The clock’s ticking down to game one on the 2010 battle between the Blackhawks and Canucks and while Canucks nation seems a little collectively quiet, this year it’s more anxiety than nervousness present in the air. Everyone knows things are different, it’s just a matter of proving it on the ice. If the result is the same as last year, one could argue that while the Canucks had a record year, they’ve made no progress. With that in mind there are five keys to the Canucks coming out of this series on top.
Luongo vs. Kane
The big story within this series is no doubt the Luongo vs. Kane battle. Kane victimized Luongo last year in that crucial game six for three goals and Luongo faltered in the biggest game of his career. Then came the Olympics and Luongo prevailed. Luongo 1, Kane 1. This is the rubber match. There’s no doubt that Kane is in Luongo’s head. After the Olympics though, there’s no doubt that Luongo is in Kane’s head. However, if you look at the single impact either player can have on the outcome of a game, Luongo is the one with the uphill battle. If Luongo can play like he did in the last two games of the first round, the Canucks will have nothing to worry about with their last line of defense.
Keeping Emotions in Check
It’s simple. The team that can take a punch and walk away is the one that’s going to win this series. The tensions between Kesler and Ladd are no secret. The Canucks haven’t been on particularly friendly terms with Dustin Byfuglien in a while, and Bieksa and Eager haven’t had any sleep overs since their big dance. Bottom line is, these two teams don’t like each other and while we know both teams are going to have no problem getting under each others’ skin, it’s going to be the team that can “be the bigger man” that’s going to walk away the winner, and likely with the man advantage.
Clearing the crease of Byfuglien and that guy named Alberts
Speaking of Byfuglien, it’s no surprise that his name is being brought up. He was a big reason the Blackhawks got to Luongo early and often last year and while he only had one goal against him, his presence in front of the net was his biggest asset to the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks moved Byfuglien up to forward not even a week ago so it’s no surprise that they plan to use that tactic again and if the Canucks have learned anything the four years they’ve had Luongo, it’s that if you clear his crease, he’ll do the rest. Cue Alberts. He was in the doghouse the first two games, rode pine for the next few, but since returning has got his discipline in check. Alberts is a big guy. He’s built like a train and he needs to use that. The Canucks don’t have a Willie Mitchell to patrol the crease and Alberts has to use his size in a disciplined manner to clear the ‘Hawks out of the paint. If he’s going to take a penalty doing it though, he might as well sit on the bench.
Alex Burrows and the X Factors
Burrows was the Canucks leading goal scorer during the regular season with 35 goals and he lead all Canucks in regular season series between the Blackhawks and Canucks with one goal and four assists for five points. He only had one goal in the first round (an empty netter) and he’s going to be a huge part of the Canucks getting through the Blackhawks. The Canucks received surprise help from playoff attendees Demitra and Bernier and if they can continue to contribute key goals to the offense, with the addition of Burrows this team’s depth will finally pay off.
It’s cliche, but special teams wins series. The Canucks would know, it almost lost them the first round. The Blackhawks have a potent offense and their special teams aren’t half bad either. With the return of Campbell to the Blackhawks blue line the Canucks can’t give Chicago’s power play as much time as they did LA’s and they certainly can’t respect the blue line in a similar fashion to last round. The Canucks power play looks to be okay so as long as they can maintain that they should be fine. The biggest loss to the Canucks PK in the first round was Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler. Two of the Canucks best regular season penalty killers were seemingly absent when down a man and they’re going to have to get back to form and shot blocking soon if they want to see this penalty kill remain successful and continue it’s improvement since game four of the first round.