Throughout the year, there were a few things that were inevitable. Martin Brodeur was going to be a Vezina Trophy finalist again. We would have a “head-shot” debate every week. And the Blackhawks and Canucks just seemed like they were on a collision course to renew their rivalry in the playoffs. Thankfully, the stars aligned and we go the rematch.
We brought back Ryan Hackett (NHLHotStove and VFMS) and Richard Loat (Canucks Hockey Blog) to help give us a little insight into the impending battle and some clues to look for this series. Listen to all they have to say—they’re experts.
1. Last round was a hard fought 6-game series for each team. What are some things your team will need to improve upon if they want to advance to the Western Finals?
Ryan (Blackhawks): The Predators are a good team, but the Blackhawks made some errors which made things much more difficult than they should have been. Their puck-handling all around will have to be much better. Now, it may have had something to do with the ice in Nashville (I saw a lot of pucks hopping around there), but far too often passes ended up in players’ skates or jumping over sticks. I also noticed an abundance of passes made in front of their own net, which was the first thing my dad made sure I learned as a defenseman at the age of 5. I would also like to see a little more success with the man advantage. While 4 goals in 6 games (roughly 17.4% for round 1) isn’t really bad, I’d really like to see them punish the Canucks at least once per game to curtail some of the physical play they’ll likely throw at the Hawks.
Richard (Canucks): I think the Canucks managed to do most things well, their only short coming was the penalty kill. We saw them turn things around in the last two games of the series and negate the Kings powerplay, hopefully they don’t falter like that again. As the series progressed the Canucks big players came to play so it looks like everyone is rounding into form when we need them to. Instead of having one thing to improve on, I think the big thing is Alex Burrows needs to start finding the score sheet. He was the Canucks leading scorer in the regular season and his only point of the series was the series’ last goal, an empty netter. He’s not with the Sedins anymore, but he’s proven throughout the year that he can get points and still produce (albeit at a lesser rate) while on other lines.
2. Last year these two teams battled out a nasty 6 game series—something that also carried over to their four regular season contests. If the rough stuff carries over to this series, who do you think it favors?
Ryan (Blackhawks): I think it will favor the Blackhawks. They have shown this season that when teams try and slow them down with overly physical play and cheap shots they stick to their style of play and make their opponents look foolish. If the Hawks can maintain their composure and not get sucked in to taking dumb retaliatory penalties they can spend a significant amount of time on the power play which will undoubtedly benefit them. The key is discipline, and the Hawks have grown up a lot this year.
Richard (Canucks): There are a lot of story lines that are going to carry over: Luongo vs Kane, Bieksa vs Eager, Rypien vs Byfuglien, Kesler vs Ladd, the list goes on.. The series on paper seems really close. There’s a reason both these teams finished where they did in the standings. These two teams don’t like each other, and I think you can be sure it’s going to carry over, it will be a war. Who does it favour? It’s going to be a physical matchup, the team that can keep their emotions in check will win this battle and unfortunately I think the Blackhawks have the edge.
3. Both of the starting goaltenders had some serious question marks surrounding them in the 1st round, and both performed well in their series victories. Luongo has more experience but Niemi has better numbers this season. Who has the goaltending advantage?
Ryan (Blackhawks): This is one of those “If you had asked me this 8 months ago…” questions that is surprisingly difficult at the moment. Roberto Luongo can be one of the league’s best goaltenders and can definitely steal games for his team, but if Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Kane can secure residence inside his crease and his head, respectively, he has shown that he can fold like a cheap card table. Niemi has played very strong so far, even notching 2 shutouts against Nashville. More importantly, he didn’t self-destruct after whiffing on a dump-in late in his first NHL playoff game, allowing Nashville to tie and eventually win the game, something which would have destroyed many others. I think his short memory for mistakes and quick reflexes, combined with Luongo’s volatile emotional nature (and propensity for losing his lumber) makes this a push. Which gives the Blackhawks the advantage.
Richard (Canucks): I honestly feel the Canucks and the only reason I say that is based on goaltending. The Canucks have proven they are a much faster team this year, they’ve proven they’ve got that killer instinct when they need it, they’ve improved offensively between last year and this year, and Luongo’s not the same goalie he was almost exactly a year ago. The Blackhawks goaltending while superb has been questionable for the most part this season
4. At this point, you should know both teams pretty well. Which player strikes fear into your heart? For that matter, who do you expect to be the “X-factor”?
Ryan (Blackhawks): The easy answer here is Mikael Samuelsson. That’s why it’s the right one. He was a man possessed tallying 7 goals in the first 5 games, and added a couple helpers in the series finale. He has never been kind to the Hawks going back to his days in Detroit, and could be the one to take advantage of heightened emphasis on the Sedins’ line. The “X” factor will be Alexander Burrows. He has had little impact on the scoresheet so far, but if he is effective defensively in shutting down some of the Hawks’ top guns, his point total could be irrelevant.
Richard (Canucks): Kane is going to be the X-Factor. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. He had that huge goal to tie the Blackhawks game 5 against Nashville before they inevitably won it in OT. If he can get in Luongo’s head his effect on the score sheet is going to be as big as his effect on the Canucks mindset.
The Canucks X-Factor is likely going to be Burrows. Samuelsson’s experience has come through and that’s why he leads all playoff scorers with goals. The Sedins have come to play, and Bernier and Demitra have been surprise playoff performers in the first round. If the offense can keep rolling and Burrows adds his flare to the mix the Canucks will be hard to beat.
5. Do you think there will be more or less limo rentals when the series shifts to Vancouver?
Ryan (Blackhawks): Ahhh, well, we kind of knew there was really no way to avoid rehashing this, didn’t we. But if the men of Vancouver could satisfy their ladies, they wouldn’t need the Blackhawks players to do it for them.
Richard (Canucks): What’s the over under? I’m taking under. If O’Brien lips off at Rick Bowness one more time and finds himself back in the dog house you can be sure that limo rentals go up. Unfortunately, Kane’s known to like to pinch the pennies so if he gives O’Brien a call and they decide to share, the limo industry is going to be hurting come the second round.
6. Your best “Kyle Wellwood is so fat…” joke. Go!
Ryan (Blackhawks): Kyle Wellwood is so fat… the Canucks put the Sedins into protective custody immediately after Darren Pang called them “Twinkies”.
Richard (Canucks): I believe it was Down Goes Brown who first came up with this one, but it’s been my favourite since the Kyle Wellwood is so fat phenomenon rivaled Chuck Norris status: Kyle Wellwood Is So Fat that when he’s eating, Kanye West refuses to interrupt him.
7. Fearless Prediction: This is straight forward– who wins the series, how many games, and why?
Ryan (Blackhawks): This is one series where going 7 games I think favors the Blackhawks. They bring it back home to win it and shorten the lives of the entire fan base in the process.
Richard (Canucks): Canucks in 6. The games will be closer than the final 4-2 series score may indicate. Canucks Split in Chicago, win two at home, lose in Chicago, finish up the series at home. Luongo will steal this series, Burrows and Samuelsson will be potent, and I predict Bieksa will have a huge series. Patrick Kane chokes.
For more bloggers previewing the 2nd Round Series, check out the collaborations for each series!