#3 Vancouver Canucks
(49-28-5, 103 pts)
#2 Chicago Blackhawks
(52-22-8, 112 pts)
How They Got Here: The Canucks had a tricky battle with the Los Angeles Kings to deal with in the first round of the playoffs. They took Game 1 of the series in overtime, but followed that with back-to-back defeats. Facing a must-win situation, things really turned around offensively for the Canucks, who netted six goals in a 6-4 Game 4 victory. Vancouver never looked back and took the series in six games.
Player To Watch: RW Mikael Samuelsson was just all over the place in the Los Angeles series, scoring a series high seven goals to go with four assists. He was the +/- leader on the team with a +8 and took the most shots on the team with 28. We knew that Samuelsson had scoring abilities, but after totaling just 53 points in the regular season, seeing an 11 point explosion was a welcome addition for the Canucks.
Goalie Outlook: G Roberto Luongo wasn’t at his best in the first round of the postseason, allowing 2.92 goals per game and yielding once to backup G Andrew Raycroft. He’ll have to improve on a .893 save percent for the Canucks to take one more step towards the Stanley Cup.
Key To Victory: It’s hard to imagine that a team could possibly hasten its pace even more so than the Canucks did in the last few games against LA, but the faster that it gets, the better for them. Chicago’s young guns might be prone to making some young playoff mistakes in spite of the fact that it was in this position a year ago as well. However, expecting to score at least three goals per night will keep the mentality strong on the Canucks’ bench.
How They Got Here: For a short while, it really appeared as though the Blackhawks were going to struggle mightily with the Nashville Predators in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. There was really never a doubt from the point that they won Game 4 3-0 though, that they were going to ultimately win this series. Chicago just had too much offense for the Preds to contain, and that was the difference in a 4-2 series victory.
Player To Watch: We said that RW Patrick Kane was the man to watch coming into that Nashville series, and we’re standing by that in the second round. Kane netted four goals to lead Chicago in scoring. One of those goals came shorthanded, proving that he is capable of scoring whenever he is on the ice regardless of the situation.
Goalie Outlook: No one was totally sure what the Blackhawks were going to do in terms of their goaltending situation, but G Antti Niemi really took control, giving up just a 2.15 GAA and logging a 4-2 record in the six game series with the Predators. He’s clearly the man at this point unless something goes drastically wrong, in which case backup G Cristobal Huet will be called upon.
Key To Victory: Special teams are going to have to be key for the Hawks. They scored four power play goals and one shorthanded in the series against Nashville, and the special teams units are going to have to do a great job of keeping the Vancouver power play off balance while producing goals themselves.
The Final Word: This should be a tremendous series between two teams that love to fly up and down the ice. Home ice advantage will go to the Blackhawks, but Luongo can be the real difference maker. He’s more likely to take over a game regardless of the venue than Niemi is, and that’s why we’ll take the Canucks to win a very tight series.
Canucks in 6