Last year’s Western Conference Finals teams will meet in the first round in the 2010-11 NHL playoffs, when the Vancouver Canucks take on the Chicago Blackhawks. The Canucks will be looking to avenge a 4-2 defeat in last postseason and are the Presidents’ Trophy winners as the team with the best record in the regular season. Chicago was the last team to clinch a playoff spot, needing a loss by the Dallas Stars on the final day to get into the postseason.
#8 Chicago Blackhawks
How They Got Here: Chicago’s postseason hopes were in doubt for much of the season and it looked like the Blackhawks would not get a chance to defend their Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks could’ve cemented a spot in the postseason with a point against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday afternoon but fell 4-3 to the hated Red Wings. With a win against the Minnesota Wild, Dallas would’ve been the No. 8 seed, but a 5-3 loss on Sunday night in the last regular season game of the season gave Chicago a shot to repeat.
Player to Watch: Last year’s Conn Smythe winner, Jonathan Toews, is one of the most exciting players in the NHL and will be the man for the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Toews led the Blackhawks in points this season and totaled 32 goals and 44 assists in the regular season. Toews made a name for himself last postseason, compiling seven goals and 22 assists in 22 games.
Goalie Outlook: Corey Crawford has done a serviceable job in replacing Antti Niemi in net for the Blackhawks. Crawford notched a 33-17-6 record and a 2.27 ERA with a .918 save percentage during the regular season in his first extended time in the pro ranks. With the talent that Chicago has on the frontline, Crawford doesn’t need to be special for the Blackhawks to win.
Key to Victory: Chicago will have a tough time getting past Vancouver, but needs to put the puck past net minder Roberto Luongo early and often to win this series. The Blackhawks had one of the top five offenses in the NHL this season and tallied 23 goals in six games against the Canucks last postseason, so they have the talent to get it done. If they hope to advance, the offense will need to come close to last year’s production.
#1 Vancouver Canucks
How They Got Here: The best team in hockey dominated the Western Conference all season and coasted to the No. 1 seed in the West with a combination of fantastic offense and spectacular defense. Vancouver was No. 1 in the NHL in goals per game (3.1), No. 1 in goals allowed per game (2.2), No. 1 on the power play (24.4%), and No. 3 on the penalty kill (85.6%). They look to be the favorites when odds to win the Stanley Cup are released.
Player to Watch: Can we combine the Sedin twins and make them both the subject of this section? LW Daniel Sedin will win the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer this year and will be one of the candidates for the Hart Trophy as well. Sedin was the only player in the NHL to record a 100 point season by tallying 41 goals and 63 assists. His plus/minus of +30 was also one of the best totals in the league and the 1-2 punch he creates with Henrik Sedin is the best in the league.
Goalie Outlook: If not for the fantastic season from Tim Thomas, Roberto Luongo would be the runaway favorite for the Vezina Trophy this season. Luongo put together the best season of his career in 2010-11, putting together a gaudy 38-15-7 record with a razor thin 2.11 GAA and an impressive .928 save percentage. Luongo will need to improve on the shaky performance he rendered last postseason though, going 6-6 with a 3.22 GAA and an .895 save percentage.
Key to Victory: For Vancouver, the key will be to just maintain the performance that made them the best in the regular season. No team could compete with the all-around numbers the Canucks put together in the regular season and as long as they keep up their play, they will advance.
2010-11 Regular Season Meetings
February 4th – Vancouver 4 – Chicago 3
December 3rd – Chicago 0 – Vancouver 3
November 20th – Vancouver 1 – Chicago 7
October 20th – Chicago 2 – Vancouver 1
Season Series Notes: Vancouver and Chicago split the season series two games apiece and the home team also went 2-2 in their four meetings. The teams haven’t played each other in over two months, but most of the notable players from their series last postseason are back.
The Final Word: Vancouver was the best team in the regular season and probably would’ve preferred to play Dallas over Chicago, but the Stars couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain. If the Canucks can transfer their regular season success to the postseason, they should be able to get by the Blackhawks.
Stanley Cup Free Picks: Vancouver in 5
Andrew Ryan has been in the sportswriting biz since the late-90s, and he has worked side by side with some of the best and brightest in sports gambling. Always searching for the best trends in sports, Andrew uses his brilliant math mind to his advantage to beat the books.