The No. 2 Chicago Blackhawks and the No. 3 Vancouver Canucks meet in a Western Conference semifinal series starting on Saturday night in Chicago. Here are 10 items for your consideration about this match-up:
10. Luongo vs. The Crease Crashers
The Blackhawks have shifted Dustin Byfuglien back to forward, and in the process shifted the spotlight squarely on Roberto Luongo's crease and the battle that the goalie's in for this series. Here's the Canucks captain, in the Sun Times:
"Guys, I'm not going to get into a Byfuglien thing," Luongo told reporters Friday before the second Byfuglien question could even be completed. "He's a guy who stands in front of the net just like every other team."
You think Luongo's ever shut down a line of questioning about another power forward?
9. Vancouver's Man Disadvantage
The Blackhawks were 4-for-23 on the power play against the Nashville Predators. At one point in the first round, the Canucks surrendered power-play goals to the Los Angeles Kings roughly every 4.3 seconds. But in the final two games of the series, Vancouver won twice and shut down the Kings' PP in both contests.
8. The Vancouver Media Is Insane
What sort of wonderful tin-foil hat-ism will the local scribes bring forth in the second round? That members of the NHL War Room occasionally enjoy deep dish pizza and hence must be Chicago sleeper agents? Another broadcast journalist (and former Blackhawks goalie ... hmmmm) referring to Vancouver players as pastries? Isn't it about time to plan the parade?
7. Ladd vs. Kesler
The rivalry between Chicago's Andrew Ladd and Ryan Kesler of Vancouver heated up last postseason, when Ladd broke Kesler's nose with a check. And there was the coward accusation. Then they had this brief love-fest in January:
"It definitely doesn't hurt," Ladd said. "You definitely get fired up and ready to play and that never hurts, especially going into a playoff series.
"It was what it was, I guess. It was funny at times, I guess. For me, what we are trying to do in here is a lot more important than that. I don't think it will be a big deal."
We hope it is.
6. Scoring Depth
The big names in this series are well-known, and some names (like Mikael Samuelsson) are becoming well-known. But the Canucks received 4 goals from Steve Bernier and 5 points from Pavol Demitra, while Alex Burrows struggled to 1 point in the first round. The Blackhawks relied heavily on their stars for offense; when do the Bollands and Versteegs come to life?
5. YouTube Gold
The Canucks talk about the psychological damage they've suffered from hearing "Chelsea Dagger" too often when they play the Blackhawks in Chicago:
Meanwhile, there are differences between Blackhawks fans and Canucks fans. Just like there are differences between effective parodies and ones in which a Chicago fan is apparently wearing a New York hat.
4. Is Niemi For Real?
Let it never be said again that Antti Niemi hasn't won a playoff series. But in winning it, Niemi gave up three goals twice and four goals once ... while pitching a pair of shutouts. Do we know what Antti Niemi: Playoff Goalie looks like quite yet, considering the Canucks have a few more offensive weapons than the Nashville Predators had?
3. Keith and Seabrook vs. The Sedins
Rob Scuderi and Drew Doughty played well against Henrik and Daniel Sedin ... and the twins had 18 points combined in the first round. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will see plenty of time against the Sedins, and said the following to ESPN Chicago:
"You want to play physical against them but they're pretty slippery," Seabrook explained. "They seem to be able to get away from checks and it doesn't seem much fazes them."
Seabrook has seen them do their thing enough times on the ice so maybe he's learned some of their tricks.
"I don't think you can ever learn exactly what they are doing out there," he said. "They seem to be able to make plays through their legs and through yours, and back and forth. ... You have to get all five guys to help you out."
And even then ...
The Blackhawks and Canucks have he most institutional animosity of any playoff series. There's bad blood, ill feelings and the floor of the visitor's locker room is still stained with Roberto Luongo's tears. This series will be nasty and dramatic, perhaps with a few flash-point moments that become water-cooler talk the next morning. Will one team allow that intensity to rattle them?
1. Prediction: Vancouver over Chicago in 7
Again, the Canucks are my Cup pick and I'm sticking with that. But in what should be the most brutal series of the postseason, home ice matters as much as Vancouver's advantage in goal.
Saturday, May 1 8:00 p.m.: Vancouver at Chicago CBC, VERSUS**
Monday, May 3 9:00 p.m.: Vancouver at Chicago, CBC, VERSUS
Wednesday, May 5 9:30 p.m.: Chicago at Vancouver CBC, VERSUS
Friday, May 7 9:30 p.m.: Chicago at Vancouver CBC, VERSUS**
Sunday, May 9 8:00 p.m.*: Vancouver at Chicago CBC, VERSUS
Tuesday, May 11 9:30 p.m.*: Chicago at Vancouver CBC, VERSUS
Thursday, May 13 8:00 p.m.*: Vancouver at Chicago CBC, VERSUS
* if necessary **VERSUS exclusive