Vancouver Canucks

NHL 2011 Playoffs: Vancouver Canucks vs San Jose Sharks Series Preview

Joel ProsserCorrespondent IMay 13, 2011

NHL 2011 Playoffs: Vancouver Canucks vs San Jose Sharks Series Preview

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - JANUARY 20: Mason Raymond #21 of the Vancouver Canucks is stopped by goalie Antti Niemi #31 of the San Jose Sharks during the shootout in NHL action on January 20, 2011 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, BC, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Gett
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    After defeating the Detroit Red Wings in a closely fought Game 7, the San Jose Sharks move on to play the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference Finals.

    It is fitting that the Western Conference Finals come down to the Sharks and Canucks, as they were the top two teams in the standings at the end of the season.

Regular Season Series

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    NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 09:  Daniel Sedin #22, Henrik Sedin #33, and Ryan Kesler #17of the Vancouver Canucks celebrate after a goal against Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators in Game Six of the Western Conference Semifinals at the Bridgestone Arena on
    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    Take it for what you will, but here are some key stats from the regular season series between the Canucks and Sharks.

    The season series was tied with two regulation wins for the Canucks, and a shootout win for each team as well. All in all, the Canucks took seven points from the series, the Sharks got three points.

    Nov 26, 2010 in Vancouver: 6-1 Canucks

    Jan 3, 2011 in San Jose: 4-3 Canucks

    Jan 20, 2011 in Vancouver: 2-1 Sharks (Shootout)

    March 10, 2011 in San Jose: 5-4 Canucks (Shootout)

    Goalies

    Antti Niemi was in net for all four games and had a 0.896 save percentage.

    Roberto Luongo was in net for one win and one shootout loss, and had a 0.975 save percentage.

    Cory Schneider was in net for the the other two Vancouver wins and had a 0.916 save percentage.

    Top Scorers

    Daniel Sedin: Two goals, six assists (six points)

    Alex Burrows: Three goals, one assist (four points)

    Henrik Sedin: One goal, three assists (four points)

    Dany Heatley: One goal, three assists (four points)

    Dan Hamhuis: Three assists (three points)

    Ryan Kesler: Three assists (three points)

    Christian Ehrhoff: Three assists (three points)

    Joe Thornton: Three assists (three points)

    Ryane Clowe: Three assists (three points)

Playoff Scoring

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 7: Ryan Kesler #17 of the Vancouver Canucks skates with the puck while being pursued by Mike Fisher #12 of the Nashville Predators during the third period in Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2011 NHL Stanle
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    Now we get to the stats that actually matter. 

    Regular season stats mean nothing in the postseason. What you put on the scoreboard when the games count is all that matters. Just ask Patrick Marleau. Or Henrik Sedin for that matter.

    Vancouver's Top Playoff Scorers

    Ryan Kesler: Five goals, 10 assists (15 points)

    Daniel Sedin: Six goals, four assists (10 points)

    Christian Ehrhoff: Two goals, seven assists (nine points)

    Henrik Sedin: One goal, eight assists (nine points)

    The Canucks have 13 different goal scorers, including three players with a pair of game-winning goals each (Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins).

    San Jose's Top Playoff Scorers

    Ryane Clowe: Four goals, nine assists (13 points)

    Logan Couture: Six goals, six assists (12 points)

    Joe Thornton: Two goals, nine assists, (11 points)

    Dan Boyle: Two goals, nine assists (11 points)

    The Sharks have 14 different goal scorers, including six players with game-winning goals.

Playoff Toughness

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    NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 05:  Maxim Lapierre #40 of the Vancouver Canucks lays on top of Patric Hornqvist #27 of the Nashville Predators in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals at Bridgestone Arena on May 5, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by F
    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    This shouldn't be a surprise a month into the playoffs, but the Canucks are the toughest team in the NHL

    The Canucks lead the NHL by a wide margin in playoff hits with 436; however in this series, their opponents might actually give as good as they get. The Sharks are second in the NHL for playoff hits with 363.

    Relentless fore-checking usually leads to intimidation and turnovers as a series progresses. So it isn't surprising that the Canucks (123) and Sharks (100) are first and second respectively for playoff takeaways as well.

    Ryan Kesler leads the Canucks with 17 takeaways, and Joe Thornton leads the Sharks with 14 takeaways.

    Vancouver's Top Playoff Hitters

    Maxim Lapierre: 49 hits

    Kevin Bieksa: 45 hits

    Alex Edler: 43 hits

    Ryan Kesler: 42 hits

    San Jose's Top Playoff Hitters

    Douglas Murray: 51 hits

    Devin Setoguchi: 32 hits

    Ryane Clowe: 31 hits

    Niclas Wallin: 27 hits

Playoff Goaltending

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - APRIL 28: Goalie Roberto Luongo #1 of the Vancouver Canucks makes a pad save against the Nashville Predators during the third period in Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 28,
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    Antti Niemi: 3.01 GAA, 0.906 save percentage, seven wins

    Roberto Luongo: 2.25 GAA, 0.917 save percentage, eight wins, two shutouts

    Luongo looks to have the edge, but his stats are somewhat marred by three goals in the Nashville series that were scored from behind the goal line.

    Some bad luck (or good luck if you are a Predator's fan) for Luongo as they were bouncing in off skates and his defencemen, but he needs to work on that, as it almost derailed the series for the Canucks.

