Tale of the Tape round one: Canucks vs. Blackhawks
How do the Canucks and Blackhawks measure up?
|Team record: 54-19-9
Conf. seeding: 1st
Season series: 2-1-1
Last meeting: 4-3 W (FEB.04.11)
|Team record: 44-29-9
Conf. seeding: 8th
Season series: 2-2-0
Last meeting: 3-4 L (FEB.04.11)
Roberto Luongo may be playing the best hockey of his career right now but even he knows that the ultimate measure of success for his season will hinge on his ability to take his team deep into the playoffs - something he has yet to do in his career. The good news for Luongo and Canucks fans is that the 32-year-old certainly seems poised for a strong playoff run after turning in his best ever regular season. His 38 wins are tied for the league-lead with Montreal's Carey Price, he had the the second best goals-against-average in the league at 2.11 (best of his career) while his .928 save percentage is his highest in five seasons with Vancouver. Roberto's biggest hurdle might be the mental challenge posed by the Blackhawks as Chicago has proven to be his personal Kryptonite in each of the past two playoff series. In 12 career playoff games against the Blackhawks, Luongo has surrendered 42 goals on 376 shots for a .888 save percentage.
With the exception of being yanked in a 7-1 loss to the Blackhawks at Rogers Arena on November 20, Luongo managed to demonstrate that the Blackhawks aren't in his head at least during the regular season as he finished with a 2-1-1 record with a 2.18 GAA, a .938 save percentage and one shutout versus Chicago. Luongo has a record of 17-17 all-time in post-season play with a 2.46 GAA and a .919 save percentage to go with one shutout.
For the second straight post-season, the Blackhawks will be relying on a rookie netminder to lead them to the promise land. It worked out to perfection last season when a relative unknown named Antti Niemi led the Hawks to their first Stanley Cup championship in 49 years and the Hawks hope history will repeat itself this season with 26-year-old Corey Crawford leading the way. Crawford, whose NHL resume prior to this season consisted of just eight regular season appearances and a 16-minute playoff cameo two years ago, has certainly proved he belongs at the NHL level by virtue of the campaign he put together. His goals-against-average (2.30) is among the top-10 in the league while he is just one of two netminders this season to record over 30 victories in less than 60 games played in (the other is Boston's Tim Thomas). Playoffs, however, will be a whole new experience and an unfamiliar one for Crawford. Since turning pro in 2005.06, Crawford's longest post-season run is 12 games with the AHL's Rockford Icehogs in 2007.08.
The Montreal-native will also have to face an unfamiliar opponent in the Canucks- a team he has gone up against just once in his career. That meeting took place earlier this season on November 20 as he stopped 27 of 28 shots to lead his team to a 7-1 victory at Rogers Arena. Mikael Samuelsson was the lone Canuck to put a puck past Crawford on that night.
The Canucks finished the season as the highest scoring team in the NHL with 258 goals but the Blackhawks weren't far behind finishing with the fourth-best offence in the league and just six goals behind Vancouver.
It's hard to argue against the fact the Canucks probably have the best line out of both teams heading into the series as their number one unit features two of the top five point scorers in the league in Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Then again, you could have made a similar point last year heading into the series between the Canucks and Hawks as well. Vancouver fans will remember the duo of Toews and Kane completely dominating the series combining for seven goals and 20 points while the Sedins, though combining for a respectable 10 points, were a clear second best.
Chicago will likely split Toews and Kane at least to start the series with their captain anchoring the first line with Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp while Kane will skate on a second unit with Michael Frolik and Ben Smith (who is currently in the lineup as an injury replacement for Troy Brouwer).
The Canucks also hope that their third line can make an impact this series as well after watching Chicago's bottom-six forwards be a difference-maker last year. Vancouver's projected third-line - Raymond, Hansen and Torres - certainly have the ability to generate offence as they had a combined 38 goals in the regular season. That trio, however, won't be together until at least Game Three when Torres returns from a suspension. In the meantime, it appears Vancouver's third line to begin the series will consist of the aforementioned Raymond and Hansen being centered by top prospect Cody Hodgson.
The Blackhawks are also missing a key third liner in Dave Bolland, who has been out since March 9 with a concussion. Bolland, who terrorized the Canucks with five points in last year's series but gained more notoriety for getting under the skin of Daniel Sedin, could return sometime this series.
One area the Canucks should have an advantage - at least as far as regular season statistics suggest - would be offence from the back end. Vancouver blue-liners have combined for 42 goals this season while Chicago defencemen have combined for just 31 tallies.
Chicago outscored Vancouver 11-9 (shootout totals excluded) in the regular season series but seven of their goals came in one outing.
The Canucks finished as the top defensive team in the NHL allowing a league-low 180 goals - 40 fewer than the Blackhawks who finished 12th in the league.
