The Canucks' season is now complete, and once again they have topped the Northwest Division. Their first-round rivals are the San Jose Sharks, who the Canucks toppled in five games in the 2011 Western Conference Finals en route to their Stanley Cup matchup with Boston.
Over the years, the Canucks have played well against the Sharks, which is likely why many, including myself, were happy with the way things unfolded on the final night (as opposed to another round with the Los Angeles Kings).
That said, the Canucks are still in for a tough series. In three games against San Jose this season, the Canucks had a record of 0-2-1, a troublesome stat.
The following are seven keys for the Canucks to take the first round over the Sharks.
This one sounds like a given, but a team must be ready to win a playoff series. What I mean by this is that the Canucks need to be ready at the start of each game and avoid getting caught flat-footed.
San Jose caught the entire league flat-footed when they came flying out of the gate with seven straight wins, propelled by the dominant play of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. They also caught the Canucks flat-footed in each of their three matchups, outscoring Vancouver 3-0 in the first period of those games.
San Jose has an explosive team, and the Canucks need to keep them in control early to find success.
During the regular season, the Sharks had the sixth best penalty kill while the Canucks had the ninth worst power play. San Jose is a fairly disciplined team, with an average of just 10.9 penalty minutes per game, but against the Canucks over the past two seasons, that number is 15.4.
These teams don't like each other, and there are bound to be a lot of penalties going either way. The Canucks will need to find a way to capitalize when given the opportunity.
We all know how important puck possession is in this game, and it's easier to maintain when you win the faceoffs.
The Sharks were the second best faceoff team this year while the Canucks finished 25th. We can only hope that Ryan Kesler (57.4 faceoff percentage) stays healthy enough to steal some from the Sharks.
When the Canucks got run over by the LA Kings last year, goaltending was just about the only consistent part of their game.
In previous years, however, goaltending has been an issue in the playoffs, and given the uncertainty of Cory Schneider and the fashion with which Luongo finished the season, it's got to be a concern now.
Last year, the Canucks finished off their season by putting just eight goals in against Jonathan Quick and the Kings in five games. This season, they tied for 20th in the league in goals per game.
Those are not numbers that get you very far in the postseason. The Canucks will need strong offense from both the Sedins and the supporting lines.
San Jose is a big, physical team, and playing up to seven consecutive games against them will really take a toll on the Canucks.
They'll have to answer with some physicality of their own if they plan on getting through this group.
The playoffs are a long, grueling journey, and the health of your lineup is critical. The Canucks are already entering the postseason without Chris Tanev and David Booth, and Cory Schneider is also questionable.
We saw how one injury can crumble playoff hopes last year with Daniel Sedin's absence (although it seemed as though nothing could get through the Kings) from the lineup. The Canucks can't afford to lose anyone else this time around.
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