These teams have an extensive recent history together, with the Blackhawks defeating the Canucks the last two years running. Both time Vancouver was bested by Chicago in the semifinals. The Canucks are the darling of the West Coast, winning the President’s Trophy for best regular season team. They boast the top scorer in the league and Hart trophy candidate, Daniel Sedin, who posted a career best 104 points (41 goals, 63 assists) and was the lone bright spot for my fantasy team. He is flanked by his twin brother, Henrik, who had mine blowing 75 assists on the season. Look for the top line of the those two and whoever else can hang to dominate most of the score sheet. Let’s not forget the
All-Star superstar goalie, Roberto Luongo, winner of 38 games. He set a new personal record for goals-against, with a 2.11 average, and had one of his best save percentages, .928, since his pre-lockout days in Florida. The defense is not to shabby as well, lead by Christian Erhoff, who is quietly having a career year. The Canucks were a lot of pundits pick to win the Cup at the beginning of the season, and they enter the playoffs hot, with a 15-4 record in the last two months. And whenever you have these guys supporting your team and taunting opponents near the penalty box, things are going to go your way.
Chicago, meanwhile was on the verge of becoming the first team since the ’02/’03 Hurricanes to miss the playoffs after appearing in the Stanley Cup Final. They enter the second season 5-5 in their last 10, and even lost when they had a chance to clinch on Sunday vs. the Red Wings. Thanks to a little help from the Minnesota Wild, they will get a chance to rightfully defend their championship. Lead by team captain Jonathan Toews (32 goals, 44 assists) and controversial American stud Patrick Kane (27g, 46a), everyone knows that the Blackhawks can be a high scoring team. A defense anchored by Olympic Gold Medal winners and shift partners Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith proves that they will be physical and tough in their own end. Perhaps the only flaw that can be seen on this team is rookie netminder Corey Crawford, who performed admirably in his first season as a starter (33 wins, 4 shutouts). Of course, that could have been said about last years goalie Antti Niemi, and look where he got them.
Players to watch after the jump.
Vancouver – Either of the Sedins would be an easy pick, so let’s go with the guy who has to continue to play up to his potential if he wants this team to get past their playoff nemesis: Ryan Kesler. Tied for the team lead in goals (41) with Daniel Sedin, Kesler is fast becoming one of the top American born players in the league. If he wasn’t stuck in Western Canada, he’d probably be the most famous behind Kane. He is currently scoring at a strong pace, with 5 goals in his last 5 games. No team wins the Stanley Cup with one center, so Kesler is going to have to prove that he can be counted on to provide secondary scoring for the Canucks. We know what Luongo is capable of, as he the winner of last years Gold Medal. The Sedins have proven they can play with the best. The time for Ryan Kesler to step up is now.
If you don't pass me the puck next time you'll get no dinner before bed.
Chicago – The easy pick here would be Corey Crawford. Dude is a rookie net minder entering the war trench that is the NHL Playoffs. But so was Michael Leighton, and Antti Niemi. So for now, the goaltender on this team isn’t the one I’m worried about. Just like the Canucks, we all know that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp are going to be scoring machines. For me, the road to the Stanley Cup can’t be traveled by a one line team, so again we go to secondary scoring: Marian Hossa. Once upon a time Hossa was considered the unluckiest man in sports. He went to the Finals with the Penguins in ’08, only to lose to the Red Wings. The following year he signed with Detroit, only to lose in the finals to the Penguins. He broke that curse last year with the Blackhawks, and is looking too keep his luck running this year. While he didn’t put up his best numbers this year, he did improve from last years stats, jumping from 51 points to 57. If the Blackhawks are to continue to defend their title, they are going to need Hossa to be the catalyst that gets this offense rolling.
Or it's this all over again
The fact is that only one team has won the Cup while also winning the President’s Trophy since the ’01/’02 Red Wings, which was coincedently also the Red Wings, in ’08. But I just can’t put my faith into a rookie goaltender. You can say what you want about last year, with two rookies meeting the in the Final. I consider that an anomaly, and unless this kid is the next Roy, I wouldn’t expect much from him this post-season. Meanwhile the Canucks, who have had the top spot locked up since mid-March, have been playing playoff hockey since the puck dropped in October. They have been waiting for a season like this in Vancouver for years. Plus when your fanbase takes a creation from “It’s Always Sunny” and makes it their own, that’s something special. So my predictions is that the Vancouver Canucks will win in 5 games. (Yes, the jinx is on.)