Apr 112012
 
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers

Photo credit: canada.com

New York Rangers (1) vs. Ottawa Senators (8)

Season Series: Ottawa (3-1)

It’s been a rather Cinderella season for the New York Rangers, who rode their improving young core, particularly on defense, to their most successful season since they won the Stanley Cup in 1993-94. Marion Gaborik eclipsed 40-goals for the third time and is the most dangerous Rangers forward. Ryan Callahan (29 goals) is the most complete player on the team and is a Selke Candidate this year. Brad Richards scored some key goals during the season, but his 66 points and -1 were somewhat disappointing. For all the hype over Henrik Lundquist’s performance this year, since March he’s been rather pedestrian (2.60 goals against; .895 save percentage). Nonetheless, this is the strongest blueline (highlighted by career years from Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonough and Michael Del Zotto) Lundquist’s ever played behind.

Speaking of Cinderella seasons, the Senators were destined for a lottery pick according to most pre-season prognostications. Coach Paul Maurice brought the offense from his stint in Detroit, but more importantly the emergence of Erik Karlsson transformed Ottawa into one of the most dangerous teams in the league. Leading the attack upfront was Jason Spezza, who played 80 games for the first time in three years and was among the league-leaders in scoring. Craig Anderson actually improved as the season went along, helping the team almost shave half-a-goal against per game off their record post All-Star Game. This is a very young team though, and Anderson will have to come up huge if the Sens are to have a chance in the series.

Key Player, Rangers: Marian Gaborik

The Rangers will need their best offensive player to have a terrific post-season if the team has any chance of a Cup run. Gaborik’s compete-level will be tested by anOttawateam that will punish him physically every time he touches the puck.

Key Player, Senators: Erik Karlsson

Similar to Gaborik, Karlsson is the straw the stirs the Senators offensive drink.  The Rangers are going to go after Ottawa’s young quarterback defenseman and make him pay the price every time he goes back for the puck in his own zone. If Rangers such as Brandon Dubinsky are successful limiting Karlsson, they’ll neutralize Ottawa’s attack.

Quick Decisions:

Coaching: Rangers. John Tortorella’s won a Stanley Cup and should get the match-ups he wants with home-ice advantage.

Goaltending: Rangers. As strong as Anderson played this season few goalies are in Lundquist’s league.

Defense: Rangers. Despite improved play from Filip Kuba and Karlsson’s excellence, New York’s blueline has greater depth and is augmented by a strong two-way forward group.

Scoring: Senators. Top-4 in the league scoring-wise, and only one of three teams to average more than three goals-per-game after the All-Star break.

Special Teams: Even. Ottawa’s stronger on the powerplay, while the Rangers were among the league’s best on the penalty kill.

Prediction: Rangers in 6

*****

Boston Bruins (2) vs. Washington Capitals (7)

Season Series: Washington (3-1)

The defending champion Boston Bruins were tied with Ottawa for the second-fewest points among playoff teams in their last 41 games (45 points). Poor goaltending was a major factor, as while the Bruins reduced their shots against after the All-Star Game, their goalies could only muster a .899 save percentage. Nonetheless, this is a team that’s arguably as deep as the Cup winners last year, with Tyler Seguin (team-leading 67-points) having replaced Mark Recchi; Brian Rolston playing the Rich Peverley role (15 points in 21 Bruins games) and Joe Corvo filling the Tomas Kaberle position as “offensive defenseman who needs his ice-time well-managed.” Nathan Horton’s injury has been somewhat off-set by improved play by Benoit Pouliot. A repeat is not out of the question.

If there is a playoff team that would like to forget its regular season it’s the Washington Capitals, who went from pre-season favourites to run away with the Southeast Division to coming this close to finishing outside the playoffs.  The firing of Bruce Boudreau brought Dale Hunter back to the Washington franchise, but the team really didn’t improve their play. The Caps were 30-23-7 under the new coach and, for the first time in years, struggled to find any offense. Hunter’s system (or lack thereof) was criticized by his own players, and a war-of-words between Roman Hamrlik and his coach added to speculation Hunter was in-over-his-head at the NHL level. Tomas Vokoun (currently suffering from a groin injury) was roughly league-average in goal, which didn’t help matters. In reality though, part of Washington’s problem was directly tied to their lack of offensive depth, particularly in the wake of Niklas Backstrom’s absence due to concussion. With Backstrom back, this is a Caps team that enters the playoffs with a few gamebreakers (Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Backstrom), a strong commitment to defense and an improved blueline (Mike Green’s play has fallen off a cliff, but John Carlson and Dmitri Orlov have stepped up). The pieces are there for this team to surprise… or leave the post-season after four-straight losses.

