The Vancouver Canucks (26-15-7; 3rd place Western Conference) will battle a familiar post-season rival in the opening round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs when they face the San Jose Sharks (25-16-7; 6th place Western Conference) in a best-of-seven Western Conference Quarterfinal series.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
- The Canucks and Sharks are set to meet in the Stanley Cup playoffs for just the second time in the teams' respective histories. Their first meeting came in the 2011 Western Conference Final – a series the Canucks won four games to one.
- While the core players on both the Canucks and Sharks remain largely intact from their respective 2011 teams, both teams are missing a few key names that they had two years ago. Gone from Vancouver are the likes of D Christian Ehrhoff, D Sami Salo, F Tanner Glass and F Raffi Torres, the latter who is now a member of the Sharks. Gone from San Jose are the likes of F Devin Setoguchi, F Dany Heatley, F Ryan Clowe, F Kyle Wellwood and D Douglas Murray.
- This is the eighth straight time the Canucks have qualified for the playoffs where they've had home-ice advantage in the first round. Vancouver hasn't started the first round on the road since 2002. Home-ice advantage has, for the most part, proven to be beneficial for the Canucks as they've made it out of the first round in five of their last eight trips to the playoffs.
- San Jose has only made it out of the first round in five out of nine times where they did not have home-ice advantage in the first round. However, they haven't managed that feat since 2007 when, as the fifth seed, they knocked off the fourth-seeded Nashville Predators.
- This series features two teams that were both knocked out in the opening round of last year's playoffs. The Canucks, who were the top seed in the Western Conference, were upset 4-1 by the eighth-seeded and eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. The Sharks, who qualified as the seventh seed, were upended 4-1 by the second-seeded St. Louis Blues.
- Despite finishing as the sixth seed in the Western Conference this season, the Sharks had the third-fewest regulation/overtime wins out of all teams in the Western Conference with just 17.
- For the Canucks, this is the 26th time overall in franchise history that they have qualified for the playoffs and the fifth year in a row they've made the post-season.
- For the Sharks, this is the 16th time overall in franchise history that they have qualified for the playoffs and the eighth season in a row they've made the post-season.
- As far as grizzled playoff veterans go, Sharks F Scott Gomez leads all players on both teams in all-time playoff games played (140) and all-time playoff points (99). Gomez was a part of two Stanley Cup-winning teams in New Jersey in 2000 and 2003.
- Canucks F Henrik Sedin leads all Vancouver players in playoff experience with 95 games played as well as playoff points with 71.
FOLLOW THE SERIES
All games in this series can be seen on TSN as well as heard on The Team 1040 Sports Radio and online at teamradio.ca. Fans in the United States can find the select games on the NBC Sports Network or CNBC. Check the Canucks.com homepage for game times.
Those away from a TV or radio can follow @CanucksGame on Twitter for live in-game play-by-play.
KEYS TO THE SERIES
CANUCKS SCOUTING REPORT
OFFENCE: The Canucks finished as the 19th ranked team offensively in the league averaging 2.45 goals per game, just marginally ahead of the Sharks at 2.42 goals-per-game. Although Vancouver was out-scored 9-5 in the season series by San Jose, the wildcards in this series will be Ryan Kesler and Derek Roy. Neither of those two appeared in any of the three games during the season series but will clearly be a major part of Vancouver's attack as they are expected to form the second line alongside Chris Higgins.
The Canucks will need to see more out of the Sedin twins in this playoff series than they did during the regular season series. Daniel and Henrik combined for just one goal and two points in three head-to-head meetings against the Sharks this year. Back in their 2011 Western Conference Final series versus San Jose, the twins combined for an astounding 18 points (3-15-18) in just five games – 12 (1-11-12) of those points coming off the stick of team captain Henrik.
DEFENCE: Among all Western Conference playoff teams, only Minnesota gave up more goals than the 115 allowed by Vancouver this season. Clearly, the Canucks aren't the same defensive stalwarts they were compared to the last two seasons when they entered into the playoffs as one of the league's best teams in terms of fewest goals surrendered.
That being said, this defensive group – which underwent several significant off-season changes – has had the opportunity to fine tune their game over the course of the shortened season and, if you throw out their regular season finale, has been playing some of their best hockey of late. Their biggest concern on the back end right now is their third pairing especially with Christopher Tanev still on the shelf. Vancouver's top-four will, no doubt, carry the load as far as ice-time goes but they'll still need some solid minutes from the likes of Ballard, Alberts, Corrado and/or Barker without having to worry about them each time they're out on the ice.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Special teams are another area the Canucks enter these playoffs with significantly less fanfare compared to years past but, even though the numbers aren't pretty overall, they seem to be trending in the right direction lately. Their power play, which ranked 22nd overall in the league operating at 15.8 percent, scored in nine of the last 12 games going 10-for-40 during that stretch. The penalty kill, which finished a respectable eighth overall at an 84 percent success rate, enjoyed a stretch where they only allowed one goal in 10 games from April 4 to 22 before giving up power play goals in back-to-back non-meaningful games to close out the season.
