The 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Finals start Wednesday night, kicking off an almost three-month long battle between the league’s top 16 teams.
The defending champions—the Chicago Blackhawks—barely scrapped into the playoffs, earning the No. 8 seed in the playoff. They will play the No. 1 seed and Presidents' Trophy winner, the Vancouver Canucks.
Here is the TV schedule for the opening round series between Chicago and Vancouver:
|Wednesday, April 13||at Vancouver, 10:00 p.m.||CBC (HD), VERSUS|
|Friday, April 15||at Vancouver, 10:00 p.m.||CBC (HD), VERSUS|
|Sunday, April 17||at Chicago, 8:00 p.m.||CBC (HD), VERSUS|
|Tuesday, April 19||at Chicago, 8:00 p.m.||CBC (HD), VERSUS|
|*Thursday, April 21||at Vancouver, 10:00 p.m.||CBC (HD), VERSUS|
|*Sunday, April 24||at Chicago, 7:30 p.m.||CBC (HD)|
|*Tuesday, April 26||at Vancouver, TBD||CBC (HD)|
What the Vancouver Canucks Have To Do to Win
Winning 54 games and earning 117 points in the regular season will give you top-dog status going into the NHL playoffs, but what it won’t do is guarantee a Stanley Cup championship.
In fact, only three teams in the past 10 years (two of them were the Detroit Red Wings) who have won the Presidents' Trophy ended up winning the Stanley Cup. The Canucks have stalled the past two years in the playoffs, losing both years to the ‘Hawks, but few have doubted their Stanley Cup potential.
The major difference between this year’s team and last year’s is their defense. It is vastly improved and is one of the best defenses in the NHL. A plus-77 goal and a third ranked power play-killing unit is proof of that. If the Canucks are going to win this series it’s going to be primarily with their defense.
In addition, the Sedin twins should have no problem giving the ‘Hawks defense—which is a lot weaker than last season—some trouble. If the defense can stop the attack of the ‘Hawks’ Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp, then they should have no problem winning.
The main concern for the Canucks will be their goaltender, Roberto Luongo.
Luongo has always been a top goaltender in the regular season, but his numbers take a serious drop once in the playoffs. His GAA in the playoffs is always higher than it was in the regular season.
He is consistently around 50 percent in the playoffs as well, but a much improved Vancouver defense should help Luongo remain solid.
What the Blackhawks Have To Do to Win
The ‘Hawks come into the playoffs as the defending champs but also as an underdog going into this opening series.
It has been a long and tough season for the ‘Hawks, and some have doubted whether they deserve to be in the playoffs in the first place. They’re in though, and that has to come with a sigh of relief from both the fans and players.
The pressure of making the playoffs is gone, but the pressure to succeed and defend the 2010 Stanley Cup is now on.
Chicago had a stellar defense last season, but that’s changed. The defense and power play killing unit has slumped, manly due to the lackluster performances of both defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
Lack of depth has also hurt the ‘Hawks, who now rely on the first two lines for much of their offense.
For the ‘Hawks to win, their star players are going to have to step up more than they had to last season. Toews and Sharp will be the primary guys who fans will look to lead the team.
But pulling the upset will also take defense. Goaltender Corey Crawford has been stellar in net. The rookie has played extremely well in front of a mediocre defense.
If the ‘Hawks can pick up their defense and help Crawford, they might have a legitimate chance of pulling off the upset, but everything has to click.
Chicago-Vancouver Prediction: Vancouver in six games.