Key Player, Boston: Tim Thomas

Boston’s veteran goalie has been rather average in 2012. If he can’t find his game now, the Capitals will stick around longer than many people think.  

Key Player, Washington: Alex Ovechkin

He is the most talented player in this series and a match-up against Zdeno Chara should be incredibly challenging. But Ovechkin, rather quietly, has been terrific down the stretch (12 goals in 19 games) and has Backstrom back as his centre. A special effort by Ovechkin could re-write this Capitals season and give the Bruins fits.

Quick Decisions

Coaching: Bruins. This is Hunter’s first trip to the NHL post-season; Boston’s Claude Julien is among the league’s best.

Goaltending: Bruins. Closer than you might think given Tim Thomas’s struggles. Who knows how Vokoun will play – and if he’ll play – meaning it’ll be up to Michael Neuvrith or Braden Holtby to shock the world.

Defense: Bruins. Washington potentially has more blueline talent but the Bruins are a more complete and effective group, both forwards and defense.

Scoring:  Bruins. Dale Hunter hasn’t been able to get Washington’s offense firing, while the Bruins can roll four scoring lines.

Special Teams: Bruins. Slight edge due to stronger penalty killing.

Prediction: Bruins in 7

*****

Florida Panthers (3) vs. New Jersey Devils (6)

Season Series: Florida (2-1-1)

The Florida Panthers enter these playoffs as the lowest scoring team in the Eastern Conference. Historically, teams with the fewest goals to reach the playoffs usually make quick first-round exits. Furthermore, the Panthers enter the post-season with the worst goal differential remaining – another ominous omen. Having said that, there are a few reasons why Florida won the Southeast Division. For starters, the Panthers have received solid goaltending from both Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen. More importantly, Brian Campbell (52 points) had a renaissance and Jason Garrison (16 goals) had a career year, helping to turn a below-average blueline into a decent group. Florida also got great mileage from its top line of Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg, although they tailed off as the season wore on (Versteeg had just 4 goals after the All-Star Game).

Coached by former Panthers bench boss Peter DeBoer, the Devils implemented a more aggressive system this season to strong results. Nowhere was this more impressive than on the penalty kill, where New Jersey led the league with 15 shorthanded goals. Ilya Kovalchuk had his best season from a complete player perspective, leading the team in goals, points, ice-time and playing a penalty killing role. David Clarkson (30 goals), a healthy Zack Parise (31 goals), Patrick Elias (78 points) Petr Sykora (21 goals) and rookie Adam Henrique (51 points) have given New Jersey more scoring depth than they’ve had in years. This depth upfront hasn’t translated to the defense however, as the Devils blueline is much like Easter Island (aka a bunch of statues). Rookie Adam Larsson led defenseman in scoring with 18 points but has found himself a healthy scratch down the stretch. There’s a lot of pressure on Marek Zidlicky to be a powerplay quarterback in the post-season.

Key Player, Panthers: Brian Campbell

Not only is Campbell likely to play more minutes than anyone else in the series (outside of the goalies), but he’ll be asked to contribute at both ends of the ice. If Florida wins the series the powerplay – on which Campbell is the quarterback – will have to be a factor. Similarly, it would not be a surprise to see the smooth-skating Campbell matched-up against Ilya Kovalchuk, in the hopes that speed can counteract speed.

Key Player, Devils: Martin Brodeur

Brodeur isn’t the goalie we all remember, but his numbers and play did improve as the season went along (.921 save percentage after the break). And yet, he hasn’t won a playoff series in five years. Poor play from Brodeur is probably the only way the Panthers can win this series.

Quick Decisions:

Coaching: Even. Both teams are led by coaches in the playoffs for the first time. Both did good jobs in the regular season.

Goaltending: Even. Brodeur and the Devils goaltending were much improved in the second-half, but Florida’s Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmenson were just as strong all year for the Panthers.

Defense: Even. The Panthers blueline is stronger than that of the Devils, but New Jersey’s system and team approach to defending the goal remains elite.

Scoring: Devils. Florida scored only 2.29 goals-per-game after the All-Star break, worst among playoff teams.

Special Teams: Devils. Florida was 7th on the powerplay but 25th on the penalty kill. New Jersey was 1st overall on the penalty kill and 14th on the powerplay.

