May 042009
 

Amidst the chaos and stampede caused by the bandwagon emptying on Saturday, one thing was overlooked. It’s something that has killed the Canucks in the first two games and has subtly been a difference maker in the series so far. Hits.

One of the main reasons that the Blackhawks are coming back from 2 and 3 goal deficits is largely due to their hits, but it starts with their forchecking and playing of the body. The Canucks by no means boast a small roster, Hordichuk, Salo, Mitchell, Bieksa, and Rypien all know how to throw those big bone jarring heavy hits, and yet they’ve been quiet. Where has Shane O’Brien’s body been? On Saturday the biggest hit by a Canucks player was by Mason Raymond. Think about that for a second, then think about how horribly wrong that is.

The Canucks are playing a finesse team that they should be able to take the body to, yet they’re letting the liks of Burrish, Byfuglien and Eager push and throw them around. The Blackhawks are coming back because they’re able to win the battles to the puck (because of their forechecking and hitting) and they’re able to break the Canucks off the puck. The Canucks just aren’t asserting themselves physically at all and it’s hurting them.

Where’s Rypien been? After coming back full of energy and throwing his body into people like a runaway car, he’s been silent. Horidchuck was brought in for the rough stuff, and he’s quieter than the Sedins back when they were regularly referred to as the Sedin Sisters. Burrows who usually also catapults his body into players against the boards has been pretty tame. They have got to start beat Chicago up a little. I’m not talking about going head hunting, or taking lessons from Brashear, Downey, or Mike Brown on how to perfectly line up your elbow with the temple of someone’s head, but I do expect the Canucks to start playing some solid physical hockey. If that means subbing in Davison for Salo instead of Vaananen then so be it. The Canucks need to set the tone in the first period in Game 3 and it’s going to start with some hard hits.

And as pump of for game 3, nothing better than the song which aptly fits the title of this post. Get Amped! – http://twisten.fm/l/3QJF

Side Note: Guts McTavish takes on the Chicago writers.

May 032009
 

The Canucks CAN win in Chicago. It’s not a matter of if they win. It’s a matter of how they win.

The Canucks sit in a position in which they haven’t been in, well ever. They have depth. After Salo scored his power play goal in first period the defense imploded. That was the turning point in the game. The Canucks defense fell apart, they collapsed in on themselves and before you know it, Kane was walking in on Luongo and the game was out of the Canucks control at that point.

During the season after games in which they collapsed and were handily beaten, their next game they rebounded. After falling to the Coyotes 5-1, they came back with a 5-2 win against Turco and the Stars. After losing 4-2 to the Blues in a game where the kids on St. Louis dismantled our defense, we came back with two convincing wins against the Avalanche (4-1) and the Blackhawks (4-0). Even after the 5-1 loss to the Capitals at the beginning of the season, the Canucks came back and beat the Red Wings.

Sami may be out, but Gillis’ heads up forward thinking is about to pay dividends. Insurance acquisition Ossi Vaananen who’s already seen playoff time to replace Salo at the end of the Blues’ series, has proved he can play as a replacement and be defensively responsible. The Canucks have depth on all levels. Stop to think about the fact that if Pyatt were to return, we are so deep he would/could be a 4th line player. Jannik Hansen has been scratched for the better half of the last 20 games, and if we were to lose another defenseman, we have the services of Rob Davison sitting in the press box.

The Canucks suffered a minor setback Saturday night. That shouldn’t affect how they do on Tuesday. They have an extra day to lick their wounds, and while the shot of Salo will be sorely missed on the point, the Canucks have the pieces in place to continue without major hiccups caused by injury. They rebounded during the regular season, and after facing their first post season loss in this year’s playoffs, it’s time for them to bounce back again.

May 022009
 

As the bandwagon spills over the edges there are several things which were a bit worrisome in game 2, but there was one or two things to take away from the game.

Luongo can now say he’s had his bad game. Get that out of the way, I’m positive he’ll come back stronger and make a statement on the road at the United Center in Chicago. What worries me the most is that with the loss of Salo the defence collapsed quickly. That being said, we’ve seen the Canucks play well during the long stretch he missed during the regular season, and with the veteran play of Mitchell they have the depth to pull together and move on until he returns.

