Battle of the Pacific: Canucks and Sharks WCF Preview

Daniel Sedin celebrates with Alex Burrows - Photo: Canucks.nhl.com

Daniel Sedin celebrates with Alex Burrows - Photo: Canucks.nhl.com

The Western Conference Final has become the Battle of the Pacific. It will be Orca versus Shark when Vancouver takes on San Jose in the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Both teams will be looking for their first Stanley Cup. For the Sharks they’ll be looking to get to the final for the first time in franchise history. The Canucks won three of four meetings between the two teams this season and with the rest and practice time they have enjoyed waiting for the Sharks and Wings, they should be the fresher team to start the series.

Like the Canucks the Sharks got over a bit of a mental hurdle in advancing to the conference final and both teams will be looking to take the next step on the way to hockey’s most precious prize.

Let’s take a look at the series.

Forwards

Both teams have plenty of fire power up front but for the Canucks to win this series they will have to get better performances from Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Ryan Kesler’s heroics alone will not be enough to beat the Sharks who possess a much more potent attack than Nashville. The Sharks style should suit the Sedin’s game better than the Predators’ did and the Sharks don’t really have a pair of shut down defensemen like Chicago and Nashville to blanket the twins. The Sharks may choose to start the series trying to neutralize Kesler so the Sedins must elevate their game, especially on the power play. The support of others will be paramount to deciding what team wins this series and like Vancouver needs better production from the twins, San Jose needs a better performance from Patrick Marleau who scored just once in seven games against Detroit and had drawn the criticism from former a teammate as well as hockey analysts. The Sharks probably have  more proven scorers in the lineup with the likes of Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture and Dany Heatley making up a very formidable 2nd unit. Ryan Kesler aside, Mason Raymond and Chris Higgins will have to be at their best to try and match that fire power.

The third line for each team will be a big factor and the Canucks will once again looked for yeoman’s work from Maxim Lapierre, Jannik Hansen and Raffi Torres, while the Sharks counter with some more potential offense from former Canuck Kyle Wellwood, Joe Pavelski and Torrey Mitchell. The fourth lines will be a mixed bag for both teams and will likely change throughout the series depending on how the games are being played out. Former Blackhawk Ben Eager will be looking to annoy as many Canucks as possible.

Edge: San Jose. Based on their depth the Sharks have more pure scorers than the Canucks.

Defence

There is an old saying that defence wins championships and if that holds true then the Canucks should be in good shape in this series. Vancouver has more depth on defence and have a top four that should be able to match up against the top two San Jose lines. The Canucks defence loves to jump up into the play and against the Sharks there should be more chances to do so. Alex Edler had a rough series against Nashville but settled down when Sami Salo returned and was paired with him. Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis will once again log huge minutes in an effort to shut down the Thornton line. Christian Erhoff has been hot and cold but has 9 points after the first two rounds.

San Jose’s Dan Boyle leads all defenseman in playoff scoring  and his partner Douglas Murray leads the playoffs with 51 hits  Jason Demers , Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Niclas Wallin and Ian White round out the top six for San Jose who get it done by committee on the blueline.

Edge: Vancouver. Vancouver’s top six is among the best in the league and if they stay healthy and play to their potential they have an overall edge.

Goaltending

Another round another series under the microscope for Roberto Luongo. The best way to describe his playoffs thus far has been steady. He came up big when needed on more than one occasion in both rounds and save a couple of blowouts against the Hawks, his stats have been very impressive. But none of that matters in Vancouver where goaltenders are heroes one minute and lynched the next. Luongo will have his critics until he wins the cup and he seems to have settled in again after the big milestone of beating Chicago. Good nes for Canucks fans because the Sharks will be generating many more chances than Nashville did.

In Antti Niemi the Canucks face another nemesis, one who was a key factor in last year’s win by Chicago. The Canucks had nice success against him in 2011 however and shouldn’t feel intimidated by him like they may have against Pekka Rinne in round two. Niemi hasn’t been spectacular thus far, but he has year to lose a playoff series.

Edge: Vancouver. More experience and Luongo is on a mission to silence his critics. He performs better the busier he is and he’ll be seeing a lot more rubber in this series.

Prediction:

This series is going to seven games. It’s going to feature some end to end hockey, physical play and great goaltending. Can your heart take it Canucks fans? Special teams will be a key and the Canucks can’t afford a lot of penalties against a very dangerous group of forwards that the  Sharks can throw out on the power play. Likewise, if Daniel and Henrik can get hot on the power play, the Canucks should be in great shape.

Home ice will be the difference, and in game seven the Canucks will prevail and head to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in 17 years, leaving the Sharks waiting once again for their first birth to the final.

Related: Tom Benjamin – The Final Four

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  series. 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!