This should be the most wonderful time of the year. Unfortunately for Canucks fans, it’s also usually the most heartbreaking. This year, however, there’s a different feeling in this city. We’re excited and nervous, but also optimistic. Perhaps the most optimistic we’ve been in years.
The Canucks had a regular season to remember – I posted about all the team’s great accomplishments this year. They can run-and-gun with the best of them, and they’re one of the NHL’s most exciting teams. They repeated as Northwest Division champions and have home-ice advantage (at least for the first round). They have depth up front and Luongo in goal. They’re favored by many to be Canada’s best chance at bringing the Stanley Cup back to Canada for the first time in 17 years.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, there’s the small matter of winning four games against the Los Angeles Kings, starting tonight. Statistically, this series should be a cakewalk in favor of the Canucks. But like they say, the game isn’t won on paper and the games still have to be played.
Here are some keys to the Canucks winning the series:
Luongo will have to be Luongo
By that, we mean the return to form of the Roberto Luongo who is widely-regarded as one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. The Olympic Gold medal-winning Luongo. The Luongo capable of making the big saves when he needs to.
Since the Olympics, Luongo recorded the worst GAA (3.31) and save percentage (0.893) among all Western Conference playoff goaltenders – this obviously needs to change. If it’s any consolation, Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick hasn’t been much better; Quick won only 4 of 17 games (4-7-4) since the Olympics.
Run and Gun
It’s become clear that, in the post-lockout NHL, that defense no longer wins championships. Don’t get me wrong – a responsible, defensive game is still important, but as Tom pointed out the other day, you can’t win the Cup if you can’t score.
To that, we know the Canucks can score. We know the basic stats – 2nd in league in team scoring, six 25-goal scorers, Art Ross trophy winner, etc. – but more importantly, I don’t think the Kings can keep up if the Canucks put the pedal to the metal.
After the Olympics, the Canucks’ potent offense made up for their sloppy defense. Before the Olympics, the Canucks’ GF/game increased from 3.13 to 3.67. On the other hand, the Kings, after averaging 2.90 GF/game before the Olympics, only averaged 2.57 GF/game afterwards.
Clear the Crease
This is more of a subjective opinion, but the Canucks need to do a better job of clearing the crease in front of Roberto Luongo. The Kings don’t have Dustin Byfuglien, but they have Ryan Smyth, Dustin Brown and Wayne Simmonds. If these guys are going to park right in Roberto’s grill, the Canucks need to make life miserable for them.