Prediction: Devils in 5

*****

Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (5)

Season Series: Philadelphia (4-2)

There’s a lot of hype about the Penguins as they enter the playoffs, and the buzz is legitimate. Pittsburgh played at a 60-win, 315-goal pace in the second half of the season, and enter the playoffs relatively healthy. There may not be another team in the league more equipped to transition from an attack-focused approach to a defensive one than the Penguins. Evgeni Malkin (109 points) is this year’s likely Hart Trophy winner, and there were times he simply dominated opponents in the offensive zone. His chemistry with James Neal (40 goals) might be the best in the league. Given reduced ice-time upon his return from a concussion, Sidney Crosby also dazzled, putting up 37 points in 22 games this season. When you add Jordan Staal (25 goals) to the mix, this is the deepest team at centre in the league. It’s also the most fragile, as each of Staal, Crosby and Malkin have battled injuries in the past. An injury to Malkin or Crosby especially could change the fate of any playoff series. On defense, Kris Letang battled injuries all season but when healthy looked like a Norris candidate. Brooks Orpik and Zbynek Michalek are a strong shutdown pairing. 

Despite major changes in the off-season, it was really business as usual for the Flyers, who reached 100 points for the second-straight year. Team success was predicated on offense, as Philadelphia was one of just three teams to average more than three goals-per-game. Claude Giroux was a major reason for the team’s offense, establishing himself among the league’s elite scorers with 93 points. Having said that, a strong rookie campaign from Matt Read (24 goals) and a breakout season for Scott Hartnell (37 goals) helped give the Flyers three solid scoring lines. Rookie Sean Couturier played the shutdown centre role all season, and it will be interesting to see how he fares in that role during the playoffs. On defense, the addition of Nicklas Grossman gave the Flyers the capable defensive-defenseman they didn’t have once Chris Pronger was lost for the year (career?) due to injury. Kimmo Timonen (43 points) also took on a greater role after Pronger’s injury, and played some of the best hockey of his career. In goal, Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky were the subject of criticism all season, but their play improved substantially after the All-Star Game.

Key Player, Pittsburgh: Matt Cooke

There’s every reason to expect this Penguins and Flyers series will get ugly. Cooke (19 goals) has had a terrific year, introducing self-control into his game and becoming an effective checking line player. If Cooke can play like Esa Tikkanen, acting as a defensive pest but staying above the expected Flyers shenanigans, he could drive Philadelhpia crazy and into a march to the penalty box. 

Key Player, Philadelphia: Jaromir Jagr

As much pressure as there will be on Ilya Bryzgalov’s shoulders, Jaromir Jagr is the key veteran presence in this young Flyers dressing room. Jagr battled groin injuries during the second-half of the season but demonstrated at times he can still dominate play, particularly down low in the offensive zone. The Flyers can’t win this series if Jagr is a passenger – they need him to be a catalyst.

Quick Decisions:

Coaching: Even. Both are Stanley Cup winners; both are among the best in the game.

Goaltending: Even. Statistically, Philadelphia received better goaltending from its netminders than Pittsburgh did this year. The Penguins’ Marc-Andre Fleury has become somewhat of a modern day Grant Fuhr – a big game goalie whose statistics otherwise seem unremarkable.

Defense: Penguins. The Penguins have proven without Crosby or Malkin they can be an elite defensive team in the NHL. The Flyers would rather trade chances with their opponent, and their blueline isn’t nearly as deep.

Offense: Penguins. Despite some impressive scoring depth on the Flyers roster the Penguins, with Crosby and Malkin, offer a Lemieux-Francis, Gretzky-Messier, Forsberg-Sakic –like twosome. Containing both of them will be impossible.

Special Teams: Penguins. The Penguins are top ten on both the powerplay and penalty kill, while Philadelphia’s penalty kill has been bottom-third of the league.

Prediction: Penguins in 7

Apr 112012
 
Vancouver Canucks after losing game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals to the Boston Bruins

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

Last year, the Canucks went through it all. Almost quite literally. The question is, what have they learned from last year which will change things this year?

They say sport is more mental than it is physical. Having spent ten years as a national calibre athlete, I can’t stress the truth of that statement and it’s the root of a fundamental difference between last year’s run and the journey the Canucks are about to embark on.

Last year, the Canucks were in the hunt for the Northwest Division crown, the Presidents Trophy, and home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. They were in the hunt for the Art Ross Trophy, Vezina Trophy, Selke Trophy, and of course, the Stanley Cup. There was a pressure instilled on them from day one with TSN and a host of others picking them as the favourites to take it all. That pressure comes with an unparalleled mental fatigue which drains you before you even get to the important part of the year, the second season.

