Tale of the Tape - Round Two
The Canucks meet the Blackhawks in the Western Conference Semi-final of the 2010 playoffs.
|Team record: 49-28-5
Conf. seeding: 3rd
Season series: 2-2-0
Last meeting: 3-6 L (MAR.05.10)
|Team record: 52-22-8
Conf. seeding: 2nd
Season series: 2-2-0
Last meeting: 6-3 W (MAR.05.10)
As big an accomplishment as a first round series victory is, even Roberto Luongo would admit that exorcising all his playoff demons from 2009 would not truly begin until he was back in a position to lead his team to a Conference Final. Fittingly, he gets another chance to reach that goal facing the same team that ended the dream last season. Luongo did not exactly have a banner series against the Blackhawks in the 2009 playoffs giving up three-or-more goals in four of the six games and finishing with a .879 save percentage (21 goals allowed on 173 shots). If one needed proof that Luongo has been itching at a chance to atone for last season's disappointment, it was made clear on February 28 following the Olympic Gold medal game at GM Place when the Canucks' Captain told Blackhawks' star Patrick Kane: "See you in the playoffs."
The Montreal, QC native did not post sparkling numbers through the first round finishing with a modest 2.92 GAA and a .892 save percentage but he definitely saved his best for last stopping 54 of 58 shots in the final two games of the series against the Kings. Luongo had a 2-2-0 record with a 2.72 GAA and a .905 save percentage versus Chicago in the regular season but his last outing was one to forget. He was pulled after giving up five first period goals in a 6-3 loss on March 5 at the United Center - the only game of the season series where he gave up more than two goals.
While his counterpart on the Canucks seemed to answer his critics as the first round moved along, the same cannot be said for Antti Niemi. The 26-year-old netminder began the post-season on a strong note recording two shutouts in his first four starts but struggled in his last two games giving up seven goals on 49 shots. Despite his shaky finish to the opening round, the playoff rookie Niemi has the statistical advantage over the veteran Luongo posting a lower goals-against-average (2.15) and a better save percentage (.921) in the same number of games played in the first round.
The Vantaa, Finland native started three of the four games in the season series against the Canucks posting a 1-2-0 record with a 2.59 GAA and a .918 save percentage to go with one shutout. Niemi did not last long in his most recent appearance against the Canucks as he was given the hook after surrendering three goals on 12 shots in the first period of a 5-1 Blackhawks loss at GM Place back on January 23. He did not start in the final head-to-head meeting between the two clubs - a 6-3 win for the Blackhawks on March 5 at the United Center.
The Canucks went into last year's playoff series with the Blackhawks as an underdog in the offence category and found it difficult to keep up with the Blackhawks' offensive prowess in the latter part of the series. The two teams are much more evenly matched this year with Vancouver finishing 2nd in the NHL during the regular season (3.27 goals-per-game) followed closely by Chicago in 3rd place (3.20 goals-per-game).
However, the two teams have headed in opposite directions since the start of the playoffs. Both teams played six games in the first round and while the Canucks averaged a staggering 4.17 goals-per-game against the Kings, Chicago struggled in that department averaging just 2.83 goals-per-game versus the Predators.
While the top lines on the two respective teams will be the primary focus (Sedin-Sedin-Samuelsson vs Bickell-Toews-Kane), secondary scoring could prove to be the difference in this series. The offence the Blackhawks got on a regular basis during the regular season from their 3rd and 4th lines was less apparent in the first round. Chicago's bottom-six forwards combined for just three goals in Round One while the Canucks received six goals from their bottom-six forwards - all of them from either Steve Bernier (4) or Pavol Demitra (2).
Vancouver's second line of Raymond-Kesler-Burrows, however, was unable to generate much in the way of offence in Round One combining for just three goals (two of them being empty-netters). Chicago's second line of Kopecky-Sharp-Hossa had a much bigger impact for the 'Hawks against the Predators combining for six tallies.
There will be some shuffling of the 'Hawks lines ahead of the series opener as Dustin Byfuglien is expected to shift from playing defence back to playing forward. Byfuglien was very effective during last year's playoff series making life miserable for Roberto Luongo by engaging in some questionable crease-crashing tactics. He has spent the better part of the last month playing on the blue-line filling in for the injured Brian Campbell.
As far as offence from the blue-line, the Canucks have the statistical advantage after the first round. Vancouver's top-four blue-liners (Edler, Ehrhoff, Salo, Bieksa) all found the back of the net against the Kings whereas only two Chicago rearguards managed a goal in the first round (Keith, Hjalmarsson).
The Canucks out-scored the Blackhawks 11-10 during the regular season series. Alex Burrows, who had just one point (an empty net goal) in the first round, led all scorers in the regular season series against Chicago with five points (1-4-5).