What was most impressive about Vancouver's accomplishment was that they did it despite being decimated by injuries to their blue-line during the regular season. Their projected top-six defencemen (Ehrhoff, Edler, Bieksa, Hamhuis, Salo, and Ballard) missed a combined 140 games this season due to injury and those totals don't include the games sat out by either Andrew Alberts or Aaron Rome due to injury. Chicago's blue-line has been relatively healthy all season long with only Brian Campbell and Jordan Hendry (out for season) having missed significant amounts of time.
Vancouver will likely utilize the pairing of Bieksa-Hamhuis as their top shutdown duo to go up against the Hawks' number one line of Toews, Hossa and Sharp while the Sedins and Burrows can expect a steady dose of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Vancouver's depth on defence will allow them to distribute ice-time fairly evenly, although the Salo-Ballard combination will probably see the least time among the three pairings. On the Blackhawks side, you'd be hard-pressed to find portions of the game where Keith or Seabrook aren't on the ice. Keith is averaging over 26 minutes per game this season while Seabrook is not far behind average over 24 minutes per game.
Both teams were very strong defensively to close out the regular season. The Canucks gave up three-or-fewer goals in 12 of their final 13 outings while the Hawks had a streak of 10 straight games allowing three-or-fewer goals snapped in their regular season finale loss to the Red Wings.
Both the Canucks and Blackhawks had power play units that were among the best in the league. Vancouver's power play finished as the statistical best in the league clicking at 24.3 percent (72 goals on 296 opportunities) while Chicago's finished fourth best at 23.1 percent (64 on 277 opportunities).
Vancouver's number one unit features their top three forwards in the Sedins and Ryan Kesler with Mikael Samuelsson and Christian Ehrhoff manning the points. It usually means the forward crew for the second unit is more ragtag although having both Edler and Salo as point options on that unit certainly makes it a legitimate threat.
Chicago does something similar loading their top power play unit with Toews, Hossa, and Kane up front with Seabrook and Sharp at the points. Keith and Campbell are typically fixtures on the second unit. They've also been known at times to use the likes of Brouwer or Bolland to provide a net presence.
Special teams should be clearly in Vancouver's favor, however, as they boast one of the top PK units in the league (85.6 percent kill rate) while Chicago's is among the worst (79.2 percent kill rate). The Canucks clearly dominated the special teams battle in the regular season series scoring five power play goals on 16 opportunities (31.3 percent efficiency) while only allowing just one Blackhawk power play goal on 20 shorthanded situations (95 percent kill rate).
The 2011 Presidents' Trophy winner Vancouver Canucks (54-19-9) will battle the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks (44-29-9) in the post-season for the third consecutive year and the Canucks are hoping that third time's a charm after being knocked out by the Blackhawks in each of the past two playoffs.
Unlike the past two times these teams met in the playoffs, Vancouver will come into the series as an overwhelming favorite after finishing with 10 more victories and 20 more points in the standings than Chicago in the regular season. Last season, the Canucks finished nine points back of the Blackhawks during the regular season while in 2008.09, despite the Canucks being seeded higher that year, they ended their regular season with four points less than Chicago.
If we're going to win it I think we'd prefer to go through the best and that being said, Chicago are the defending champs. Until someone wins it this year, they are the champs. So what better way to start than with the champs - Kevin Bieksa on going up against the best team from last season.
The two teams split the regular season series winning two games apiece - one at home and one on the road. The Blackhawks began the regular season series with a 2-1 shootout win on October 20 at the United Center and then pounded the Canucks 7-1 at Rogers Arena on November 20. The Canucks responded by winning the last two head-to-head meetings - 3-0 on December 3 in the Windy City and 4-3 on February 4 in Vancouver.
This series will mark the fifth time that the Canucks and Blackhawks have met each other in the post-season but just the first time that they will do in so in the opening round.
Their last three playoff series match-ups were Conference Semifinal encounters (1995, 2009, 2010) while the first ever post-season meeting between the teams - the series where Towel Power was officially born - was a Conference Final affair. Chicago has been victorious in three of the four series meetings between the teams, winning 13 of the 21 all-time games played and out-scoring Vancouver 70-61 all-time in the playoffs.
Both teams will also be putting first round series win streaks on the line. The Canucks have won the last three first round playoff series they've been involved in dating back to 2007 while the Blackhawks have won their last two first round series in a row.
HOME SWEET HOME?
No team in the NHL had more wins on home ice than the Canucks during the regular season and securing the best record in the league was supposed to allow them to take full advantage of playing at Rogers Arena in the playoffs. But if there is one team that won't be intimidated playing at Rogers Arena it's the Blackhawks - particularly when it comes to playoff games.