This year, the Canucks almost chanced upon the Presidents Trophy when they came into contention of winning it in just the final games of the season. Home ice was locked up well in advance, and the Northwest Division crown was hardly a challenge.

Out of the running for the Art Ross this year, the Sedins have had less pressure on them and have allowed them to simply play hockey. With Ryan Kesler having a rebound year post-injury, Cody Hodgson and his Calder Trophy stress shipped off to Buffalo, Cory Schneider playing significant games, and in a way, taking Roberto Luongo out of the running for the Vezina, the Canucks enter the most mentally-gruelling part of the season significantly more mentally-rested and without the day-in-day-out drain of individual trophies and awards.

Nobody remembers that you won the Presidents Trophy; everyone remembers that you lost the Stanley Cup.

Having been to the dance before, this veteran group is armed mentally for the grind. That said, there is much to be said for the lack of other pressures leading into the post season, which have allowed the team to move forward and focus on the most important task at hand which is getting to 16 wins this post season. The post-season is emotional and we saw that toll – both physical and mental – on the team. While some have suggested an off-year for many players is a bad thing – and have compared the accolades of last year to the noticeable lack of them this year – it may actually quite possibly be the best thing that the Canucks finished again with the most points in the league – their second best season ever – having expended considerably less energy as they head into the toughest two months of the schedule. In this context, they’re better prepared for the grind than ever before.

Apr 112012
 

On the first day of the 2012 NHL Playoffs, we kick off the CHB Playoff Prediction Pool with CHB’s own writers and our fearless first round predictions.

Your competitors are CHB bloggers: Caylie, Chris, Clay, Ed, JJ, Lizz, Matt, Richard, Tom and Victoria.

Scoring is simple:  one point for guessing the correct series winner and a bonus point for also correctly guessing the number of games (presuming that the series winner is correct).

Check out our predictions, and then, check out the end of this post to see how you can get in on the fun.

Caylie (@CayKing)

  • Canucks in 6
  • Sharks in 6
  • Blackhawks in 7
  • Predators in 7
  • Rangers in 7
  • Bruins in 5
  • Devils in 5
  • Flyers in 7

A hot goaltender will only go so far; Mike Smith will not be able to stand on his head throughout the series against the likes of Kane and Hossa.

Chris (@lyteforce)

  • Canucks in 6
  • Blues in 5
  • Blackhawks in 7
  • Red Wings in 6
  • Rangers in 5
  • Bruins in 5
  • Devils in 6
  • Penguins in 7

The fact I say this series goes 5 games is simply a mercy win to the Sens for the sake of being a proud Canadian.  The Rangers are a team full of blue collar studs and Lundqvist has been known to stop everything including time.

Clay (@CanuckClay)

  • Canucks in 6
  • Blues in 7
  • Blackhawks in 6
  • Red Wings in 7
  • Rangers in 5
  • Bruins in 6
  • Devils in 5
  • Penguins in 6

The triumphant returns of Daniel Sedin and Keith Ballard…yes Keith Ballard…will help the Canucks win a hard-fought series.

Ed (@edlau)

  • Canucks in 6
  • Blues in 5
  • Coyotes in 6
  • Predators in 7
  • Rangers in 6
  • Bruins in 5
  • Devils in 6
  • Penguins in 7

Seriously, this is going to be the best series of the 1st round…and possibly the playoffs.  So much build-up…so much star power…so much hate.  This is going to be awesome.

J.J. (@canuckshockey)

  • Canucks in 6
  • Blues in 7
  • Blackhawks in 6
  • Predators in 7
  • Rangers in 5
  • Capitals in 7
  • Devils in 6
  • Penguins in 7

Nashville knows there aren’t any guarantees that Ryan Suter and Shea Weber will both be back with the team next season so they loaded up at the deadline, including coaxing Alexander Radulov back from the KHL.

Lizz (@lizzmoffat)

  • Canucks in 5
  • Sharks in 6
  • Blackhawks in 6
  • Red Wings in 7
  • Rangers in 4
  • Bruins in 5
  • Panthers in 6
  • Penguins in 7

How did this match up even happen? As weird as it is seeing one of these two make it to the second round, the Panthers will take it, and confuse everyone in Florida who was unaware that hockey lasted past April 10.

Matt (@mattlee61)

  • Canucks in 6
  • Blues in 7
  • Blackhawks in 7
  • Red Wings in 7
  • Rangers in 6
  • Bruins in 5
  • Devils in 6
  • Penguins in 7

The Sharks will make a series of it and their physicality will push the Blues to the limit but goaltending will be the ultimate difference.