It seemed somewhat odd during the regular season that the Blackhawks had so much negative attention focused on their netminders considering they finished with the sixth best goals-against-average as a team at 2.48 - six spots higher than the Canucks who finished 12th at 2.66.
The Blackhawks managed to keep that same level through the opening round giving up 15 goals in their six-game series against the Predators for a GAA of 2.50 thanks in large part to a pair of shutouts posted by Antti Niemi in the early going.
The Canucks gave up almost a half-a-goal per game more compared to the regular season in the first round with a 3.00 GAA (18 goals against in six games versus Los Angeles) but they were much better towards the end of the series than at the start. The Canucks gave up just four combined goals in the final two games of that first round opening series win. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, surrendered seven total goals in their final two games of Round One.
The Blackhawks were not world beaters with the man-advantage during the opening round finishing with four goals on 23 power play opportunities (17.4 percent success rate), but they may be licking their chops at a chance to face a Canucks penalty kill that surrendered 10 goals on 26 short-handed situations - a paltry 61.5 percent efficiency rate.
The good news for Vancouver is that their penalty kill got better as the first round went along. The Canucks closed out the opening round killing off their last eight straight short-handed scenarios and 11 of the last 12 overall. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, scored just one power play goal on their last 10 opportunities over the final two games of their series against the Predators.
The Canucks power play in the first round was very effective scoring in five of the six games and finishing with six goals on 24 opportunities overall in the series (25.0 percent success rate). They will be up against a Blackhawks' PK that gave up only one goal on 27 short-handed scenarios over six games (96.3 percent efficiency rate).
Vancouver's special teams barely edged Chicago's during the regular season series scoring twice on 13 opportunities overall (15.4 percent success rate). The Blackhawks scored just once on 16 power play chances (6.2 percent success rate).
The Canucks could get a significant upgrade to their penalty killing corps with the potential return of Ryan Johnson. Johnson missed the entire first round with a broken foot but began skating on his own in the days leading up to the start of Round Two. The Blackhawks were able to bolster their PP unit midway through Round One when offensively-gifted rearguard Brian Campbell returned to the lineup after missing over a month of action with broken collarbone. He has averaged 2:14 of ice-time on the power play since his return but has yet to record a point since his comeback.
The Vancouver Canucks (49-28-5) get a chance to exact a measure of revenge against the same Chicago Blackhawks (52-22-8) squad that ousted from the playoffs last season when the two teams clash for the second consecutive year in the post-season.
The Canucks went into last season's Western Conference Semi-Final series as the favoured team but were upended by underdog Blackhawks four games to two. The roles are reversed this season with Chicago, who captured the Central Division title with 112 points in the regular season, finishing nine points ahead in the standings compared to the Northwest Division Champions from Vancouver.
It's good that we have this do-over again. I mean, you watch the video after Game 6 last year and you see some pretty down guys in this locker room. We played the best through three games last year and then kind of fell apart. We remember that feeling and we're very motivated not to feel that way again - Ryan Kesler on getting a chance to face last year's playoff foes again this year.
However, it is hard to suggest either team has an advantage in this playoff series given the way their regular season series finished. Each team picked up two wins in the four-game season series, one at home and one on the road. The game results were also very similar with each team earning a one-goal victory in one contest and a blowout victory in the other.
This playoff series is the fourth time the Canucks and Blackhawks have met each other in the post-season.
Chicago's playoff series win over Vancouver last year gave them the all-time series victories lead at two to one. They had previously swept the Canucks in the 1995 Western Conference Semi-Final while Vancouver was victorious in the first ever playoff series meeting between the two teams taking the 1982 Campbell Conference Championship series by a four games to one count.
Chicago holds a 9-6 lead in all-time playoff meetings between the two teams and has out-scored Vancouver 48-43 all-time in playoff games.
THIS TIME IT'S PERSONAL
The Canucks and Blackhawks rivalry in itself is a heated one but there will be a few personal battles within the series that will be worth watching out for - none bigger than the one between Roberto Luongo and Patrick Kane.
Kane got the better of the Canucks' netminder during last year's playoff series scoring six goals in six games - three of them coming in Game 6 that eliminated Vancouver from the 2009 post-season. Luongo got his revenge on Kane during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games helping Canada knock off Kane's USA squad in the Gold medal game.
While the Luongo-Kane rivalry is based on mutual respect, the same can't be said of the rivalry between Ryan Kesler and Andrew Ladd which is rooted in hatred - mostly stemming from an incident during Game 6 last year that saw Ladd deliver a cheap head shot to Kesler when the Canuck forward did not have the puck. The two got a chance to air out some of those differences on January 23 when they engaged in a scrap - as Kesler said at the time: "At least he was man enough to hit me when I was looking this time" - but it's safe to say the bad blood between the two has yet to completely boil over.