Salo, the Canucks 2nd leading scorer in this year’s playoffs proved how important he is to the power play’s success again tonight and there’s no doubt Khabibulin is hoping he doesn’t have to face that shot in game 3. Lets be realistic though. The Canucks (as much as we’d like and hoped for) were not going to go 16-0 through the playoffs. The Blackhawks weren’t going to take the series lying down, and the Canucks had to lose at some point. I’m glad they lost when they did. There’s never a good time to lose, but losing the first game would have put them in a hole deep. The fact that they’ve split the first two puts them at square one with this now becoming a best of five.

Certain things were inevitable in this series. The Canucks were going to lose at least once. Khabibulin was going to win and finally break his 11 year losing streak versus the Canucks. The Canucks were going to falter.

Now that the reality check has set in, it’s on, it’s a new series. The fact they won game one despite blowing a 3 goal lead didn’t do the trick. They looked flat and the loss of Salo (who is day-to-day with a lower body injury) seemed to hurt. This year though, we’re not as bad off as we would otherwise be. Edler is stepping up nicely, Ossi Vaananen has proved he can be a consistently solid defensive replacement, and this is exactly what Gillis brought him in for.

While it looks like there’s not a lot to take out of this, the fact that we lost is like getting a monkey off our back. It lowers the bar of expectation which was getting a little high, and taking the Canucks a notch down which is never a bad thing. They weren’t getting cocky and overzealous, but they needed to stay down to earth and keep things in check. If nothing, that’s one of the biggest things to take out of this game. While a loss is never something you want, it can be a blessing in disguise. The Canucks don’t want to be Cinderella this year and losing that first game is one of the steps to making sure that doesn’t happen.

The ship’s not sinking, it’s just leaving port. The series is starting fresh, and we should have some great hockey ahead.

May 012009
 

The 10 day break was long and hard for fans and for the players. So much so that Bieksa and Kesler even got into it a little bit in practice. But that’s a good thing. It showed they still had their edge.

First game against the Blackhawks was everything people expected and then some. A rollercoaster of emotion GM Place went from being louder than a jet engine, to being so quiet you could hear mice scurrying around in the rafters. The Canucks didn’t show an abundance of rust, and they didn’t show an a lot of over confidence either. They played 45 minutes in a 60 minute game and one could argue came out on the lucky end of the draw.

In the first period the Canucks rust showed, they were unable to keep pucks in at the blue line, they were messing up routine plays. At the start of the third they let their over confidence show a little, and who better than the Canucks to show you how to blow a 3 goal lead. Hordichuck’s penalty was a bad one, a costly one, and a big turning point in the game.

While the Canucks did surrender 3 unanswered to blow that huge usually-safe-when-other-teams-have-it lead the reassuring thing was that none of the goals Luongo let in were bad. Luongo after letting in only 5 goals in the four games against St. Louis can now say he’s had his bad game. He looked solid despite the lack of game time in the last week and a half and the whole team looked like they used game one as a get-back-in-the-groove-of-things game. They escaped with the win and I’ve never seen Sami Salo so excited in my entire life.

In Game 2 the Canucks are going for a franchise record 6th straight playoff win, they’ve currently tied their franchise record of 5 playoff wins in a row which they accomplished twice during their ’94 cup run, and their 9th win a row including their last three games of the regular season. In that time Luongo is 8-0 with 3 shutouts.

The Canucks and Blackhawks both looked timid in the first game. The Canucks were getting back into things, the Blackhawks were still tired from round one and were struggling to find their game during the first two periods, and both teams were feeling out the refs. I have a feeling Game 2 is going to be faster, fiestier, and even better than the first game. The rust covered confidence the Canucks had in the first game is out the window. They found their legs towards the end of the game and as the game progressed you could tell they were falling into sync with each stride they took. What better matchup to headline Canada’s favourite Saturday past time, Hockey Night in Canada, than showcasing what is now “Canada’s Team”, the Canucks, as they are the last remaining Canadian team in the hunt for Stanley. Canucks and Blackhawks game 2 is going to see a lot more hitting and energy.

Oh yeah, and that Khabibulin guy, still hasn’t beaten us since 1998.

