Canucks and Hawks Preview and your chance to win Canucks Playoff Posters!

So the Vancouver Canucks will once again face the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup playoffs. This was determined on the final day of the regular season, after the defending champs left their fate in the hands of the Dallas Stars who gave them the equivalent of a Governor’s reprieve when they failed to beat the Minnesota Wild.

And so starting Wednesday at Rogers Arena the Vancouver Canucks will start their quest for the first Stanley Cup in franchise history versus the club that has eliminated them the last two seasons. This time however they should be clearly be favoured to win. They are the Presidents Trophy winners (yes we know the stats on that). They’ll have home ice advantage, and they are better than the Hawks in pretty much every statistical category you can name.

Canuck fans seem split down the middle on the matchup. Some feel it’s best to get rid of the monkey off the back and others are worrying that the Blackhawks hold some sort of psychological edge over Vancouver that could be a huge roadblock for the team to overcome in the first round.

To celebrate the start of the second season and hopefully the start of a long run to the cup, the Vancouver Canucks have supplied us with a set of this year’s 2011 playoff posters to give away to a lucky reader. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post to enter and RT this:

I entered to win a set of 2011 playoff posters from @VanCanucks & @CanucksCorner & you can too! http://canuckscorner.com/?p=1792 #Canucks

So without further delay, let’s get into it…our Canucks and Hawks round one preview!

Goaltending: Advantage Vancouver

Roberto LuongoRoberto Luongo will face the usual questions heading onto the 2011 playoffs. Can he shake off the losses of the last two seasons, and can he get it done in the playoffs. The answers to both of these questions should be yes.

Luongo has just finished his most consistent season as a Canuck and you can attribute that to a few things. The best move Mike Gillis made in the off-season was to resolve the Luongo captaincy issue early on in the process. The decision was ultimately Roberto’s but even he realized his attention to detail was being affected by being the spokesperson for the team. The addition of a full time goaltending coach in Roland Melanson and a reduced workload thanks to the stellar fill in work of Cory Schneider has Luongo entering the playoffs relaxed, confident and on the top of his game. The Hawks will try and disrupt Loungo and it will be up to him to keep composed with the help of his defence which is healthy for the first time all season.

The Blackhawks will go with rookie Corey Crawford over the veteran Marty Turco. One could argue that Crawford is the reason the Hawks are in the playoffs given their sub par performance in other areas this season. Crawford beat the Canucks 7-1 early in the season and the Canucks faced Turco in the three other meetings during the season. It will be Crawford’s first playoff experience and despite how he has played during the season, the playoffs are a different breed. If the Canucks can get some early success the pressure will grow, and Luongo’s experience should be a factor. Likewise, if Chicago can light up Luongo and cast doubts and memories of failures past, it could be a disaster for Vancouver.

We’re giving the nod to Luongo here, as he just seems like a more relaxed an confident player this season. it just seems like he’s focused and ready to rid the demons of the last two seasons. That and Dustin Byfuglien isn’t around to have his large and annoying butt in his crease all ┬áseries. Crawford could be one of those great playoff stories, but it’s a tall order for any rookie goaltender to be the saviour for his team.

Defence: Advantage Vancouver

One of the great advantages the Blackhawks had in last year’s playoffs was their depth on defence. This year they are once again very strong on the back end, but the Canucks boast a very experienced and for the first time this season, healthy top 6 defensemen. The return of Alex Edler couldn’t have come at a better time, and he’ll like be paired with Christian Erhoff to form the Canucks top unit. Kevin Bieksa, Sami, Salo, Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard and likely Aaron Rome or Andrew Alberts will round the top six and give the Canucks depth they never had in last year’s series. Hamhuis is the biggest question mark after suffering two fairly close concussions in the second half. The physical nature of the playoffs will surely be a test of his current health.

Duncan KeithChicago is also strong with the likes of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Add in rookie Nick Leddy and Chris Campoli who was a key addition via a trade and the Hawks are well positioned. Duncan Keith has logged a lot of minutes for the Hawks this season, and hasn’t been his Norris trophy winning self, but he’s still dangerous and the Canucks will have to be aware of the crafty d-man at all times.

Both teams can score from the back end, so it may come down to who can keep goals out of their own net, and the Canucks allowed the fewest goals of any team in the league this season.

One through six it’s the Canucks who have more experience, and a little more depth. Slight edge to Vancouver.

Fowards: Even

Daniel & Henrik SedinThe Canucks not only led the league in keeping the puck out of their net, they also filled the opponents net more than any other team. With Art Ross winner Daniel Sedin and brother Henrik leading the way the Canucks possess the ability to score in bunches. Ryan Kesler and Alex Burros have also had strong campaigns to add balanced scoring. If the Canucks are going to succeed their bottom tier forwards need to chip in key goals. Stats-wise Mason Raymond had a disappointing season for the club, and Mikael Samuelsson has had an up and down year. With special attention on the way for the Sedin’s the other forwards are going to have to chip in goals, and the Canucks are better positioned for that to happen this year. Jannik Hansen, along with trade acquisitions Maxim Lapierre and Chris Higgins will look to add grit and scoring respectively in supporting roles.

The Canucks will miss the defensive forward talents of Manny Malhotra but he will be around the team to provide leadership and perhaps inspiration.

Chicago will be no slouches offensively. Jonathon Toews has become one of the greatest leaders in hockey and can take a team on his back. The Hawks also boast the offence of Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp, the latter who has really stepped into the forefront this season after the departures of Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien. Byfuglien won’t be around to get in Luongo’s face, and there is question as to whether Dave Bolland will be ready for game one after missing 14 games with a concussion. A defensive forward who can score big goals, Bolland was was instrumental in containing the Sedin’s last year on the ay to Chicago’s series win over Vancouver.

This one is close and it’s going to come down to who’s second tier forwards can get the job done. We’re saying it’s a toss up.

Special Teams: Advantage Canucks

The Canucks power play has been in no uncertain terms, lethal. They led the league with the man advantage and if the Hawks hope to win their penalty killing needs to be stellar and they have to stay out of the box, or this series could be over quickly. The Canucks penalty killing has laso been strong but did take a dip after the injury to Manny Malhotra. Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows who were both hurt in last years series will be counted on heavily in this role. The Hawks can throw out a lethal power play as well and on the back end have a deadly combo with Keith and Seabrook. If the Canucks can’t stay disciplined, hich they had problems with last year, the Hawks will make them pay.

Because they’ve done it all year, and we feel Luongo has the edge in goal, we’re giving the edge to Vancouver.

Coaching: Even

Both teams posssess great coaching. Alain Vigneault has to get consideration for coach of the year and has kept the Canucks focused and on track all year through some big injuries, especially on defence. Joel Quennville has won the cup and dealt with a big roster turnover this year. Sure they got some help to get in, but they’re in and he’ll have the Hawks ready to compete.

Our prediction:

The Canucks have to get this monkey off their backs. They’ve worked all year to get every advantage they can and have proven to be the most consistent team in the league. I don’t see the Hawks beating them 4 out of 7 games, and we’re picking the Canucks in 6.

Leave your comments/predictions and tweet the message we mentioned above for a chance to win the 2011 Canucks Playoff poster series from the @VanCanucks!