And of course, there will be some friction between BC hockey fans and Canuck supporters versus the four most hated sons from the province (at least until this playoff series is over). The Blackhawks boast four BC-born players on their active roster: Troy Brouwer (Vancouver), Colin Fraser (Sicamous), Andrew Ladd (Maple Ridge), and Brent Seabrook (Richmond).
I'm sure they're going to be looking forward to getting back at us. You don't have to say much about it. There is a history. We don't like each other too much, I think everyone knows that. And these are the types of games that you live for and look forward to. - Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews on facing the Canucks.
The Canucks had three players make their NHL playoff debuts during the opening round (Tanner Glass, Michael Grabner and Matt Pettinger) while the Blackhawks likewise had three players appear in their first post-season game during the first round (Jordan Hendry, Bryan Bickell, and Antti Niemi).
It's interesting to note that the Blackhawks' playoff newcomers played more prominent roles compared to their counterparts on the Canucks (with the possible exception of Hendry who was a scratch in the final three games of the series against Nashville). Bickell plays on Chicago's top line with Toews and Kane while Niemi is their go-to guy in net. On the other hand, Glass and Grabner have been in-and-out of the Canucks' lineup playing primarily on the third and/or fourth lines while Pettinger has not played since Game 1.
The Blackhawks have two Stanley Cup winners on their roster in John Madden (2000 and 2003 with New Jersey) and Tomas Kopecky (2007 with Detroit). Both teams also have a player who is looking to make a third consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Final - Vancouver's Mikael Samuelsson (2008 and 2009 with Detroit) and his former teammate in Chicago's Marian Hossa (2008 with Pittsburgh; 2009 with Detroit).
All games in the second round series between the Canucks and the Blackhawks can be seen by Canadian viewers coast-to-coast on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada. Fans in the United States should check local listings, Canucks.com or NHL.com for updated TV schedules as the playoffs progress.
Game Notes on Canucks.com are written by Daniel Fung. Fung covered the Canucks for PA SportsTicker from 2007 to 2009 and also covered the Men's Ice Hockey tournament at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games for the Olympic News Service. Read his weekly Number Crunching blog on Fanzone
2009.10 Regular Season vs. Blackhawks
2009.10 Regular Season vs. Canucks
For the Canucks...
D Aaron Rome (undisclosed) and D Nolan Baumgartner (knee) were listed as day-to-day as of the conclusion of the first round. C Ryan Johnson (broken foot), D Willie Mitchell (concussion) and C Alex Bolduc (shoulder) are on the injured reserve list.
For the Blackhawks...
D Kim Johnsson (concussion) is out indefinitely.
3 – Stanley Cup Championships for the Blackhawks in franchise history (1934, 1938, and 1961). The Blackhawks have been to the Stanley Cup Final a total of 10 times.
15 – All-time games played between the Canucks and Blackhawks in the NHL playoffs. The Blackhawks hold the all-time lead winning nine of the 15 all-time playoff meetings between the two teams.
21 – Career playoff points for Patrick Kane (13-8-21) and Jonathan Toews (9-12-21), the Blackhawks franchise all-time active playoff points leaders entering this series.
35 – All-time playoff series the Canucks have been involved in. Vancouver has a 13-22 series record all-time.
95 – All-time playoff series the Blackhawks have been involved in. Chicago has a 44-51 series record all-time.
183 – All-time playoff games for the Canucks franchise entering this series. The Canucks have an all-time record of 81-102 in the post-season.
434 – All-time playoff games for the Blackhawks franchise entering this series. The Blackhawks have an all-time record of 201-228-5 in the post-season.
The Blackhawks are just the fourth team the Canucks have faced in consecutive years in the post-season in their franchise history.
The first team the Canucks ever met in back-to-back playoff years was their expansion cousins, the Buffalo Sabres, in 1980 and 1981. Both of those meetings were best-of-five series in the preliminary round and were won by the Sabres.
The most recent time the Canucks met an opponent in back-to-back playoff years was in 1992 and 1993 when they faced the Winnipeg Jets both times in the opening round. Vancouver was victorious in both those series.
The Calgary Flames are the only team the Canucks have faced in three consecutive years in the playoffs - that was from 1982 to 1984. The Canucks were victorious in the 1982 best-of-five Smythe Division Semi-Final series - a series win that propelled them to their first ever Stanley Cup Finals appearance - but subsequently lost in 1983 and 1984.