Richard (@mozy19)

  • Canucks in 6
  • Sharks in 6
  • Blackhawks in 5
  • Predators in 7
  • Senators in 7
  • Bruins in 5
  • Panthers in 6
  • Penguins in 7

Washington doesn’t stand a chance. Thomas will shut out the Capitals like he did the President.

Tom (@tomwakefield88)

  • Canucks in 5
  • Blues in 7
  • Blackhawks in 6
  • Predators in 5
  • Rangers in 7
  • Bruins in 7
  • Devils in 5
  • Penguins in 7

LA is the lowest scoring team in the Conference and thus will be an early exit; the longer Daniel Sedin is out though the closer this series is.

Victoria (@concretefluff)

  • Canucks in 6
  • Blues in 5
  • Blackhawks in 6
  • Red Wings in 7
  • Rangers in 5
  • Bruins in 5
  • Devils in 7
  • Penguins in 7

Boston has better goaltending; one hit from Lucic and Semin will be crying like a toddler with a dirty diaper.

*****

Are you smarter than a CHB blogger?

If so, then prove it by leaving your predictions in the comments section below – don’t forget to predict both the series winner and the number of games!

And if by chance you happen to top all of the CHB bloggers, we may do something nice for you.  Once we’ve mended our bruised egos.

Apr 102012
 

[Inspired by Arsenio Hall's "Things That Make You Go Hmmm…", Clayton Imoo talks about Canucks-related things that make him go hmmm… You can follow Clay on Twitter at (@canuckclay) or on his website, Clay's Canucks Commentary.]

Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: Yahoo! Sports

I’m excited, you’re excited, we’re all excited.  So let’s not waste any time…here are a few Things That Make Me Go Hmmm:

1.  What a difference one game makes. As the Canucks look to open their postseason against the Los Angeles Kings tomorrow night, most of the non-Daniel attention is on whether or not this year’s team is better equipped than last year’s for a long playoff run.  Those arguing for this year’s squad point out a much deeper and better-balanced set of forwards, healthy defencemen, both goaltenders playing well, and overall a bigger, stronger and mentally-tougher team.

What I find interesting however is the fact that everyone (myself included) seems to want to compare this year’s team to last year’s.  That’s all fine and dandy, but all bets are off once they playoffs start.  Every run to the Stanley Cup includes so many intriguing factors:  hot and cold streaks, goaltending, special teams, injuries, and luck to name a few.  While I certainly agree that Canucks are better off from last year’s experience, there are 15 other teams that are just as hungry.  So don’t be surprised if the Canucks stumble a bit; after all it was a bit of a strange season.  After all, it would be foolish to suggest that just because one thinks that this year’s team is stronger that they should automatically make it to the Finals.

Just imagine how different this entire season would have been if the Canucks won on June 15, 2011.  I think the fans would have been quite lenient during the regular season thinking that the team would “turn it on” again in the playoffs.  Instead, this whole season was about doing everything it takes to win one more game than last year.  And it all starts tomorrow.

2.  Don’t get upset. With the way the NHL seeds its teams for the playoffs, it’s created two very intriguing match-ups both involving the “weak sister” of the division winners.  In the West, we have the Coyotes (97 points) as the #3 seed hosting the Blackhawks (101 points).  And in the East, it’s the Panthers (94 points) hosting the Devils (102 points).  Which begs the question in each series:  Who is the favourite?

Does one go by higher seed and therefore home-ice advantage?  Or do you look at it as I see it and go with the higher point totals?  I expect both Chicago and New Jersey to win their respective series sending the two division winners packing.  And I’m not too sure anyone would consider these actual upsets.

If both the Canucks and Blackhawks win (and the Blues beat the Sharks), then we’ll have a Vancouver-Chicago match-up for the second round.  How good would that be?

3.  Spacing out the schedule. Ever since the NHL released the playoff schedule on Sunday, there has been a lot of talk about how “spread out” the first round is.  Partly due to how busy the Staples Centre (and Rogers Arena for that matter) is, there is a two-day break between games #3 and #4 and a three-day break between games #4 and #5.

While the three-day break in particular seems a tad excessive, the total potential series length of 16 days (April 11-26 inclusive) is only two days longer than last year’s opening round (April 13-26) and only one day longer than last year’s Stanley Cup Finals (June 1-15).

Factor in the same time zone and the end result should be some good hockey (or at least some rested players).  Plus an extra day to visit Disneyland.

Apr 092012
 

With the first round series between the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings scheduled to start on Wednesday, here is a brief look at the season series between the two teams.

