Vancouver Canucks – Chicago Blackhawks 2nd Round Playoff Preview
Editor’s note: Even-though this post is under my byline, please be aware that legendary Illegal Curve commentator Bob Roberts, has now become legendary Illegal Curve contributor Bob Roberts, as he has blessed us with his preview of the round two playoff series between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Vancouver Canucks. Without further adieu, take it away Bob:
In the lost city of the left-coasters, at a faceoff time adjusted with the potential viewing audience in mind, the crown jewel of the second round begins. OK, it’s the only stone out there tonight; and that’s a good thing because it’s also the forgotten series. Check out any second round preview splash in any medium: Canucks and Hawks are last on the list and least in the cover. Let’s be fair, I wasn’t able to hear the IC show live last night and it hasn’t been archived at this moment so our boys may have given it some props; and it’s way behind the Champs vs the Underdogs and Sid vs OV and the Cardiac Kids vs the Big Bad Bruins in terms of glitz.
But still…let’s have a look.
Let’s start here because Vancouver will win this series and the reason will be Roberto Luongo.
It isn’t just that head-to-head he’s better than Nikolai Khabibulin, though he is; or that he’s younger, though he is; or that he’s more rested, though he is; it’s that he’s playing the best lights-out goal on the planet right now.
His team has complete faith in him and that allows them to play with confidence. They believe they will win.
Very soon, the Chicago Blackhawks will believe it too. They’ll try to run him, but that’ll only motivate him and bring his teammates closer together to defend him. He’s waited a long time for this chance with this team and the look in his eye says he’s not going to let it go.
Edge: Canucks, not even close.
I like the Blackhawk D. They’re young, mobile, gritty, tough, and determined. They play well together and there’s a lot of them — good depth. Seabrook, Barker and Campbell can bring it on O; and Keith and the rest are solid on D. I think Campbell’s still too soft for my liking with that team, and his contribution on O can stand some improvement; but he fits in well with the others. They played well most of the time against the Flames but there were some real lapses. They won’t get away with that against the Canucks — a lot of speed there.
I like the Canuck D. They’re solid, experienced defenders who can play it any way you want. Banging game? No problem. Wanna go? Ask Kevin or Willie or Shane. Power play points? Ask Kevin or Sami or Alexander or Mattius. The Canucks allowed 5 goals in 4 games vs the Blues, and yes that was in large part due to RL, but he and the D are so comfortable and in tune with each other they make a tough unit to beat. They move the puck up ice very well and can skate with anyone, and one through six they’re quality is higher than the Hawks’.
Edge: Canucks, but closer than the Goaltending.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
Chicago’s young guns are fast and talented and are just that — young. They’ve got spirit and young legs and hands and hands and hands. Nothing in the way of NHL Playoff experience though and that could be interesting as the pressure mounts. The Hawk “vets” like Havlat (who would have believed a full year — except cynical Richard — from him?) and Sharp have played well, and Eager and Byfuglien are always ready to nail the opposition to the wall and drop ‘em. The acquisition of Sammy Pahlsson has added an element of stability that only comes with experience and savvy. He’s a lot like P.J. Axelsson of the Bruins that way: what used to be called a utility player.
The Canucks’ forwards are in a groove. It looks to me like Burrows is reading the twins and they him a lot like Gretzky and Kurri did. They’ll kill you if you blink, and did you notice — Henrik is getting downright cranky! OK, maybe not cranky. Feisty? Yeah, feisty. Can’t be a bad thing. I’m always worried about Sundin and Demitra and their various wonky body parts, but Demitra has looked solid for quite a while and Sundin is reported by his coach to be skating the best he has since his arrival. They’re always two winces away from the IR, those two, but what they bring to the table while they’re there is big. Sundin isn’t what he was but his presence is significant to his team, I think. As for Ryan Kesler — he’s a warrior. He’s on my team any day.
The most intriguing player on both teams to me is Kyle Wellwood. I think he just may have started along the most amazing journey of remaking himself since Stan Mikita did it as a Blackhawk. He’ll never be the star Mikita was, but his reinvention of himself as a Canuck is nothing but good news for his team. He’s my X-factor this series and the next. Look for him to play a significant role.
Edge: Close, but again, Canucks.
Coaching, Special Teams, Et cetera
I like Joel Quenneville. He’s classy and smart and I think his team plays hard for him. Alain Vigneault is a complete mystery to me. I can’t ever remember a head coach who survived a GM/President change for a whole season. And prospered. Without much in the way of rumours. In Vancouver? No way. Oh yes. So it looks like he can handle pressure.
PP: Edge to Vancouver.
PK: Slight edge to the Hawks with Pahlsson.
Home Ice Advantage: Big for Vancouver. Chicago can win on the road, but should it come to that, can they play from 2 games back? I think they might have to.
So in the first round I was good. Seven of eight. Where did I miss? You can go back in the IC archives and look it up if you want. Nah — it was Vancouver. I thought the Blues would just roll over them. Hey Canucks — won’t get fooled again.
Prediction: Canucks in 6 (but 5 wouldn’t surprise me).
We shall see. That’s why we watch.