Apr 292009
 

It’s almost over. Canucks fans were in an unprecedented situation where they had time to watch the other series while their players were on a 10 day break thanks to a first round sweep of the Blues. After a thrilling first round which saw upsets and stunners, everything from the President Trophy winner getting ousted by the 8 seed in the west, to the Hurricanes stunning the Devils in the last minute of the third period. If the second round is anything like the first we’re in for a treat.

The series is going to come down to the usual keys: goaltending, special teams, defense – but the most important factors are going to be home ice, wear and tear, and experience.

The Canucks have been solid on home ice this season and it looks like that last minute surge that saw them grab the top spot in the Northwest is paying dividends after all. Their home record speaks for itself and with a rested squad you know the Canucks are ready to go.

Series predictions are built on ifs and buts, and as always everything depends on if the Canucks come out flying, if Luongo is on his game, if the defense can shut things down, and if the scoring is there. The Canucks proved that they are here to play. One of the key factors is going to be who can out last the other. The Blackhawks faced a Flames team that was depleted, but which gave Chicago a much more physical series than they wanted. The Blackhawks are more a finesse team and in the fight to win 4 through 7 games they’ve been battered and bruised with only have a couple of days to recoup. On the other hand, the Canucks have had over a week to heal up, get themselves mended and are going to come out with fresh legs. Everyone’s worried about the Canucks coming out flat, that’s not going to be an issue. With Bieksa and Kesler showing that they still have that edge, getting at each other in practice, it’s clear the Canucks are still ready to go, as feisty as ever, and haven’t lost that spark.

The wear and tear factor is going to be put to the test. The way the last regular season meeting between these two teams went there’s bound to be some bad blood in the first game and if the Canucks can keep their emotions in check they might be able to take advantage of the careless mistakes Ben Eager and the fourth line are likely to make in their 45 seconds of game ice time. The Canucks have the edge up again because when it comes to bumping and bruising, we have a team that can hit, and hit hard. That and I’m sure Bieksa’s out to lay the body on a couple of Blackhawks in particular.

I’m not bought into the whole “experience” being a tangible factor and difference maker in a series. That’s a discussion for a different post, but when you look at the ‘Hawks, Khabibulin has close to, if not more playoff experience than the whole team put together. (oh right, they also have that Brent Sopel guy who played a few games for us in the playoffs. He’s also the guy that threw out his back picking up a cracker. Just saying) The Canucks have a couple playoff freshmen of their own, but on th whole you’re looking at a team with some solid playoff experience which has taught them lessons they’ll never forget. Just ask Luongo, I’m sure he’ll tell you after the Anaheim series he re-read his contract and realized it wasn’t his job to play referee and it isn’t in his job description at all.

When you look at the series, everything points in the Canucks favour. Their special teams are clicking, their ‘Tending is hot, the defense is on lock down so tight you’d think they were quarantining swine flu, and the Sedins have come to play. The Canucks have the edge up on the Blackhawks in almost every way. The series is going to be hard fought. The Blackhawks aren’t just going to give up, and we’re going to see some of the best hockey of this playoffs so far. Khabibulin after splitting the season starting with Huet has elevated his game and with Luongo’s play as of late this is going to be a goalie’s duel for the ages.

Apr 242009
 

Canucks fans are sitting twiddling their thumbs because of their early ousting of the St. Louis Blues, but it’s time to figure out who the Canucks want to face in the second round and hop on someone else’s bandwagon in the down time. That or we need to convince Gary Bettman to have a mini series with the Bruins while we kill time till the second round.

When you look at the potential matchups out there for the Canucks in the second round, assuming the Ducks upset the reigning President Trophy winning Sharks, the Canucks are going to be facing the winner of the Chicago/Calgary series. Now I know everyone’s immediate instinct is to hop right to supporting the Blackhawks because it’s been clear in recent years there’s not many teams that hate each other like the Canucks hate the Flames, and the same goes for the fans of those teams. But, we should honestly be cheering for the Flames in this series and hope they pull it off. Now you want to know why don’t you?

