Vancouver Canucks – Chicago Blackhawks 2nd Round Playoff Preview

Posted by Drew Mindell in Chicago Blackhawks,Columns,Vancouver Canucks on April 30, 2009 — 10 Comments

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 Let’s be fair, I wasn’t able to hear the IC show live last night and it hasn’t been archived at this moment so our boys may have given it some props; and it’s way behind the Champs vs the Underdogs and Sid vs OV and the Cardiac Kids vs the Big Bad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.

Goaltending

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.

Defense

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.

Forwards

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.

Edge: Canucks

So?

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.

  • Gig

    O.K. you’re quite obviously a Canuck fan or, at least, sympathizer. I’ll admit that I’m a Hawks fan. Still, I try really hard to be objective about my team. In fact, I’ll also admit to you that I’ve picked Vancouver in 7!

    It isn’t so much that they’re better however as they have experience, home ice, matchup advantages, and, as you said (but I think under the influence) Luongo.

    We need not discuss experience and home ice as those are obvious. So, let’s move to matchups. The Vancouver Canucks have ALWAYS been a difficult matchup for the Blackhawks as long as I can remember. Some teams are just like that. As you said, one consideration is the exceptionally disciplined positional game that they play which does a lot to neutralize the free-wheeling attitudes of the entire Hawk team. I liken the Canucks a more talented version of the Minnesota Wild. The Wild are a downright boring team to watch still playing late 90’s style neutral zone traps and patiently awaiting their chances with hardly anyone besides Gaborik and the other guy. I find Vancouver a boring team as well, but I do respect them. Vancouver is more talented primarily because the D is more mobile.

    My problem with how you go about your “D vs. D” and “O vs. O” matchups is that you make the Canucks out to be more talented across the board! To me, this smacks of homerism. The Hawks D is every bit as talented as your savvy, checking D and I would argue more. Duncan Keith has been an All-Star and is a simply fantastic skater who never tires. Cam Barker’s a #3 pick and has been playing like it lately for the most part, Brent Seabrook is another high first rounder who has now become an All-Star with his play over the past couple of months. Brian Campbell is classified as a premier rush-type player, although I’ll concede that’s he’s playoff soft. The balance of the D is solid, not a major fall-off. Answer that without wearing a Canucklehead Hat.

    You want to talk O? Ask any real hockey expert and they’ll tell you that hardly any team is deeper at forward lines 1 through 4 besides, of course, the Red Wings. You saw a little of that as Vancouver coughed up a three-goal lead Thursday night. By the way, Jonathon Toews had the flu and was awful as a result. I’ll end this with a statement about the overall skating and puck-handling abilities of the Blackhawks. They are superior to those of the Canucks almost across the board!

    Now, here’s where I believe you were sipping something influential. You couldn’t merely say that Luongo edged Khabibulin. You had to infer that it’s no contest! If this isn’t homerism, then it’s just lunacy. I’m not saying that Luongo isn’t great. He is. However, how can you say that Khabby isn’t almost there with him at least in the playoffs? Yeah, I’ll concede that, for some odd reason, Khabby has a horrible record against Vancouver. Still, why couldn’t you allude to that instead of coming off like he just simply pales in comparison. That’s when you lost me.

    I’ll end this with stating that the Hawks need to win Saturday in order to have a chance and a chance they do have. Still, to read your writings, one would think that Vancouver ended the regular season twenty points higher than the Chicago Blackhawks. I hope you don’t get paid for your drivel.

  • Bob Roberts

    Interestingly enough, Gig, I’m not a Vancouver “homer”.

    Nor a Chicago “homer”.

    In fact, I’m not a homer at all. I just love hockey.

    I haven’t got time to answer you in detail today (but I will tomorrow if you still want me too), and if you’d care to look at the “comments” I’ve made on numerous IC articles since the start of the season (pre-season, too, come to that); I think you’ll agree.

    One thing: As noted in the last paragraph of my commentary, the one prediction I missed in the first round was picking the Blues over the Canucks — in 6 games yet. Sound like a Canuck “homer”? Not by any definition I know.

