Canucks battle familiar Blackhawk foes in Western quarterfinals

The Chicago Blackhawks have been the playoff kryptonite to the Vancouver Canucks.

Over the past two years, Vancouver has failed to win a seven game series against the Blackhawks in the playoffs, losing in six each time.

History will tell you that the Blackhawks are in the driver’s seat, but they are a much different looking team than last year’s championship squad.

Salary cap issues forced Chicago (44-29-9) to trade away many of the key components who helped capture their first Stanley Cup since 1960/61. Players like Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, and Kris Versteeg were all dealt over the summer in order to clear up salary cap issues. Antti Niemi, their cup winning goaltender, was signed as a free agent by San Jose after the Blackhawks declined to pay the salary awarded to him by arbitration.

Vancouver (54-19-9) has added depth to their squad which led them to their first ever President’s Trophy, an honor awarded to the NHL team with the best regular season record.

After being ousted from post-season action last May, the Canucks recognized the hole in their armor and patched it. Over the off-season they added the likes of Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard, two defensive-minded rear guards to help their franchise goalie and former team captain, Roberto Luongo shut the door on the opposition.

The Canucks cruised into the playoffs, clinching a spot with a 4-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche back on March 16. Chicago, on the other hand, just barely made it. After losing their final match to the Detroit Red Wings, Jonathan Toews and company had to rely on a victory from the Minnesota Wild over the Dallas Stars in order to punch their ticket.

Despite not having home-ice advantage in the series, Chicago will be sending a full squad onto the ice. The Canucks will be without third line forward Raffi Torres who will be serving a four-game suspension and will not be available until game three. They are also without Manny Malhotra who suffered a season-ending eye injury in the playoff clinching game.

Over the course of the 2010/11 season series the playoff rivals split the four games with two wins apiece.

The series gets under way this evening at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia at 10:00PM EST (7:00PM PAC) on CBC.

Players To Watch

Vancouver Canucks

Daniel Sedin – 82 Games played – 41 Goals, 63 Assists, 104 Points

Henrik Sedin – 82 Games played – 19 Goals, 75 Assists, 94 Points

Ryan Kesler – 82 Games played – 41 Goals, 32 Assists, 73 Points

Mikael Samuelsson – 75 Games played – 18 Goals, 32 Assists, 50 Points

Roberto Luongo – 38 Wins, 2.11 Goals Against Average, .928 Save%, 4 Shutouts

Chicago Blackhawks

Jonathan Toews – 80 Games played – 32 Goals, 44 Assists, 76 Points

Patrick Kane – 73 Games played – 27 Goals, 46 Assists, 73 Points

Patrick Sharp – 74 Games played – 34 Goals, 37 Assists, 71 Points

Marian Hossa – 65 Games played – 25 Goals, 32 Assists, 57 Points

Corey Crawford – 33 Wins, 2.30 Goals Against Average, .917 Save%, 4 Shutouts

Keys To Success

Vancouver

In order for the Canucks to win, they’re going to have to shut down the big four players on Chicago (Kane, Sharp, Toews, Hossa). Other than those players, the Blackhawks don’t have the scoring depth they did one year ago. They will also need guys like Mason Raymond, Mikael Samuelsson, Alex Edler, and Christian Ehrhoff to contribute when the Sedin’s cannot. Their defense must also allow their goalie to see the puck. Luongo is coming off one of his best season’s to date, and much of that can be attributed to the solid defense core.

Chicago

If the Blackhawks wants to continue their playoff dominance over Vancouver, they have their work cut out for them. The Canucks have three players with over 20 goals and two more on the cusp. However, with two thirds of Vancouver’s third line out of action, Chicago must take advantage there. They must also find a player to play the agitator role in front of Luongo which has vacated by Byfuglien. Look for someone like Bryan Bickell to be parked on the top of the crease.

Difference Makers

Vancouver

  • Maxim Lapierre
  • Dan Hamhuis
  • Mikael Samuelsson

Chicago

  • Marian Hossa
  • Dave Bolland
  • Tomas Kopecky

Series Predictions

Peter Chasapis: Vancouver in 6

Derek Purdy: Chicago in 6

Alex Terry: Vancouver in 5