For the third consecutive season, the Chicago Blackhawks will meet the Vancouver Canucks in the playoffs, this time as Stanley Cup Champions. Chicago has dispatched the Canucks in consecutive years in six games and have made Roberto Luongo look sublimely human while doing it.
A rematch was simply necessary, both for the Canucks looking for retribution and for the Blackhawks seeking familiarity while wading the playoff waters without many of their winners from last year.
In short: “Do you know what nemesis means? A righteous infliction of retribution manifested by an appropriate agent.” -Brick Top, delivered in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch (2001)
I’ll spare the cussing and description of pigs-eating-men which follows that line, but the appropriate agent to dispatch the Canucks is the Blackhawks, and the perfect opponent to dispel the notions of playoff failure for the Canucks are the Blackhawks.
Despite the sorcery present in this series, there are still many factors at play. The Canucks finished first in points, goals, goals against, and were first on the powerplay and tied for second in the penalty kill. In short, they had a fantastic season. While the Canucks got off to a strong start and cruised to first place, Chicago, despite strong underlying numbers all season, did not make the playoffs until the last day of the season, but with a +33 goal differential and a positive shot differential, are not your father’s low-seeded team.
In year’s past, the Blackhawks decimated the Canucks on the powerplay, but a lot of that came thanks to the play of Dustin Byfuglien, who finds himself in Atlanta. His presence allowed Chicago superstars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to walk around Roberto Luongo, leaving Luongo with some brutal numbers. While the Canucks penalty kill has slowed since the loss of faceoff wizard Manny Malhotra in mid-March to an eye-injury, Ryan Kesler has stepped seamlessly back into the defensive forward role, garnering near-unanimous Selke Trophy approval.
If the series does comes down to special teams, this benefits the Canucks. Chicago’s Duncan Keith, last year’s Norris Trophy winner, is not up to current form and the ‘Hawks also find themselves without their chieftain penalty killer David Bolland, who is traveling with the team, but a concussion leaves his inclusion in the lineup questionable. The Vancouver powerplay is first in efficiency but is fifth in creating shots. Comparatively, Chicago were sixth worst in the league in both effeciency and protecting against shots, and any penalty trouble puts an inordinate amount of pressure on rookie net-minder Corey Crawford.
The series may be determined by other factors, but, in the end, the play of the Sedin Twins, winners of the last two Art Ross Trophies, and that of Roberto Luongo, who needs to improve on last year’s .908 even strength save percentage against the Hawks is how the President’s Trophy winning Canucks will be judged as they attempt to stave off a third straight elimination at the hands of Chicago.
Prediction: Canucks in Six.
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