    (P.S. I also picked the Hawks vs the Flames in 6. Read my comments and see if I dislike the Hawks or simply picked them to beat the Flames for the reasons I stated, just as I picked the Canucks for the reasons I state here.)

  • Gig

    Bob, if you have time, I’d like that. I’m always interested to see other opinions especially if they’re reasonable.

    Thanks for the reply thus far.

  • Bob Roberts

    So Gig:

    Have you checked my comments on the CHI-CAL series and VAN-STL series? If so, can we dispense with the notion that I have a bias for VAN or against CHI? If not, please read them.

    I’ve carefully re-read my posting in light of your comments AFTER GAME ONE. Here are my conclusions PRIOR TO GAME ONE:

    I say Luongo was younger, more rested, and in my opinion playing the best goal anywhere. He was younger and more rested. My opinion is my opinion and though you may have said prior to game one that Khabibulan was the playing the best goal anywhere that would be your opinion and I wouldn’t dispute it — how could I? It’s your opinion and you’d be just as entitled to it as I am to mine.

    It was never my intention by my comments on goaltending to imply that a comparison of the two left Luongo “no contest” better than Khabibulan. If you take that inference, that’s you.

    I said that in my opinion in this series Luongo gives his team a distinct advantage. I think you would agree. Who would you rather have — Khabibulan or Luongo? I answered that question with “Luongo” before the series started, and still do. I doubt there’s a GM or coach in the NHL who wouldn’t agree.

    I say “I like the Blackhawk D” and that they are young, mobile, gritty, tough and determined and have depth. That 3 are have O upside and the rest are solid on D. I say Campbell has untapped O potential and that in my opinion he plays too soft. I say they played well against the Flames with the exception of some lapses which cost them and that they will have lapses aginst the speedy Canucks at their peril. I’d call that complimentary and accurate.

    I say “I like the Canuck D” and that they are solid verterans who are mobile puckmovers who can play any style; and that against the Blues they allowed 5 goals and played very much in sync with their goalie. Also, I felt that, as a group, the Canuck top six D have it over the Hawk top six D. That looks like an accurate breakdown with an opinion in conclusion to me.

    I say the Chicago forwards are natural goalscorers who are young and fast and don’t quit. I comment that their youth and inexperience will be interesting to watch in round two as the pressure mounts. I say that Sharp and Havlat have played well and that Eager and Byfuglien are ever-willing hardhitters. I say that adding Pahlsson has given the forward group stability and experience. Later I give the Hawks the edge on the PK with SP. Your problem with this is what?

    I say that up to the opening game of round two, the Canuck forwards are playing well as a group; and that the Sedin line in particular are really reading each other well. Also, I’m surprised that Henrik showed some physical play vs the Blues — a rare thing. I say that Sundin and Demitra are suspect physically, but that when healthy they add a lot to the team. Apparently I think Kesler is a must-have playoff performer and that Wellwood’s growth impresses me — I look for him to do well. Problem here?
    I give a close edge to the Canucks because that is what I think.

    I say the Chicago coach is and smart and that he inspires his team to play well. I say I can’t get a read on the Vancouver coach because I cannot for the life of me figure out how he stayed on all season with a new GM/President and won the division — with no rumours about his imminent firing all season! In Vancouver! Unprecedented! He obviously handles pressure well — big plus in the playoffs, that.

    On their first round performance I give the PP edge to the Canucks. With the addition of Pahlsson I give the PK edge to the Hawks.

    I point out that the only time my series-winner guess missed in the first round was choosing the Blues over the Canucks. Some homer. I say based on them dropping the Blues four straight and the Hawks losing 2 games against a less-than-stellar performing Flame team, I’ll take the Canucks in 6 or maybe 5.

    I’m sure you feel better after last night about your Hawks, Gig, and I would have liked to hear what you thought before the series started.

    Either way, now that you’ve commented on an IC posting I hope you’ll become a regular contributor. (Have you been reading it and just not commented before?) Be sure to follow the live blog today and listen to the radio show on Wednesday nights. I follow a lot of hockey blogs and this is far and away the best in my opinion. Which others do you like?

    Enjoy ALL the games — I do.

