Bring on the Blackhawks: Vancouver to Face Chicago in Round Two

Joel LefevreAnalyst IApril 28, 2009

After seemingly an eternity of waiting the Canucks now know their second round opponent—the Chicago Blackhawks

Thanks to a 4-1 Ducks win, which eliminated the Sharks, Vancouver will begin the Conference semifinals on home ice. 

Here is a breakdown of how the Canucks match up against the very young and talented Chicago Blackhawks:

Goaltending

Chicago may have lacked some playoff experience going into the postseason, but they certainly do not lack any in goal. Nikolai Khabibulin has something every player on the Canucks is after—a Stanley Cup ring. 

While he split duties with Huet for the first half of the season, the Bulin Wall is unquestionably the number-one guy for the Hawks right now. He was very good in the opening round against the Flames, posting a 2.52 GAA and a .914 save percentage. 

Vancouver comes into the second round with Roberto Luongo red-hot as he posted a playoff-leading 1.15 Goalsgagainst average and a .962 save percentage in a four-game sweep of the Blues

Luongo is in the zone for sure. Nothing appears to rattle the Canucks captain, who gives Vancouver a fighting chance every time he is out there.  Will the rest put some rust in his game, or will he come out fresh and even better than last series?

Advantage: Canucks

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Defence

The Blackhawks' blueline has a lot of jump on offence. And despite a concern for a lack of experience, they did a good job in the opening round of shutting down the likes of Daymond Langkow, Todd Bertuzzi, and Olli Jokinen of the Calgary Flames. 

Offensively, though, is where they really shined, as the D-men combined for 18 points in six games in the opening round of the playoffs.  Leading the way was Brent Seabrook and Cam Barker with six points each, with big offseason signing Brian Campbell tallying a respectable four points. 

The Canucks' blueline combined for 11 points in their opening-round sweep of St. Louis, with Sami Salo leading the way with four points. 

Though the Hawks have the advantage in terms of offence, the Canucks more than make up for it in their own zone. They were rock solid, with a plus-six combined among all their defencemen.

Advantage: Even

Forwards

On the front end, Chicago boasts two of the most gifted forwards in the league in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.  But neither led the team in points in the opening round, which shows how offensively gifted they are.

Kris Versteeg led all Hawks with seven points in the first round.  Throw in Patrick Sharp and Martin Havlat in the mix, and you have a Hawks team that can score in bunches.  And let's not forget the likes of Sami Pahlsson and Andrew Ladd, who along with a good, tight checking game also bring Stanley Cup experience to the team. 

For Vancouver, as it was all season, it starts with the Sedin twins. Despite their lack of offence in previous playoffs, they were much improved in the first round. Daniel had five points to lead the Canucks, and Henrik was right behind with four. 

Alex Burrows—or Mr. Everything, as he is known—was all that and then some against the Blues.  He led the team with three goals—including the game winner in overtime of Game Four.  He has become an unbelievable player in clutch situations. 

Despite missing Mats Sundin for two games, the Canucks were still able to find enough to win, with impressive performances by Kyle Wellwood and Steve Bernier on the third line and outstanding fourth-line work by Ryan Johnson. 

Taylor Pyatt is back with the Canucks. Whether he plays or not is very much up in the air, but he is a big body, and has shown when he's on he can throw big hits and be a good shutdown player. 

Ryan Kesler will be looked upon to do more in this series, as the Canucks will need everyone going to shut down the high-flying Hawks.

Advantage: Hawks

Special Teams

Not much to choose between these two on special teams, as both were mightily impressive in the opening round.  The Hawks were second in the league on the power play, clicking at 38.5 percent—and they really made the Flames pay for their over aggressive play.  Not much worse on the penalty kill, Chicago was were ranked fifth, killing off 85.7 percent of their penalties. 

The Canucks are virtually a carbon copy of the Hawks, as they were fifth on the power play at a 22.2-percent efficiency.  The penalty kill was vastly improved as well.  They shut down the high-octane Blues offence, allowing only one power play goal in 24 penalties taken. Most impressive, they killed off two two-man advantages, and look like the penalty kill of two years ago.

Advantage: Even

This is a matchup of size versus skill.  The Hawks will look to make this into a track meet, whereas the Canucks will no doubt try to use their size to their advantage and knock around the young Hawks. 

Look for goaltending to be key as both goalies were impressive in the opening round. 

Can Khabibulin keep up with Luongo in a long extended series?  Can Sundin and Kesler put points on the board and stay with the high-flying Hawks? 

And what about the unsung players? Will Dustin Bfuglien and Dave Bolland be able to provide some energy for the Hawks, or will the Canucks' Ryan Johnson and Rick Rypien continue to provide Vancouver with a spark on the fourth line?

Prediction: Canucks in six games.