on the team, and sporting a wicked bad striped mullet. Yeah, stinkin’.
The top two lines promise a classic playoff battle. D Sedin – H Sedin – Burrows & Kesler – Samuelsson – Higgins vs Toews – Kane – Sharp & Hossa – Frolik – Stalberg. Sound like an easy win for the Canucks on this point? Don’t bet on it. Jonathan Toews wasn’t the Conn Smythe winner last year for letting Dustin Byfuglien do all the hard work. Toews scored two points a game against the Canucks. That said, it wasn’t the top line that made the biggest difference last year. It’s the bottom six and back end where the Canucks have suffered the past two post-seasons. This year, the Canucks have Mason Raymond flying down the wing and Cody Hodgson playing at third line centre where he would have been all year had it not been for the acquisition of Manny Malhotra. Hello eye injury, goodbye Manny; Cody’s in and has his shot to prove his worth in the bigs. Maxim Lapierre, Tanner Glass, Jannik Hansen and Victor Oreskovich will be forechecking like mad. But where are those big pieces of the Hawks’ Cup run now?
Dave Bolland (C), 16 points in 22 games: Injured (concussion)
Adam Burish (RW), agitator played 15 games & got under Daniel Sedin’s skin: Dallas Stars
Dustin Byfuglien (LW), 11 goals in 22 games, and crawled into Roberto Luongo’s skull: Atlanta Thrashers
Ben Eager (LW), clutch goal vs the Canucks in Game Two: San Jose Sharks
Andrew Ladd (LW), 6 points in 22 games: Atlanta Thrashers
John Madden (C), veteran presence in the locker room: Minnesota Wild
Antti Niemi (G), 2 shutouts, .920 save percentage: San Jose Sharks
Brent Sopel (D), 6 points and a +7 rating in 22 games: Montreal Canadiens
Kris Versteeg (RW), 14 points in 22 games: Philadelphia Flyers
With an injury ravaged defense in front of him, a crushing letter C on the front of his mask and defensive-minded forwards like Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows playing hurt, last year’s Roberto Luongo unraveled at home. The Canucks were outscored 17-7 in three losses in Vancouver. (To be fair, the Canucks were the only playoff team to take two games at United Center in Chicago, and outscored the Hawks 11-6 there in three games.) He had been pulled in several games down the stretch, and never looked comfortable with the expectations placed upon his shoulders.
This year’s Luongo put up his best numbers ever, led the league in wins, and looks as controlled as he’s ever been in the crease. With his calmer demeanour between the pipes, the Canucks have only lost back-to-back games in regulation time once since early November. And that was during mean-nothing contests against the Edmonton Oilers after the Presidents’ Trophy had already been locked up – hell, peewee teams would have a hard time getting themselves up for those games.
Going into the playoffs, Vancouver has the healthiest defense corps they’ve seen all year. Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard, Christian Ehrhoff, Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo all dress for game one. There’s no one standout Norris Trophy candidate in