Apr 302009
 
Apr 292009
 

There are plenty of reasons the Canucks are favored going into their second round series against the Chicago Blackhawks. Richard has outlined a few here, but allow me to add my 2 cents as well.

One key that I want to point out is that the Canucks have home ice advantage. How important is it?

Well, it means more to the Canucks than the Blackhawks. While the Blackhawks’ stats are relatively-similar at home and on the road, the Canucks, since February 1st, have shown that they are a much, much better team at GM Place.

STATS FROM FEBRUARY 1ST TO FIRST ROUND OF PLAYOFFS

[TABLE=28]

After the Canucks pounded the Blackhawks 4-0 in their last regular season meeting, a large portion of Canuckville wanted Vancouver to meet Chicago in the first round, Northwest Division title and home ice advantage be damned; I remember TEAM 1040 even ran a poll on the topic. I’m glad the Canucks ignored the masses and won the division anyway because, as it turned out, they now meet the Blackhawks in the second round and hold home ice over them – funny how the hockey gods work sometimes, eh?

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
 

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 242009
 

I’ll admit over the course of the season I’ve been really harsh towards Taylor so I guess now I have to take it easy on him. Pyatt’s back in town and according to the team has resumed his full duties as a Canucks player. Again, my condolences go out to him and to the Bragnalo family, I can only imagine what it’s like for Taylor to have lost his high school sweetheart of 11 years.

That being said, it’s playoff time, we’re right in the thick of things and the question now is “Who/what/where/when/why to do with Pyatt”. Pyatt was at the end of the season finally skating a lot better, he’d managed to get a few points and it looked like he was settling in on the third line and finally clicking with his line mates. Then tragedy struck and off he goes and the bottom lines fill up nicely and form a cohesion that has wowed us all.

If Pyatt comes back and takes up his role on the third line we’re going to see that third line that has been fantastic split up. So is that third line playing so brilliantly because the players are playing well, or because they’ve got some sort of chemistry there? Either way, I’d be hesitant to split up Wellwood, Bernier and Raymond with the way they’ve been playing. They’ve been that energy line that’s been missing since Burrows got his 1st line promotion and Kesler locked up a spot alongside Sundin and Demitra.

Putting Pyatt on the 4th line might work well (even though my boy Hansen then gets the scratch) because with the way Johnson’s been playing with Rypien, the third man seems interchangeable. But is Pyatt really ready?

Here’s my issue, I feel for Pyatt, I really do. However, when you look at the team from a neutral perspective, Pyatt’s coming in as an emotional wreck. We know he’s close to the team, we know his fiance was close to the team, and I don’t want that flood of emotions to be brought into the locker room. We saw how the original shock of the event hit the players and the last thing this team needs is emotional instability to hit the team again. If Pyatt is ready to play (my criticism of him aside) I welcome him back with open arms. But here is a team that is at the top of it’s game. It’s got a new found chemistry that’s more like alchemy the way they’ve been cashing in lately, and I just want to see them do whatever is necessary to go all the way, whether or not that includes Pyatt.

Apr 242009
 

I agree with what Brian from Canucks Corner had to say about the Canucks’ four-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues.

First, this:

I have to say, that was the most stress free series I think I’ve watched the Canucks play. Not at any point did I feel like the series was in jeopardy of slipping away. The Blues fought hard, but were clearly over matched in key areas of the game. In fact the only area you could say the Canucks could improve would be staying out of the penalty box. This will be imperative in the next round and beyond if the Canucks hope to keep this ball rolling.

And then, this:

You’ve heard it said a million times, but there is something special about this team, and the way it conducts it’s business. They celebrate the highs for a few hours, then it’s back to the task at hand, game by game, day by day, as they have said all season. Players like Mason Raymond, Steve Bernier and Kyle Wellwood have shown sides to their game not seen often. It would seem this team is playing as one, and that is a key ingredient to any championship team.

Quiet confidence is what this team has, and I think for the first time perhaps in their history, their fans have it too.

Of course, full credit goes to the entire team for this; however, one guy who doesn’t get enough credit is Alain Vigneault. He faced a lot of criticism during the Canucks’ January swoon. Likewise, we should acknowledge what he’s done to take this team to the second round of the playoffs.

Especially when the playoffs started, he never panicked and stuck to his game plan. He made sure his players didn’t retaliate when the Blues tried to rough them up, and instead, they made them pay on the powerplay. Likewise, he refused to get into a pissing match with Andy Murray even when Murray was going ballistic at him near the end of game 2. Like a good leader, he remained calm behind the bench and I have no doubt this filtered down to his players. When the boss isn’t freaking out, it’s that much easier to just focus and do what you’re supposed to do.

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