In the Regular Season

The Canucks won the season series against the Kings, but just barely. They took 5 of 8 points (2-0-1 record); the Kings took 4 of 8 points (2-2-0).

November 10, 2011: Vancouver Canucks 3 @ LA Kings 2

In their first meeting of the season, the Canucks raced to a 3-goal lead in the first period. A Trevor Lewis elbowing major and Drew Doughty cross-check gave the Canucks a 5-on-3 powerplay early in the first period. On the two-man advantage, Sami Salo wired a shot from the point and beat Jonathan Quick. Then, with the team still on the powerplay, Andrew Ebbett deflected the puck off of Wille Mitchell to give them a 2-0 lead. For good measure, Aaron Rome got his 2nd goal – in just his second game of the season – which would eventually stand the game-winner.

The Kings mounted a small rally. Doughty got the Kings on the board midway through the second period with a slap shot from the side boards. And with time winding down in the third period and Quick on the Kings bench for an extra attacker, Mike Richards scored on a deflection to cut the Canucks’ lead to 3-2 and make things interesting. However, this is as close as they would come as Roberto Luongo recorded the win.

December 31, 2011: Vancouver Canucks 1 @ LA Kings 4

With 6 wins in 7 games, the Canucks had a great opportunity to end 2011 on a positive note with a New Year’s Eve meeting in LA. But after the Canucks scored an early goal, just 3 minutes into the game, they let the lead slip away and the Kings went on to score 4 unanswered goals.

Bieksa scored the lone Canucks goal, finishing off a good pass and play from Henrik and Daniel Sedin. Bieksa’s marker was in the midst of a season-high, 7-game point streak in which he had 8 points (1G-7A). From December 15 to January 7, Bieksa had 12 points (2G-10A) in 12 games.

Brad Richardson, Matt Greene, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams scored for the Kings. Kopitar’s goal came after the Canucks couldn’t capitalize on a 4-minute powerplay courtesy of a Mike Richards double-minor for high-sticking. As Richards came out of the penalty box, the Kings went 3-on-2 going the other away and Kopitar cut across the crease and backhanded the puck past Luongo.

On this night, the Canucks struggled painfully to clear the zone. And when they did, they just couldn’t generate enough sustained pressure to beat a strong Jonathan Quick.

January 17, 2012: LA Kings 3 @ Vancouver Canucks 2 (SO)

In their third meeting of the season, the Canucks and Kings traded a couple of goals each before the Kings eventually won in the shootout.

First, it was Dustin Penner who deflected a Drew Doughty shot and scored the game’s first goal. Then, Daniel Sedin scored a powerplay goal early in the second period to tie up the game. Late in the second period, while on a powerplay, Justin Williams pounced on a juicy Willie Mitchell rebound to give the Kings a 2-1 lead. David Booth then tied things up in the third period, converting on a beautiful cross-crease pass from Jannik Hansen. Mike Richards recorded the shootout winner.

March 26, 2012: LA Kings 0 @ Vancouver Canucks 1

The fourth and final meeting of the regular season may very well be the most accurate preview of the two teams’ first round playoff series.

Manny Malhotra opened the scoring just 3 minutes into the game by streaking down the left win and wristing a nice shot off the post and past Jonathan Quick. From that point on, it was a tight and low scoring affair.

The Canucks in particular went into a defensive shell the rest of the night. They mustered a mere 25 shots on Quick with 13 of them coming in the third period. Roberto Luongo was huge, stopping all 38 Kings shots.

Who’s Hot: Canucks

Before Daniel suffered a concussion in March, Henrik was struggling and had just 4 assists during a stretch of 12 games. However, since then, Captain Hank has stepped up and finished with 11 points (1G-10A) in his last 8 games. Just as important, he has stated that he is feeling more confident and wants the puck more.

With 81 points (14G-67A) in 82 games, Henrik led the Canucks and all Western Conference skaters in the regular season. Especially with Daniel’s status unknown (though he did skate in practice this morning), it’s no secret his production will be critical to the team’s success during this playoff run.

Who’s Not: Canucks

After surgery in the off-season, Ryan Kesler, last year’s 41-goal scorer and Selke Trophy winner finished the 2011/2012 regular season with 22 goals and 49 points in 77 games – a far cry from his 73 points last season and 75 points the season before that – including a woeful 2 assists in his last 12 games.

There seems to be little doubt among the Canucks faithful that Kes will find his beast mode once post-season play begins.

Here’s hoping.