Special teams performance, or lack thereof, was a big reason Vancouver went winless in the regular season series against San Jose. The Canucks were 0-for-12 on the power play (they didn't draw a power play chance in the final head-to-head meeting) while they gave up three power play goals on 14 times shorthanded. Those numbers need to turn around if the Canucks are to emerge victorious in this series.
SHARKS SCOUTING REPORT
OFFENCE: The Sharks didn't exactly have a banner year at the offensive end of the ice as their 116 total goals scored were the fewest among Western Conference playoff-bound teams. That being said, the Sharks still have some big-name star forwards that can hurt you on the scoresheet including their big-four in Thornton, Marleau, Couture and Pavelski. Knowing the Canucks will be keyed into containing those guys, the Sharks will need secondary such as Martin Havlat, Scott Gomez and the recently-acquired Raffi Torres to chip here and there. Defenseman-turned-forward Brent Burns is also among the list of those who will need to make an impact.
The lack of secondary scoring was a big factor in the Sharks' downfall against the Canucks in the playoffs a couple of seasons ago. Besides Marleau and Thornton, who had seven and six points respectively against Vancouver in that playoff series that lasted five games, no other Sharks forward had more than three points.
DEFENCE: San Jose's offence might not be as potent compared to other teams around the league but their defence has been among the stingiest. The Sharks allowed the sixth fewest goals in the league giving up just 112 (third fewest among Western Conference playoff teams behind Chicago and Detroit).
The Sharks lost one of their top shut down forwards on trade deadline day when they dealt away Michal Handzus as well as one of their top stay-at-home defensemen in Douglas Murray but they filled those holes with the additions of Raffi Torres and Scott Hannen. One area the Canucks might try and exploit is the Sharks' young, relatively playoff untested blue-liners including the likes of Braun, Irwin and Tennyson – the latter two who could be making their respective playoff debuts in this series.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Special teams were solid for the Sharks in the regular as both the power play and the penalty kill finished in the top-10 of the league. They were also dominant over the Canucks during their three-game regular season series.
San Jose's PK success this season is especially worth noting because it had been an area that struggled for them the last couple of seasons and ultimately proved to be their downfall in the playoffs. In their first round series against the Blues last year, they surrendered six power play goals on 18 times shorthanded and lost the series four games to one. In their Western Conference Final series against the Canucks two years ago, they gave up a whopping nine power play goals on 24 times shorthanded and similarly lost four games to one. Needless to say, if their PK can maintain the solid form they've demonstrated in the regular season in this series, the Sharks have a much better chance at coming out on top.
The 2013 season was supposed to mark the changing of the guard for the Canucks between the pipes but, at least at the start of this series, what's old may be new. With Cory Schneider nursing an undisclosed injury to close out the regular season, Roberto Luongo could be the starter when the series opens on Wednesday and possibly longer.
Luongo is certainly the most experienced netminder in terms of games played out of all goaltenders in this series. He comes into this post-season with 61 career playoff games and has led the Canucks past the opening round in four of five playoff runs. He struggled in his short playoff stint last season, however, allowing seven goals on 64 shots over two games before being replaced permanently in that series.
If, and when, Schneider gets back to full health, his first game in this series would be just his fourth career NHL playoff start and his ninth playoff appearance overall. Schneider had a baptism-by-fire during last season's playoffs when he was asked to take over from Luongo with the Canucks down 0-2 in their series against the Kings but played better than anyone could have asked for. Despite only managing to post a 1-2 record in his brief playoff run, Schneider allowed just four goals on 101 shots over the three games for a 1.31 GAA and a .960 save percentage.
For the Sharks – Antti Niemi
Barring some sort of catastrophic injury that forces him out of the series, the Sharks will be live and die by the goaltending of Antti Niemi. San Jose has every reason to be confident in their netminder heading into this series.
The 31-year-old Finn has put up Vezina Trophy-worthy numbers this season recording a league-leading 24 victories (tied with the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist and the Wild's Niklas Backstrom) to go with a 2.16 GAA, and a .924 save percentage to go with four shutouts. His numbers against the Canucks this season are also spectacular. He's a perfect 3-0 versus Vancouver with a 1.63 GAA and .943 save percentage.
As far as playoff seasoning goes, he also has an edge compared to the Canucks' netminders particularly if Vancouver runs with Cory Schneider in this series. As a starter, Niemi has been to two Conference Finals and won a Stanley Cup in 2010. In 45 career playoff appearances, Niemi has a 25-19 record with a 2.84 GAA and a .905 save percentage with two shutouts.
For the Canucks…
For the Sharks…
F Martin Havlat (undisclosed) and D Jason Demers (sprained left ankle) are questionable to start the series.
2nd – Time the Canucks and Sharks will meet in the playoffs.
5 – Sharks who could potentially make their respective NHL playoff debuts in this series: F Bracken Kearns, F Matt Pelech, D Matt Irwin, D Matt Tennyson and G Alex Stalock.
29th – All-time playoff series in Sharks franchise history. San Jose has 13 series wins and 15 series losses all-time.
42nd – All-time playoff series in Canucks franchise history. Vancouver has 16 series wins and 25 series losses all-time.
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