The Vancouver Canucks have all but locked up the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference as they barrel toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
They have won eight of their last 10. Roberto Luongo is having arguably the best season of his career. Daniel Sedin has eclipsed the 40-goal mark for the first time in his 10-year career and will likely finish the season with over 100 points, also a career first. His brother Henrik is second in the NHL in total points with 88. Their power play is the most efficient in the league. Their penalty kill is the best in the West.
So where's all the love?
Vancouver has been the most consistent team in the NHL for the entire season. Unfortunately, they are on the West Coast and as a result, don't get the national exposure of teams such as the Penguins, Capitals and Bruins. It is strange indeed to think that the NHL's best team has yet to make an appearance on NBC's Sunday Game of the Week, but such is the scourge of being three time zones away from Rockefeller Center.
The vast majority of Vancouver's games begin at 10:30 EST, meaning the bulk of the hockey world sees their success solely in the box scores and brief highlight packages on NHL Network (certainly not on ESPN: The Worldwide Leader in Sports That Are Not Hockey). The Canucks have played only 11 games in the Eastern Time Zone this season and will wrap up their east coast action this weekend in Atlanta and Columbus. That is only 13 opportunities for folks on the East Coast to catch them in their time zone.
Which team in the Western Conference has the best chance of knocking off the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs?
It is unfortunate it works out this way because the Canucks truly are one of the most exciting teams to watch in the NHL. Their puck movement on the power play is something to behold. The discipline they display in their defensive zone is the stuff of instructional videos. There is an effortless fluidity in Vancouver's game this year. It is almost as though they control the pace of every game they play and force their opponents to adjust to them.
But most of us never get to see it.
I am fortunate to be on the Left Coast, so I get to see a decent amount of Vancouver's games. One of the things that strikes me more than anything is their depth. Coach Alain Vigneault can roll four lines all night long and keep up with just about any line of any team they face. They go so much deeper than the Sedins and Luongo. Ryan Kesler has notched 36 goals and 29 assists. Mikael Samuelsson has reached the 50 point plateau for the second time in as many seasons. Christian Ehrhoff and Alexandre Burrows, with 43 and 47 points respectively, are within striking distance of 50.
You want defense? How about Dan Hamhuis, tied for 6th in the NHL at plus-28 and Kevin Bieksa tied for 8th at plus-27. In fact, Vancouver only has three defensemen with a minus rating this season.
What about grinders? Energy guys? Try Manny Malhotra (recently lost to injury for the season), Mason Raymond and Raffi Torres, among others.
This is a team with incredible depth featuring a group of players who know their roles and understand what is expected of them. With no other team in the Western Conference having a spectacular year, the Canucks are poised to make a deep run in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs.
I just hope you can stay awake late enough to enjoy it.