Who’s Hot: Kings

It’s hard to imagine where the Kings would be without Jonathan Quick’s play this season. Once thought to be expendable because of the play of Jonathan Bernier – sound familiar, Canucks fans? – Quick should be a Vezina candidate and is easily the the Kings’ MVP.

Quite simply, Quick has been a rock in net for LA. He has a 35-21-13 record, a league-high 10 shutouts, a 0.929 save percentage and a goals against average of 1.95. He doesn’t give up much during each game so taking advantage of offensive opportunities will be key for the Canucks. He’s managed to earn the Kings at least a point in 10 of his last 12 starts, going 8-2-2 to finish off the season.

Who’s Not: Kings

Dustin Penner has been a huge disappointment for the Kings this season. His 17 points (7G-10A) in 65 games are his worst season totals, not including his 2005/2006 season in which he 7 points in 19 games. In his last 23 games, Pancakes has just 4 points (2G-2A).

Apr 092012
 

Was it the matchup you expected? Was it the matchup you wanted?

The Vancouver Canucks claimed their second consecutive President’s Trophy on Saturday night, a feat that few teams in recent memory can lay claim to. They also found out who their first round playoff opponent will be: the Los Angeles Kings.

A quick and dirty look at what to expect when the puck drops on Wednesday night:

Regular Season History: 3-2 win (November 16th), 4-1 loss (December 31st), 3-2 shootout loss (January 17th), 1-0 win (March 26th).

Aside from that one bizarre game on New Year’s Eve, you can expect a lot of 2-1 and 3-2 games in the next two weeks. The Vancouver Canucks have played defensively stingy as of late and the Los Angeles Kings have played the same way all season long.

Los Angeles this year: The Kings were supposed to be contenders from the get-go, but their early struggles in October cost Terry Murray his job. For a team that had problems scoring goals, their decision to hire Darryl Sutter only made even more heads turn. Sutter, a defensive specialist, has ushered in an era where goals are hard to come by against the Kings, and Jonathan Quick has reigned supreme. In fact, had it not been for Quick and his ten shutouts, the Los Angeles Kings would flat out not qualified for the postseason. He’s been their most valuable player, bar none.

Vancouver this year: It’s a remarkable story that the Vancouver Canucks, who for stretches throughout the season looked unorganized and disinterested, still managed to steal the President’s Trophy out from underneath St. Louis and New York’s noses. They did it with both Sedins coming in at less than a point-per-game, Ryan Kesler on a mended hip, and a constant distraction with a ‘goalie controversy’ in net. Going into the postseason, the powerplay is a concern — the Canucks started 2012 with the best powerplay in the league and sagged to sixth by the time the regular season ended.

The Canucks will win if: They find some cracks in Jonathan Quick’s armour. The Kings live and die by how he plays. Much like the Nashville series of 2011, the Canucks will be going up against a team with a couple deadly forwards, a pretty strong blueline, and an elite-level goaltender. But the Canucks proved that great goaltending can only go so far. If the Canucks depth at forward makes a return, this series will be relatively short.

The Canucks will lose if: Ryan Kesler doesn’t show up and Daniel Sedin suffers a setback. Those two players are two of the team’s top three forwards, and if Kesler can’t find an extra gear, there is no second line. The powerplay must also find a way to come alive; it’s been stagnant over the last two months and in a series which has all the makings of a defensive war, the powerplay becomes that much more important.

X-Factors: For Los Angeles, Dustin Penner and Drew Doughty have underachieved all season and will need to provide secondary scoring for a team that finished 29th in league scoring. For Vancouver, David Booth and Mason Raymond both need to make contributions on the scoresheet.

Apr 082012
 

With Coldplay invading Rogers Arena next weekend and the Staples Center booked with NBA games, I didn’t quite envy the NHL schedule makers in putting together this first round playoff schedule between the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings.

Game 1: Los Angeles Kings at Vancouver Canucks
Wednesday, April 11, 2012, 7:30 PM
Rogers Arena

Game 2: Los Angeles Kings at Vancouver Canucks
Friday, April 13, 2012, 7:00 PM
Rogers Arena

Game 3: Vancouver Canucks at Los Angeles Kings
Sunday, April 15, 2012, 7:30 PM
Staples Center

Game 4: Vancouver Canucks at Los Angeles Kings
Wednesday, April 18, 2012, 7:00 PM
Staples Center

Game 5: Los Angeles Kings at Vancouver Canucks (if required)
Sunday, April 22, 2012, Time TBD
Rogers Arena

Game 6: Vancouver Canucks at Los Angeles Kings (if required)
Tuesday, April 24, 2012, Time TBD
Staples Center

Game 7: Los Angeles Kings at Vancouver Canucks (if required)
Thursday, April 26, 2012, Time TBD
Rogers Arena

All games on CBC (TV) and TEAM 1040 (Radio).