    Still, Luongo has the better stats, even after the debacle that was Games 4 and 5 in the Chicago series.

    I'd give the edge to the Canucks in net, but it isn't necessarily by a wide margin.

Playoff Power Play

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    NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 09:  Daniel Sedin #22 of the Vancouver Canucks scores a goal against Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators in Game Six of the Western Conference Semifinals at the Bridgestone Arena on May 9, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo b
    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    Power Play

    Canucks: 22.2 percent (eight goals in 36 opportunities)

    Sharks: 13.7 percent (seven goals on 51 opportunities)

    This is a clear advantage for the Canucks, even with the three shorthanded goals that they have given up. The Sharks better hope this series doesn't turn into a special teams battle.

Playoff Penalty Kill

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - APRIL 30: Goalie Roberto Luongo #1 of the Vancouver Canucks stops Matt Halischuck #24 of the Nashville Predators in close during the first period in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    Penalty Kill

    Canucks: 86.0 percent (short-handed 50 times, allowed seven goals)

    Sharks: 82.7 percent (short-handed 52 times, gave up nine goals)

    This is pretty much a draw. Canucks have a slight edge, but nothing significant.

    Of note is that the Canucks killed off almost six minutes of five-on-three time in the playoffs without giving up a goal.

Intangibles

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    DENVER, CO - JANUARY 18:  Manny Malhotra #27 of the Canucks warms up prior to facing the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on January 18, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Canucks 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Im
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Travel

    The Sharks just finished a hard fought and emotional series that had them flying back and forth across the continent. And now they have just two days of rest before they play in Vancouver.

    The Canucks, on the other hand, have been resting up at home and will have had five days off between games. Walking wounded such as Henrik Sedin should greatly benefit from this.

    Manny Malhotra

    The Canucks will also get a boost emotionally from Manny Malhotra, who has recovered somewhat from his devastating eye injury, and is now practicing (lightly) with the team. It is extremely doubtful he will actually play in the series, but having a leader like Malhotra in the dressing room instead of the press box will help the Canucks.

    Reputation

    The Sharks have impressive regular seasons, but they don't seem to strike fear into other teams in the playoffs. They don't have the all-world reputation of Detroit, and they haven't featured in the nightmares of Canucks players like the Blackhawks did until just recently.

    The Canucks will treat the Sharks with respect, but this isn't going to be a series where the Sharks get into the Canucks heads.

    Of course, the same thing can be said going the other way. Neither team has a reputation as playoff winners. Yet.

Injuries

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 7: Mikael Samuelsson #26 of the Vancouver Canucks being helped off the ice by teammates Aaron Rome #29 and Sami Salo #6 of the Vancouver Canucks.  During the first period in Game Five against the Nashville Predators in the Western
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    Canucks

    Manny Malhotra: Out indefinitely with an eye injury. He is practicing again with the team, but is very doubtful to play in the series.

    Mikael Samuelsson: Day to day with a lower body injury. Doubtful for Game 1, but he should play in the series.

    Sharks

    Kent Huskins: Upper body, out Indefinitely

    Ryane Clowe: He should play in Game 1, but he might still be hurting after missing Game 6 of the second round with an upper body injury after being rocked by Niklas Kronwall. He came back to play Game 7, but that was with the season on the line. Count Clowe as one of the walking wounded, and unlike similar players for the Canucks, he isn't getting time to recover between series.

     

    *Thanks to TSN for their injury reports.

Storylines

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    NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 05:  Ryan Kesler #17 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates with teammate Christian Ehrhoff #5 after scoring a goal against the Nashville Predators in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals at Bridgestone Arena on May 5, 2011 in N
    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    Kyle Wellwood and Christian Ehrhoff 

    Both players are going up against their old teams. Wellwood signed with the Sharks as a free agent after the Canucks cut him loose. Ehrhoff was picked up by the Canucks for practically nothing two summers ago as the Sharks dumped salary after acquiring Dany Heatley.

    As a sidenote, Ehrhoff is outscoring Heatley in the playoffs so far. I wonder if the Sharks regret that trade?

    Antti Niemi vs. the Canucks

    Niemi was part of the Blackhawks team that tormented the Canucks last year. However, this year he doesn't have the same calibre of defensive forwards and defensemen in front of him.

    Expect this storyline to get played up by the media, but it should be a non-factor unless Niemi performs significantly better than he has through the first two rounds.

    Ryan Kesler

    Can Ryan Kesler continue his Conn Smythe campaign after almost single-handedly beating the Predators?

    Will the Sedins start scoring again?

    They have been facing some harsh criticism in the face of decreased production, but Henrik and Daniel didn't have any problems scoring on the Sharks in the regular season. Hopefully that trend continues and the twins can get back on the scoreboard in a major way.

Predictions

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - APRIL 26: The Vancouver Canucks celebrate after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 in overtime as goalie Corey Crawford #50 Chicago Blackhawks skates back to his after Game Seven of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 201
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    The Sharks aren't the Blackhawks. And they don't play defense as well as the Predators. They do have a handful of big star forwards who can be a handful when they feel like playing and a really good coach.

    But the Canucks can match them or beat them in every category.

    This will be a close series, but the Canucks should be victorious.

    Canucks in six games.

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