After defeating the Los Angeles Kings in Game 6 (as predicted), the Vancouver Canucks get a shot at redemption with the Chicago Blackhawks, who ended their playoff run a year ago.
The Chicago Blackhawks held on Monday night for a 5-3 win over the Nashville Predators, setting up a Canucks – Blackhawks meeting for a second consecutive year. The Blackhawks, having earned the 2nd seed in the Western conference, will take their turn at home ice advantage in this series. While the official schedule has not been released yet, Alain Vigneault and the Canucks were informed that their 2nd round series would commence Friday, April 30th, regardless of their opponent.
Initially, when considering the prospect of playing the Blackhawks in a rematch in Round 2, I admit I felt some trepidation. Though it transpired a year previous, some of the memories quickly came back, reminding me of the sting inflicted by the upstart Blackhawks. After opening with a sweep of the St. Louis Blues, the Canucks appeared full of promise, rife for a successful playoff run. Combine that with the distasteful events of their Game 6 exit, and even the most optimistic Canucks fan would need to concede that the glass appears half empty.
But as depicted, things can change in the course of a year. This will NOT be a cookie-cutter series, in the same mold as last year. There are a number of different faces for both clubs. Even some of the familiar faces have evolved and transfigured in that space of time. For example, rookie goaltender Antti Niemi will occupy the spot that Nikolai Khabibulin held a year ago. Ossi Vaananen no longer plays for the Canucks, and Willie Mitchell will not patrol the blueline because of injury. Mikael Samuelsson will most likely play a starring role on the Canucks’ first line, when last year he was busy helping the Red Wings get to the Cup finals. All this, and young players such as Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alexander Edler, Mason Raymond and others have another year of seasoning behind them. I’m not saying it won’t have a similar flavor, but this series’ differences will be quite curious ones.
Last year, especially following the Round 2 victory for the Blackhawks, many marveled at Chicago’s high octane offence. While it will be a factor again in this series, there is a chance it will be overshadowed by Vancouver’s newfound attack. The Canucks startled the league by accumulating the second highest goal totals in the regular season, outranked only by the Washington Capitals. Hockey pundits might point to the fact that some of that was at the expense of their penalty kill and goals against average. While those totals were down from 2009, they were certainly not as noticeable as the increase in goalscoring. I’m willing to wager that any of the 30 NHL head coaches would make the trade-off in those areas for that kind of ‘net’ gain.
All things considered, motivation will factor highly into this upcoming series. When interviewed by Scott “Crypt Keeper” Oakes from CBC after wrapping up the Kings’ series, Roberto Luongo spoke to the chance for redemption against Chicago. There is no doubt in my mind that he spoke the truth when he said the Canucks have been looking forward to this opportunity. In all frankness, it gave me a slight chill when he added: ”We feel this is our time”. Hockey experts are already billing Luongo’s save against Ryan Smyth of the Kings as the ‘save of the playoffs’, and he appears, as he related to the team as a whole, “On a mission”. With a motivated Luongo, this series should prove to be a barn-burner. Add to that fact that the Sedin twins are coming off their best post-season series performance, I feel trepidation being replaced by a sense of nervous excitement.
The 2010 playoffs have featured some incredible storylines thus far, as well as some excellent match-ups. It’s true that the playoffs are where rivalries are created, and there will be a lot of attention focused on this newly formed one. Because of the numerous subplots and dimensions this series will take on, I will take a look at the season series between the two clubs, as well as forecast my prediction in an upcoming blog. Will I accurately predict this series outcome, or was my prediction for the L.A. series a fluke? Stay tuned, what I will say right now is we’re in for one hell of a ride.