Apr 072012
 

On the one hand, the St. Louis Blues’ loss to the Phoenix Coyotes gave the Vancouver Canucks control of their own destiny (at least part of it). But that’s just part of the equation. Heading into today’s games, all but one of the league’s first round playoff match-ups are set, and there are a myriad of different scenarios that could play out before teams can find out who they are facing next week.

For Canucks fans, there are 4 games of particular interest (besides, obviously, the Canucks’ game against the Edmonton Oilers): New York Rangers vs Washington Capitals, Phoenix Coyotes vs Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues vs Dallas Stars, and Los Angeles Kings vs San Jose Sharks.

Despite blowing a third period lead against the Calgary Flames a couple of nights ago – their first regulation loss in 102 games when taking a lead into the final frame – the Canucks still have a chance to clinch the top seed in the Western Conference, and also, a chance to repeat as the NHL’s President’s Trophy winners.

  • If the Canucks get at least a single point against the Oilers, they will lock down the top spot in the Western Conference.
  • If the Canucks lose in regulation and the Blues win, the Blues get the top seed in the conference.
  • If the Canucks win and the New York Rangers lose, the Canucks will win the President’s Trophy.
  • The Canucks will also win the President’s Trophy if they get at least a single point against the Oilers and the Rangers lose in regulation.

Determining the rest of the Western Conference playoff seedings isn’t so cut-and-dry. Taking a stab at identifying the Canucks’ potential first round opponent, here are the different scenarios:

  • If Phoenix and LA win: Phoenix wins the Pacific Division (3rd seed), LA gets the 7th seed, and San Jose gets the 8th seed.
  • If Phoenix and SJ win: Phoenix gets the 3rd seed, San Jose gets the 7th seed, and LA gets the 8th seed.
  • If Phoenix loses in OT or the SO, and LA wins in regulation or in OT: LA gets the 3rd seed, Phoenix gets the 7th seed, and San Jose gets the 8th seed.
  • If Phoenix loses in OT or the SO, and LA wins in the SO: Phoenix gets the 3rd seed, LA gets the 7th seed, and San Jose gets the 8th seed.
  • If Phoenix loses in OT or the SO, and San Jose wins: Phoenix gets the 3rd seed, San Jose gets the 7th seed, and LA gets the 8th seed.
  • If Phoenix loses in regulation, and LA wins: LA gets the 3rd seed, Phoenix gets the 7th seed and San Jose gets the 8th seed.
  • If Phoenix loses in regulation, and San Jose wins: San Jose gets the 3rd seed, Phoenix gets the 7th seed and LA gets the 8th seed.

As for the rest of the playoff seeds in the West, the Nashville Predators face the Colorado Avalanche, and the Detroit Red Wings host the Chicago Blackhawks. Here are the possible scenarios:

  • If Nashville gets at least a point, they’ll get the 4th seed.
  • If Nashville loses in regulation, and Detroit wins: Detroit gets the 4th seed, Nashville gets the 5th seed, and Chicago gets the 6th seed.
  • If Chicago beats Detroit in regulation: Nashville gets the 4th seed, Chicago gets the 5th seed, and Detroit gets the 6th seed.
  • If Chicago beats Detroit in OT or in the SO: Nashville gets the 4th seed, Detroit gets the 5th seed, and Chicago gets the 6th seed.

In the Eastern Conference, the games of interest are: Washington Capitals vs New York Rangers, Florida Panthers vs Carolina Hurricanes, and Ottawa Senators vs New Jersey Devils.

  • If Florida gets at least a single point, they’ll win the Southeast Division and get the 3rd seed in the East.
  • If Ottawa gets at least a single point, they’ll clinch the 7th seed.
  • If Washington wins and Florida loses in regulation: Washington gets the 3rd seed and Florida gets the 8th seed.
  • If Florida gets at least a single point, Washington wins, and Ottawa loses in regulation: Florida gets the 3rd seed, Washington gets the 7th seed, and Ottawa gets the 8th seed.

Clear as mud?

Apr 042012
 

It’s hard to believe that the postseason is only a week away. With that, the NHL has released a series of promotional videos, including a couple featuring the Vancouver Canucks.

Because It’s The Cup – Vancouver Canucks

Because It’s The Cup – The Sedin Brothers

Are y’all excited? I am.

%d bloggers like this: