After an emotional and exhausting series against the Blackhawks the Canucks and their fans have little time to exhale. The second round of the march to the Stanley Cup will begin just two days after the epic series against the Hawks, and the Nashville Predators will provide the opposition when the puck drops Thursday evening at Rogers Arena.
Canucks fans may think the toughest task has been conquered with the win over arch rival Chicago, but if they think the Predators will be a cake walk, they should think again.
They may not have the biggest names you’ve heard of, but former Predator and current Canuck Dan Hamhuis warns that the team from the “Music City” should not be taken lightly.
“On paper it may not look like they have as good of a team as others, but they’re a very good team and we don’t want that to surprise us or fool us,” Hamhuis said. “They had 99 points during the regular season, and they’re in the second round for a reason. They’re going to be a very tough opponent.”
The Predators play an aggressive pressure style of hockey and their strength is on defence, led by the duo of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. There is also the matter of solving the goaltending of Pekka Rinne who has quickly established himself as one of the league’s top netminders.
The two teams split their season series, with each team winning 2 games.
Let’s take a look at we feel are the keys to the series for the Canucks to advance.
The Sedins must contribute more:
Daniel and Henrik Sedin didn’t have a horrible series against the Hawks. Daniel did finish the series with 7 points (5-2) while Henrik finished with 5 assists. But clearly if the Canucks are to keep advancing they twins have to more prominent. None of Henrik’s points came on the power play while just 2 of Daniel’s did. This is where the twins have to be effective. They will also have to more effective 5 on 5. Dave Bolland may be gone but the twins will likely see a lot of Weber and Suter whenever they step over the boards and don’t be surprised to see Jordan Tootoo or Mike Fisher in the twins face whenever possible.
Luongo versus Rinne:
Roberto Luongo got rid of more than a monkey off his back with the win in game 7 against Chicago, it as more like an elephant. After two tough games where he could have sued his teammates for lack of support and surviving the switch to Cory Schneider in game 6, Luongo persevered to have a strong game 7 including a huge save in overtime while the Canucks were shorthanded to give Burrows a chance to get the winner. It will remain to be seen if this lifted weight will allow Roberto to get back in the zone that he enjoyed for much of the regular season, one that saw him named a finalist for the Vezina trophy.
The problem with that is the guy at the other end was just as good. Pekka Rinne is not only a co-finalist with Luongo for the Vezina, he’s also become one of the best young goaltenders in the league and has the ability to steal games all by himself. With the scare the Canucks got going up against Corey Crawford in round one, they will need to find away to get to Rinne who is seldom shaken off his game. That said he didn’t have the greatest series against Anaheim, and some are wondering if he’s feeling the huge workload that many felt Luongo suffered from in playoffs past.
Few coaches have had the lifespan of Barry Trotz. He’s survived the lean years in Nashville by always getting the most out of his players and he hasn’t always had the best crop to work with. Trotz’s teams are defined by one thing work ethic and there is no doubt he has the Predators working as hard as ever this year. For a team that wasn’t known for scoring goals during the regular season, they’re also doing that, averaging 3.67 goals per game and 31.67 shots. Both of those totals are better than Vancouver’s
Alain Vigneault will need to find ways to get the Sedin’s free of the tight checking they will face. He’ll need to devise a plan to work the Predators down low and tire out their talented defense, much like they did when they were on their game against Chicago. He’ll also need to keep his team focused and sharp after an emotional first round that no doubt was a tough mental test for his squad. That pressure has been averted, but a slow start in this series will bring it all back again. Vigneault needs to find away to make sure it doesn’t.
Against the Hawks, Ryan Kesler was given the job of shutting down Jonathon Toews and for the most part he did an outstanding job. That task may have been handed to the injured Manny Malhotra in a perfect world, but Kesler accepted it openly and sacrificed his offense in the process. Kesler will still be used in that role, but there should be chances in this series to contribute more offensively as well and the Canucks will need his offense to help solve Rinne.
Continue offense from Alex Burrows, more contributions from the third and fourth lines, better power play efficiency and penalty killing. All are important facets to ensure the Canucks advance to the next round. Did they learn a lesson against the Blackhawks? One would have to think so. The quick turnaround will be interesting. The Predators have been sitting waiting, while the Canucks just faced probably the most pressure they have ever faced as an organization. Will they be riding momentum come puck drop, or will they still be exhaling?
Nashville will be getting injured offensive threat Martin Erat back in the lineup. They have just won their first playoff series as a franchise and will be hungry for more. But will they have to face the same learning curve this Canucks team did to get to this point? They have the lineup to make things very difficult for Vancouver, and they’ll need a complete team effort to beat them.
Game one may be a tough one for Vancouver to get going in. They will either be flat from the effort expended Tuesday night, or they will be still riding the momentum and come out strong, knowing that what happened in the last season cannot happen again. Nashville has nothing to lose playing heavily favoured Vancouver and will be loose and rested. In the end the Canucks will draw on their experience from round one. If they stay healthy and play their game this series will be over on 6 games and the Canucks will be on their way to their first conference final since 1994.