The Flames had one of the worst road records for teams that made the playoffs. The Canucks have one of the better home records for teams that made the playoffs. The Canucks are 17-1-1 in their last 19 starts at GM Place and if the Chicago/Calgary season is any indication, the Flames road woes continue as they dropped the first two games at the United Center.

Still not convinced? Looking at Calgary’s lineup I’m not convinced they’re at 100%. They finished the regular season having to dress only 15 forwards against Edmonton, and with the cap trouble they had themselves in at the end of the season it’s clear that Calgary hurt themselves in the last few games and needed more time than they got to get themselves in true playoff shape. Calgary slipped and slid from their perch atop the Northwest division to finish the regular season in 5th and Vancouver did just the opposite. The Flames have been struggling to play a full 60 minutes. Just look at their last game against the Blackhawks when just in little over 9 minutes they managed to blow a 4-1 lead and give up the tying marker with under 20 seconds left in the period.

You still think it would be better to cheer for Chicago don’t you? One of the most important reasons the Canuck want to face the Flames in the second round is all about geography. A trip to Calgary is only across one border, it’s only across one time zone, and let’s face it, there are so many transplanted Vancouverites there it’s as close to a home away from home as the Canucks will ever find. Aside from the absolutely fantastic hockey, passion and energy we could expect from playing them, one of the biggest advantages to us, especially having come of this long 10 day break, is the fact that the Pengrowth Saddledome is just a few hours away. We saw what a toll the series against Dallas took on the Canucks two seasons ago, by playing a series which is quite literally on our back door, we’re setting ourselves up very nicely if we make it to the next round.

If the Canucks draw Calgary, the Redwings draw the Ducks. The winner of that series is going to have flown back and forth across the country and the winner coming out of our series is going to be a lot better off for wear and tear if we play the Flames instead of the Blackhawks.

So while our hate for the Flames runs stronger than the blue that runs through our veins, it’s in the Canucks’ best interest to put on their best fake smile and will the Flames to victory. Against a tired Flames squad with a banged up core and a less than stellar “star” goalie, the Canucks couldn’t ask for a better opponent in round two.

Apr 232009
 

Before I go praising the Canucks through every high hill and low dale, I have to give credit where credit is due and that’s to the St. Louis Blues. They played a fantastic series, they were young, inexperienced, and they gave us a heck of a run for our money. The 4-0 series sweep was no indication of how close the series was and even in the last game, they were down, they got up, they tied it, and they took us late into OT before they finally fell to their final playoff loss of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

So now the Canucks have up to 10 days off. Should I be worried? Should we start throwing up the red flags? The Canucks of old would certainly have raised question in our minds as to whether they’d benefit from such a long break. Then again, that was the Canucks squad that came out flat against most opponents many nights, that was the Canucks squad that had no secondary scoring, and that was a Canucks squad that’s specialty teams were absolutely brutal. Here’s a Canucks team that defies everything we know and love about this team as fans. They’ve shown us a level of play we never thought was possible from them, and now have me thinking that even after 10 days off they’ll be just fine.

The boys need to use the time wisely and just heal their wounds. The early round advancing was a blessing in disguise. Salo and Sundin who were healthy scratches in game 4 now have a little extra time to fix their respective injuries. Demitra could use the time, as could Luongo and Henrik Sedin who were both a little shaken up at different times in the OT series clincher. I’m sure even Ryan Johnson could use a break and take care of the bruises he’s inevitably amounted after going down for nearly every shot he can.

No matter who we face in the second round I think the break will benefit us. If we face Detroit because San Jose pulls off the comeback in their series, then we’ll face a team that’s equally rested (barring a miracle on ice by the Blue Jackets). If that’s the case then they’ll likely be a little off their game from the lack of game time too. If we play the winner of the Chicago/Calgary series, I get the feeling the winner is going to emerge after 7 games, and with that in mind, they’re going to come out tired, and beat up. So even if we’re off our game a little after the long break, the fact we’ve got rested legs should make up for the temporary out of sync play that should start to dissipate through the first period.

This is a Canucks team that we haven’t ever seen. This is the best team we’ve seen since the West Coast express saw Naslund and Bert finish 2 and 3 in the scoring race during the regular season. While we all could try and predict what might happen, we’re likely shooting in the dark because none of us would have predicted this the way it turned out.

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