These two clubs tangled in last year’s postseason, and had themselves quite the battle. The Canucks had home ice advantage in that series, but it didn’t matter, as Roberto Luongo had probably the worst period of his career in the 3rd during Game 6, as Chicago netted 4 goals in the final 20 minutes to move on. The series was notably physical throughout, with 7 misconducts handed out by the officials. That animosity carried over to the regular season meetings this year, and this series should have all the elements of a great playoff matchup, with talented scorers, solid goaltending and great physical play from both teams.
Offense: The Blackhawks had one of the best regular season offenses this year, due a to a full team attack with 6 20-goal scorers and 7 players with 40 or more points. They’ll be facing a Vancouver team that gets its offensive leadership from the NHL’s leading point scorer and his twin brother. Henrik Sedin continued what has been a career year for him in the Canucks’ first round matchup with the Kings, pitching in a goal and 8 points. Danny was on fire against the Kings, netting 4 goals, all of them at even strength. The big story for Vancouver up front has been the play of Mikael Samuelsson, who was paired with the Sedins early in the series and thrived, leading the team with 11 points in 6 games. Jonathan Toews came on strong at the end of the Hawks series with Nashville, finishing with 8 points, while Pat Kane has been both effective and timely with 4 goals and 7 points. Both teams have great weapons up front, what may decide this one will be the effectiveness of their grind lines.
Defense: If there’s a weakness on the Canucks that can be exploited, it’s on their blueline. Andrew Alberts ran into penalty trouble in a couple of games against Los Angeles, and the absence of Willie Mitchell continues to have a negative effect on this group’s effectiveness. Christian Ehrhoff is having a solid postseason, and Alex Edler leads the team’s defensemen with a +7 rating. Still, the Hawks have a serious advantage in talent on the backend, starting with their two Canadian Olympians, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. The top pairing can skate with just about any team’s top line and not only contain them defensively but produce offense of their own. The return of Brian Campbell has been a big lift, as he gives Chicago a great weapon on the powerplay and a veteran puck mover in their own end.
Goaltending: Antti Niemi was hot and cold, it seemed, against Nashville, letting in a couple cheesy goals at different points, but also recording his first two career playoff shutouts. He’ll have to be much more consistent in this series. Roberto Luongo just got better and better as the series with LA went on, and made some absolutely ridiculous saves near the end of the series. He’ll be looking for revenge after his meltdown in Game 6 of this series last year, and if he plays at the top of his game every night, he could steal this series all on his own.
Special Teams: Neither team had great success on the powerplay in their first series, but the Canucks struggled mightily on the PK, giving up 10 powerplay goals to the Kings on 26 opportunities. Chicago allowed just 2 powerplay goals against Nashville, and the Canucks better fix their PK or they could be in serious trouble, especially in a series that will most likely take on a very physical tone right from the get-go.
This series could easily go either way. Both teams have game changers on the roster, and the stars have been performing up to expectations so far. The play of Niemi will likely be a huge difference maker, while Luongo will certainly be hoping things go better than they did last year in Chicago. I’m gonna go with Chicago, in a virtual coin flip.
My pick: Chicago in 7, at least 2 overtime games