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.

May 012009
 
Apr 302009
 
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 292009
 
Apr 282009
 
Apr 262009
 
Apr 252009
 

Luongo’s been on fire as of late. He’s stolen games for us, his stats are fantastic, and there’s little you can say about him that at this point is negative. He’s 7-0 in his last 7 starts, he’s got a GAA of 0.85 in those games, he’s posted 3 shutouts in that span, and he at one point had a shutout streak of 145 minutes. People have taken for granted how well he’s been playing and no one’s stopped to think twice as to why he’s playing so well. It’s expected of him, by him and by the fans, but there’s a reason.

Luongo claims his play gets better the more he plays, but at the end of the day even “Luongod” is human. His first year he rode into the playoffs with a team that was good, but a stomach virus hit bad and let’s face it, with the number of games he played it only makes sense that he’d be slightly more susceptible to something that’s going around the locker room. Last year with the number of games he was called on to play, he just didn’t have the energy to deal with the emotional issues that plagued him throughout the season due to the complications of his baby.

This year, Luongo’s injury which shook the Canucks and the fans, came at arguably the most opportune time an injury can come. Luongo has a habit of starting off slow, warming up during the season, and peaking around three-quarters the way through the season. He then tires and as the post season rolls around he just doesn’t have anything left in the tank. His injury which kept him out for 24 games was a mid season break which allowed him to heal up, and rest. After a shaky return and a few slow starts his play has improved every game there in and it’s clear that he’s now peaking at the right time, in the playoffs. His peak time was thrown off by the amount of games he missed with that groin injury which bodes well for the team if they can remain defensively solid and continue to score goals.

I doubt management or coaching will ever be able to convince Luongo to play fewer games, but it’s clear that mid season break rested him enough that he was able to come back for the second half of the season rested enough that it seemed like the start of the season. Luongo’s seeing pucks, he’s in the zone, and it seems like there’s nothing that can throw him off that. No pregnancies, no attempts at playing ref, no excuses. He laid down the challenge when he said he wants to play for a team with a legitimate chance to win the cup and implied he was leaving. His play certainly proves he wants that cup and I think while we all expect of him what he has come to expect of himself, there’s a reason why he looks so energized and on top of his game right now. He set the standard for himself when he first came in, and that’s why we all expect the same from him. While his injury seemed like the worse thing that could happen, it looks like the long term benefit of the rest has inadvertently given the fans a lot to cheer about. This extra rest in between series is going to help to keep him fresh so you know going into round 2 he’s going to be ready to go from the puck drop.

Apr 242009
 
Apr 222009
 
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