As a sports fan, you’ve probably seen it a million times. An athlete is interviewed right after a big win, and is asked what team he prefers to play in the next round of the playoffs. The athlete’s boring response includes things like “we have no preference”, “any team we play will be tough” and “we’re just happy to be here”.
We all know the athlete can’t be honest—but I can. When it comes to who the Vancouver Canucks play in the first round of the 2011 NHL playoffs, I do have a preference.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe the Canucks can beat any other team in a seven game series. However, admit there are some teams that I would rather face, either because it would be a better series, or an easier one.
Here, in reverse order, are the teams that I would prefer the Canucks to play in the first round of the NHL playoffs.
By the way—less than a quarter of the season left, and there are still 10 (reasonably) possible playoff opponents for Vancouver. How crazy is the Western Conference race?
Have you seen Rocky II? Do you remember when Apollo wanted that rematch with Rocky, but his manager was all scared about it? When Apollo asked him why, he said six simple words—He’s all wrong for us, baby.
That’s how I feel about Nashville. They don’t have a lot of firepower, but they have a solid blue line and a Vezina contender in Pekka Rinne. They play a stifling, defensive system and have proven this year that they can shut down Vancouver’s potent offense.
Don’t forget—it can be argued that Nashville was Chicago’s toughest test on the way to the Stanley Cup last year. Plus, there’s the law of averages. Sooner or later, they are going to win their first playoff series.
A series against Nashville would cause me a lot of sleepless nights, except that the games between these two are a sure cure for insomnia.
The Ducks are fighting just to make the playoffs. Their goals for and against are both just mediocre. For all of their top end talent and their great goaltender, they are not nearly as deep as Vancouver. Yet the Ducks seem to have the Canucks’ number.
The Ducks’ top end talent is not only very good but they play with an edge. Call them dirty if you must, but players like Perry and Getzlaf have a mean streak that the Canucks historically have not been able to completely handle.
That’s my theory. That, and the fact that Teemu Selanne has been a Canuck killer for close to 20 years (67 GP, 38G, 43A, 81P). Yeah, Vancouver just beat Anaheim, but in the playoffs they would face Jonas Hiller, who is quite good.
I don’t think it’s likely that San Jose will meet Vancouver in the first round. They’re playing really well of late, and look to be in position to win the Pacific Division. However, in the insanely close Western Conference it is still a possibility.
San Jose has great, elite talent, some of which even shows up in the post-season. They have the goalie that beat the Canucks in the playoffs last year. And one of these years, San Jose is finally going to break through in the playoffs.
For all their top-end talent, however, I think Vancouver’s depth is just too much for the Sharks, especially along the blue line. I think I’ll wait until San Jose beats Vancouver in regulation time before getting overly concerned.
Some people who live in Vancouver also have a home in the Phoenix area. After Labour Day, they travel south to their Phoenix home to avoid the Vancouver fall and winter. The Canucks routinely do this as well and their fall and winter home is called Jobbing.com Arena. Earlier this year, they pasted the Coyotes 6-0 in Glendale. There were more Canuck fans at the game than Coyote fans.
The Coyotes are a hard working team with some talent, and a very capable goaltender in Bryzgalov. In the playoffs, however depth and talent usually win. I think Vancouver has Phoenix beat on both counts.
Although LA’s defense and goaltending is right there with Minnesota and Nashville, the Kings rank higher on this list because the series would actually be exciting. Although these two teams combined for only three goals last weekend (the empty netter doesn’t count), that had more to do with the goaltenders because there was no absence of flow or scoring chances.
Should the Canucks play the Kings again in the first round, there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that the Kings would be playing with the memory of last year’s playoff defeat still fresh in their minds. The good news is that the Canucks’ penalty killing can’t be any worse than it was against the Kings last spring.
If you look at the standings, you would think that Minnesota would crack the top one or two on this list. They have next to no offence and an above-average-but-not-quite-Nashville defense. Add to that a mediocre 16-13-3 home record at the time I write this, and you would be thinking Vancouver in a boring five. I’m not thinking that at all.
In their four games this year, each team has won once in the other team’s building. Even more surprising, each game has been a blowout. The Wild have beaten the Canucks 6-2 at home, and 4-0 in Vancouver.The Canucks have won 5-1 at home and 4-1 in Minny.
Minnesota, a NW division rival, knows this Vancouver team. They see them as a great rival, and get amped up to play them. They also have the great playoff equalizer in a goalie who can win a series by himself.
On paper, this isn’t close. But you know what puppies do to paper.
The season series is a little misleading. Only one of the three wins was in regulation, but I still don’t think Vancouver would have much trouble with Columbus.
If they do make the playoffs, they would have put the pedal to the metal and played out of their minds in their last 20 or so games. Would they even have anything left for the playoffs? Not to sound insulting, but would they be happy just making the playoffs?
This is a hard working team who could give Vancouver some trouble judging by their regular season series. They also have Rick Nash. But there’s not enough offence there to really concern the Canucks. Besides, are you really going to put your money on a team with Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon in net?
As well as they’ve been playing lately, Columbus just doesn’t have the horses.
Given how impressive the Flames have been since Christmas, you might think they would be higher on this list. However, I have my reasons for my confidence.
- I wonder, after busting their butts for months just to get to the post-season, if they’ll have anything left for the playoffs.
- Historically, it doesn’t matter how the regular season went, when these two teams meet in the playoffs it’s always a dynamite series.
- Calgary has yet to prove that they can stop the Vancouver offense, which has scored 18 goals (and collected 7 out of a possible 8 points) in four games so far this year.
- Calgary and Vancouver have played each other in the first round of the playoffs six times. On four occasions, the winner of that series went to the Stanley Cup Final.
Since the Canucks have won four straight against Dallas this year, you could use the “the Stars are due” argument to raise some concerns in Vancouver. I don’t buy it.
I’m not going to worry too much about a team that hasn’t beaten Vancouver in regulation time. Not only did Vancouver win four straight in the season series, they did it by a combined score of 20-5.
Feel free to use that “the Stars are due” argument, but I’ll take my chances.
Before Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls started their first three-peat, the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons stood in their way. They were the ones on top, tormenting the Bulls for two years before Chicago finally conquered their nemesis on their way to glory. If Vancouver beats the Hawks in the playoffs, and exorcises those demons from the last two years, maybe a Stanley Cup is in their future.
There’s something about beating the Hawks that would make a Canuck championship more legitimate. As tough as this series would be, that’s a chance I’m willing to take. And what a great series it would be.
Bring on the Hawks!