In their last two playoff series meetings, the Blackhawks have won five of the six games played at Rogers Arena - including scoring a 5-1 win to eliminate the Canucks in Game Six last year - and have out-scored Vancouver 30-17 in those six contests.
Vancouver's all-time playoff record on home ice is 42-53 which includes an all-time record of 13-24 at Rogers Arena. The Canucks finished last year's playoffs with a 2-4 record on home ice.
They've got all the makings of a team that can go all the way but we're confident against them. We match up well against them and if we all do our jobs properly, there's no reason why we couldn't come out on top - Blackhawks D-man Brent Seabrook on the Canucks.
Vancouver has 15 returning players from the team that was eliminated by the Blackhawks last season but are clearly a more experienced bunch after adding several players in the summer and throughout the year with playoff backgrounds including Dan Hamhuis (28 games), Chris Higgins (22 games), Maxim Lapierre (35 games), and Raffi Torres (30 games). The Canucks have several players who could make their playoff debuts in this series including Keith Ballard, Jeff Tambellini, Victor Oreskovich, Cody Hodgson, and backup netminder Cory Schneider.
Chicago has 13 returning players from their 2010 championship team but also seven potential players - Jake Dowell, Michael Frolik, John Scott, Viktor Stalberg, Nick Leddy, Ben Smith and Marcus Kruger - who could make their respective playoff debuts in this series. Meanwhile, number one netminder Corey Crawford's NHL playoff experience is limited to a 16-minute cameo during the 2008.09 playoffs. Backup goaltender Marty Turco has 47 games of NHL post-season experience but will likely not see any action unless Crawford falters.
All games in the first round series between the Canucks and the Blackhawks can be seen by Canadian viewers coast-to-coast on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada. For viewers in the United States, Games 1-5 can be seen on VERSUS. Check local listings, Canucks.com or NHL.com for updated TV schedules as the playoffs progress. Listen to every Vancouver Canucks playoff game live on the TEAM 1040 Sports Radio or online at teamradio.ca.
Game Notes on Canucks.com are written by Daniel Fung. He is a regular contributor to Canucks.com and his writing has appeared in Canucks Magazine, BC Lions Magazine and TourismVancouver.com. Follow him on Twitter @daniel_fung or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2010.11 Regular Season vs. Blackhawks
2010.11 Regular Season vs. Canucks
For the Canucks...
F Raffi Torres will miss Game One and Game Two due to NHL suspension. D Andrew Alberts (broken wrist) could return to the lineup in this series. F Manny Malhotra (left eye surgery) is out for the season.
For the Blackhawks...
F Dave Bolland (concussion) and F Troy Brouwer (right shoulder) are both possibilities to return to the lineup sometime in the series. D Jordan Hendry (left knee surgery) is out for the season.
2 – Stanley Cup Final appearances for the Canucks in franchise history (1982 and 1994).
4 – Stanley Cup championships for the Blackhawks in franchise history (1934, 1938, 1961 and 2010). The Blackhawks have been to the Stanley Cup Final a total of 11 times.
5th – Playoff series meeting between the Canucks and Blackhawks. The Flames are the only team the Canucks have faced in more playoff series all-time than Chicago (six times).
6 – Points for Henrik Sedin (2-4-6) against the Blackhawks during last year's playoffs, leading all Canucks in the series.
7 – Wins during the 2010.11 regular season for the Canucks when appearing on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada (7-3-4). All of Vancouver's playoff games can be seen on HNIC.
12 – Points for Jonathan Toews (4-8-12) against the Canucks during last year's playoffs, leading all players in the series.
37th – All-time playoff series the Canucks have been involved in. Vancouver has a 13-23 all-time record in playoff series.
42 – Career playoff points for Patrick Kane (19-23-42) and Jonathan Toews (14-28-42) each entering this series, tied for the lead among all active Blackhawks players in franchise history.
44 – Career playoff points for Henrik Sedin (17-27-44) entering this season, the most among active Canucks.
99th – All-time playoff series the Blackhawks have been involved in. Chicago has a 47-51 all-time record in playoff series.
This series against the Blackhawks will mark just the second time in Canucks team history that they have met the same team in three consecutive playoff years.
The only other team the Canucks have met in three straight post-seasons was the Calgary Flames when the two Canadian rivals tangled in three consecutive Smythe Division Semi-Finals from 1982 to 1984.
Vancouver swept Calgary 3-0 in their 1982 series meeting - the first ever playoff series meeting between the Canucks and Flames. That series win would propel the Canucks all the way to the Stanley Cup Final as Vancouver would go on to knock off the Kings and the Blackhawks before falling to the Islanders in the Final.
The Flames would end up getting revenge, however, in both 1983 and 1984 as they won both of those series by a 3-1 count, respectively.