  • Gig

    Bob,

    Thanks for setting me straight. I did re-read your initial column and you weren’t as much of a “homer” or “sympathizer” (Yes, I did leave it open that you might be merely a sympathizer–not homer) as I it seemed at the time. However, you did throw me some “red flags” when you chose to refer to the entire ‘Nucks’ defense with their first names, while keeping the ‘Hawks relatively faceless by using only their last names–a classic “homer-like” reference. I also still don’t completely buy your defense about Luongo versus Khabibulin, but it’s open for argument. Perhaps you might have chosen a more straightforward means of communicating that? It wasn’t clear to me.

    True, so much of this stuff is opinion. You have yours and I have mine. There’s no question about that, but there is a key difference. You work, either professionally or not, for a publication that is read by many (moreover, one that’s fair to all teams) and I don’t. Hence, one of us should be more objective than the other. In fact, I used the provided link just beneath a Chicago Sun-Times Blackhawks article in order to find Illegal Curve and your ‘Nuck-‘Hawk preview.

    I don’t think that my opinions would have change at all prior to Game 1. Why would they have changed? The Blackhawks lost Game 1! If anything, one would have expected me to be even more conciliatory toward Vancouver at that point.

    You’re perceived assumption was correct. I never read anything at all by Illegal Curve or anyone associated with it prior to this Vancouver-Chicago series preview. I have since read a bit here and there and will likely be back. I also noticed that you had a Game 2 Chatroom opened. I normally participate in the one from the Chicago Sun-Times. Perhaps I’ll visit at some point.

    Bob, you do come across intelligently. Thanks again for your reply. I look forward to more of your articles.

    By the way, as I write this, the series is 2-2. Unlike many Blackhawk fans, I’m still picking the Canucks in 7.

  • http://www.illegalcurve.com david

    I think the discussion you guys are having is a great one but I feel I should point out that Bob doesn’t work for Illegal Curve. He is likely the sites #1 fan, who oftentimes adds excellent comments to the ongoing discussions, however the Canucks/Hawks preview he did was as a guest contributor for Illegal Curve.

    Glad to hear you’re enjoying the site and with the excellent insight you’ve added to the conversation we look forward to hearing more from you.

  • Gig

    David,

    That changes things quite a bit for me. It’s now just a couple of guys having a friendly brew at the local sports bar. Thanks!

  • http://www.illegalcurve.com david

    No problemo. Glad that I could help.

  • Gig

    Please understand something before I write this. I am in no way doing some kind of “I told you so” or “in ‘yo face” here. Well, for one thing, I proved myself wrong as I picked the Hawks in six!

    Anyway, it would be interesting if someone could offer his renewed assessment of the Chicago Blackhawks in light of how this team appears to be growing by leaps and bounds with each game! Perhaps each period?

    I mean, look no further than a the peach-fuzzed Patrick Kane. Willie Mitchell told him that he was lucky and couldn’t play 5 on 5. His three above-average-to-spectacular “Hat Trick” goals (don’t tell me that last one wasn’t sick!) in Game 6 were all 5 on 5! I have almost instantly gone from uncertainty about his future as a superstar to certainty–in one game!

    Moreover, Kane is just the tip of the iceberg for the point I’m trying to make. Alain Vigneault went on to state that these Blackhawks were amongst the most talented offensive teams of our era. Then, to go and score 7 against Luongo? I listened to the Vancouver sports station stating that these Hawks are starting to remind them of the eighties Edmonton Oilers. High praise indeed–although I tend to be the cautious type.

    I still wouldn’t pick them to beat Detroit, but I really think they have a very legit shot. In other words, it shouldn’t be thought of as an upset. There really isn’t a weak link on the team. As good as Detroit is, I’m thinking home ice is really the only reason the Wings would be favored.

    I’d love to hear someone’s thoughts on this current Chicago Blackhawk team.

  • Gig

    Oops! I noticed a blatant error in my 1:03 p.m. May 14th post. I don’t know how I mistyped this in my initial paragraph, but I meant to state that “I picked the Canucks in Seven!” not “I picked the Hawks in six.” I can’t explain what was going through my mind as I mistyped that.