Vancouver Canucks: 5 First-Round Playoff Lessons They Must Learn From

John PhenAnalyst IIIMarch 24, 2011

Vancouver Canucks: 5 First-Round Playoff Lessons They Must Learn From

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    The machine that is the Vancouver Canucks continue their winning ways, recording a huge 2-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. With the win, the Canucks inch closer to taking the President’s Trophy with 105 points and just eight games remaining.

    Vancouver leads the Red Wings by 10 points in the West, and the Flyers by eight, for the President’s Cup. Getting their game in gear after a patch of mediocre play early in February, the Canucks look like the odds-on favorite to emerge out of the West.

    The Sedin twins could be the first brother combination to win consecutive Hart Trophies, and make up the most dangerous line in the NHL.

    Even after losing Manny Malhotra for the season, the Canucks still boast one of the league’s deepest and most talented teams.

    Roberto Luongo is looking as sharp as ever and, with the shackles of captaincy removed, is looking to improve his 17-17 postseason record. Against the mighty Red Wings in a playoff-charged atmosphere, Luongo looked poised, collecting 39 saves in the win.

    As dominant as the Canucks have been this season, the playoffs can be a cruel and unmerciful tournament, where regular season accolades mean very little.

    The Stanley Cup is the hardest championship to win for a reason, and the Canucks would be wise to learn from these five first-round upsets in the past 10 years. 

2002: Montreal Canadiens (8) Bully Boston Bruins (1) in 6 Games

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    Behind the emotional return of Saku Koivu, an excellent power play and the superb goaltending of Jose Theodore, the Habs took this highly-charged playoff series in six games. The Bruins did not win the President’s Cup, trailing the Red Wings by 15 points for the distinction, however still had a 26-point differential over Montreal.

    Koivu’s return from lymphoma with just a few games remaining in the regular season, powered the Canadiens to capturing the eighth seed. Theodore won the Hart and Vezina trophies after posting a 30-24-10 record with a 2.11 goals-against and seven shutouts to his name.

    The Bruins had no answer for the Habs in this series, adding yet another page to the long and storied rivalry between the two franchises.

    Despite outshooting the Canadiens to the tune of 212-142 in the series, including a 35-18 differential in the final game, the Bruins couldn't solve Theodore.

    The series was highly-charged with emotion, prompting videotaped messages from Bill Guerin and Doug Gilmour asking the fans to refrain from booing the national anthems. 

2009: Anaheim Ducks (8) Sink San Jose Sharks (1) in 6 Games

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    This series was your classic case of a underdog riding the wave of momentum to usurp the top-seeded team who floated into the postseason.

    Behind a 117-point regular season, the President Cup-winning San Jose Sharks limped into the playoffs winning only four of their last 10 games. The Ducks were among the league’s hottest teams and rode a wave of momentum into the postseason, winning 11 of their last 15 games.

    Like many of these upsets, the Sharks peppered Jonas Hiller with shots, only to be rebuffed at just about every turn. Hiller finished with a sparkling .943 save percentage and the Ducks' top line hammered the Sharks every chance they got. 

    The Sharks simply couldn’t flip the switch to playoff hockey mode, which the Ducks had been playing since early February. Anaheim ran out to a 3-1 series lead and the Sharks fought back in Game 5, but couldn't muster much more, closing out the series with a whimper.



2006: Edmonton Oilers (8) Slip Up Detroit Red Wings (1) in 6 Games

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    Another President Cup winner, another hot goaltender and yet another first-round shocker, as the Oilers barely made the playoffs with just two games left in the regular season.

    The Red Wings were simply a machine that year, recording 124 points, in stark contrast to an inconsistent Oiler team that made a flurry of deadline deals that were widely criticized.

    GM Kevin Lowe was vindicated, as the Oilers stunned the Red Wings, despite dropping Game 1 in double OT, and won the series with three one-goal contests—two of which were on home ice, against the road-dominant Red Wings, who carried a 31-7-3 road record.

    Edmonton rode the superb goaltending of Dwayne Roloson, timely scoring of Fernando Pisani and leadership of Chris Pronger all the way to the Finals, before falling to the Carolina Hurricanes.

    This series had all the earmarks of a classic upset, with Pisani chipping in 14 goals, Roloson standing on his head with a .927 save percentage and the final game of Steve Yzerman’s Hall of Fame career.

2000: San Jose Sharks (8) Bite St. Louis Blues (1) in 7 Games

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    There simply wasn’t a team as dominant as the St. Louis Blues in 2000, where they led the league with 113 points but fell flat in the playoffs. After coasting into the postseason, the Blues could not turn up their intensity and failed to rally past some very unlucky bounces.

    The Sharks recorded their third first-round upset since entering the league, upsetting a Blues team that finished 27 points ahead of them in the standings. The Sharks beat the Blues three times in a row in the series, which marked the first time that had happened to the Blues all year.

    St. Louis fought back valiantly to force a Game 7, and even chased Sharks goaltender Steve Shields in Game 6. But the trio of Pierre Turgeon, Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger couldn’t deliver against the Sharks in the 3-1 deciding Game 7 at home.

    Roman Turek had a game to forget following the first two fluky goals, the second on a Owen Nolan slapshot from the redline with just 10 seconds left in the first period. Nolan enjoyed one of his best seasons as a Shark, setting franchise highs with 84 points and 44 goals.

    When I think about the President’s Cup, I always think about this quote from Scott Young, who was one of the better Blues in that playoff series: "You can never look past the first round. It's something that we didn't seem to mentally prepare for."

2010: Montreal Canadiens (8) Shock Washington Capitals (1) in 7 Games

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    When talking about first-round upsets, last year’s unseating of the President Cup-winning Capitals has got to be one of the greatest of all-time. And really, when you think about exactly what the Habs accomplished, it just may rank among the greatest NHL playoff upsets of all-time.

    The powerhouse Washington Capitals and their video game offense stormed out to a 3-1 series lead, prompting some trash talk from Alex Ovechkin, who claimed Halak was “scared."

    Montreal then did the inexplicable, turning the tables and beating the Capitals three straight times to close out the series. Their win marked the very first time an 8-seed rallied from a 3-1 series deficit, and it marked the biggest difference in points (33) ever for a losing team.

    Jaroslav Halak was just flat-out ridiculous in this series, especially in Games 5 and 6, where the Capitals only beat him twice over 90 shots. Over the last three games of the series, Halak was like a wall, stopping 131 of 134 shots to send the Capitals golfing.

    Not sure how scared he looked then.

    The mere fact that this upset didn’t register more of a response from sports fans, only highlights how far the NHL really has to go. It really was that epic of an accomplishment.

In Conclusion

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    If the playoffs were to end today, the Canucks would be taking on the Anaheim Ducks and Jonas Hiller, who was recently re-activated.

    The Ducks and their top line have been remarkably clutch recently, including some late-minute heroics against Dallas (again) that have them riding a wave of momentum.

    Their top line is back to old tricks, and whoever draws this team in the first round is going to have their hands full. 

    Ryan Getzlaf has five goals and 24 points over his past 18 games, and Corey Perry could be their season MVP. He is second in the NHL with 39 goals and set a personal high with 79 points this year, and the trio of Ryan, Getzlaf and Perry could spell trouble for the Canucks.

    There's still hockey to be played and nobody other than Vancouver's position is truly set, but no team in the West will be an "easy" first round opponent.

    While the Canucks season has been a tremendous accomplishment so far, they have a lot of work ahead to achieve their true goal. They are clearly the best team in the West and maybe the best in the NHL but as these five lessons attest to, being the best doesn't always guarantee success in the playoffs.