Despite suffering a game one defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings, the Vancouver Canucks begin the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs in hopes of winning the Cup after losing it in a seventh game to the Boston Bruins a year ago. The Canucks may not be a better team than they were a year ago, but they are a deeper, more experienced team this time around.
The President's Trophy winners as top team in the NHL for the second straight campaign, the Canucks seemed to be disliked by the rest of the NHL, and are not being given a fair shot at winning the Cup this postseason.
Although the tail end of the 2011-12 regular season didn't really show it, the Canucks have one of the most potent special teams systems in the league, a extremely important aspect of success in hockey's second season.
There are far too many people thinking the Canucks have lost a step and won't win the cup in 2012, but they should reconsider after an in-depth look at why Vancouver should win the Cup this year.
Whether you think the Vancouver Canucks lucked out into a second consecutive President's Trophy season as the top team in the NHL, you cannot deny the fact that they did just that. The facts are there, the Canucks finished in top spot in the NHL for the second year in a row.
Whether are not they were indeed the best overall team in the NHL is yet to be seen this postseason, but with the exception of maybe the first month and first bit of March, the Canucks were the top NHL team this season.
Should they be able to replicate how they played throughout this season and use their home-ice advantage all the way to the Finals properly and for their benefit, it should help the team propel past last season's failure and help them lift the Cup over their heads this June.
The Vancouver Canucks have something the past several eventual Stanley Cup Champions have had is a stellar third line. They say to go far in the postseason you must have depth, and a third line is definitely a key piece of that puzzle.
The trio of Jannik Hansen, Chris Higgins, and trade deadline pick up Sami Pahlsson, could quite possibly be the best third line of any in this postseason. Not only are they an unbelievably talented shut down line, but they can also be relied on heavily to chip in on offense and provide secondary scoring. Hansen had a career year in 2011-12 putting up 16 goals and 39 points to go along with the Canucks unsung hero this season in Chris Higgins who added 18 goals to the team's cause.
In addition to their two-way play, Sami Pahlsson is yet another faceoff man the Canucks can count on to win big draws and takes some pressure off a more seldom used Manny Malhotra down the stretch. Faceoffs are all-important in the post season and can be a difference maker in tight games. Wins off the draw create scoring chances or can help clear the zone; either way Pahlsson bolsters the Canucks talent in the circle that much more.
The Vancouver Canucks third line is talented in every single way a third line on a top team should be, and these three players could be the difference in Vancouver's playoff run.
In addition to the depth on the third line of the Vancouver Canucks, total team depth is needed to achieve a Stanley Cup Champion. As shown by the decimated Canucks defense of last years run, and the injuries compiled by many in the long three-month haul, depth at every position is key.
The Canucks have a slew of extra bodies that will supply them throughout their playoff run. They can swap the likes of an Andrew Ebbett or Dale Weise in or out of the forward positions, and on the back end, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Keith Ballard, and Andrew Alberts are just a few d-men GM Mike Gillis can insert into the lineup if need be.
Not only do the Canucks have men on the side ready to go, but they also have young and veteran players down the depth chart. On the back end, Chris Tanev has shown terrific growth since his debut last playoffs, and is still making strides and making high quality hockey plays. While also on D, veteran Aaron Rome is counted on to play some big, key minutes, and playing smart at the same time without being overwhelmed, something that has plagued him in the past. The Canucks back end will take this depth with great value as their playoffs gets longer.
Up front, apart from the previously talked about third line, interchangeable parts in the likes of Manny Malhotra, Zack Kassian, and Max Lapierre, provide both experience and youthfulness to a talented front side for the Canucks.
You never know who you are going to end up counting on as the playoffs get longer, and depth in a lineup is a key to lasting long into June.
Although it has caused great controversy at times this season, the Vancouver Canucks have the luxury of having two deserving starting goaltenders. Both Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider have proven over the past two seasons that they both deserve to start for the Canucks. Of course, the Canucks must back their big ticket, long-term goaltender, Roberto Luongo to start the postseason for them, but should anything go wrong, back up goaltender Cory Schneider shouldn't have much trouble filling in.
Luongo had his ninth consecutive 30+ win season in 2011-12, while Cory Schneider is 38-17-4 in just 60 NHL starts in his young career. The two combined for the leagues best GAA and save percentage in 2010-11, and won the William Jennings trophy last season.
If it should come down to an injury, or slump, or whatever crazy thing this postseason, the Canucks have one thing that no other postseason NHL team has, two No. 1 goaltenders. This is a luxury that should not be taken for granted and could impact the team's Stanley Cup aspirations in 2012.
The final, and most obvious, reason the Vancouver Canucks are ready to win the Stanley Cup in 2012 is the experience gained from last season's heartbreaking end to their Stanley Cup run. Most of last year's Cup Finals team had little to no SCF experience, this year's team almost all have it.
Whether it was learning to never let up, or not overworking, or anything to take away from last year, the experience and lessons learned will tremendously aid the Canucks going forward this postseason.
Even the city has learned from "experience" and learned lessons. The Vancouver Canucks are mentally tougher team in 2011-12 than they were last year (even if it wasn't displayed in game one versus LA). Mental toughness gets teams through the long run just as much as physical toughness. One mental mistake can make the difference in a game, a series, a championship, or even a career.
As much as Canucks fans and members of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals team would like to forget all the heartache, they must take it for what it was, and use the experience to their benefit and lift hockey's holy grail over their heads in 2012.