In what is perhaps the most anticipated matchup of the quarterfinals, Vancouver will take its team-record 117 points and Presidents Trophy-winning season against the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Canucks and Hawks meet each other in the playoffs for the third straight year. Chicago has defeated Vancouver the previous two occasions, both in the second round. Although it's not the first time Vancouver is favored over Chicago, the Canucks have never brought this stacked a lineup into a series against Chicago.
Not much can be said about Vancouver's stellar season that hasn't already been stated ad nauseum; still, the facts are the facts. The league leaders in goals for, goals against, power-play percentage and a mildly disappointing second in penalty killing, Vancouver can dominate any matchup statistically.
The Sedin twins are playing at their peak, with Daniel leading the league in points (104) and Henrik leading in assists (75). Coupled with Ryan Kesler and a deep supporting cast, the Canucks can keep the pressure on in the opponent's end of the rink. Perhaps even stronger than their offense is their blue line, which may be the deepest in the league.
What is most impressive is that with the exception of Christian Ehrhoff, all of the Canucks defensemen have missed stretches of time with injury this season. With the defensive corps getting healthy in time for the postseason and the a goalie tandem of Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, the Canucks are poised to deliver.
While Chicago's season may not have gone as smoothly as Vancouver's, they still boast a powerful and talented roster in their own right.
Unfortunately Chicago held a minor fire sale after winning the Stanley cup last year to comply with the salary cap. This took away much of the vaunted depth that made Chicago such a dominating club. The Hawks lineup still contains all of the top-end talent that led them to victory last year. Jonathan Toews put together an MVP performance to lead his club into the playoffs and supported by the fourth ranked powerplay, Chicago still has plenty of firepower.
Defensively the Hawks aren't as strong as last year. What may be of bigger concern is their goaltending. While rookie Corey Crawford put together a great year and will warrant Calder Trophy consideration, he will have to find his playoff legs fast against Vancouver. If he can keep his composure and poise, Chicago's chances will vastly improve.
While on paper the Canucks should walk through the Blackhawks, those who have seen these two teams battle before know it will not be that simple. The rivalry that has developed between these two teams has resulted in some hotly contested matches.
Chicago does hold the mental edge over Vancouver. That intangible is one that can completely turn a series upside-down. With how hard the Blackhawks will play, and all the pressure on Vancouver, this matchup seems ripe for a Chicago upset.