Thursday, April 28, 2011

Vancouver Canucks Round 2 Playoff Schedule

The Vancouver Canucks vs the Nashville Predators round 2 playoff schedule is as follows:

  1. Thursday, April 28 at Vancouver, 6:00 p.m.
  2. Saturday, April 30 at Vancouver, 6:00 p.m.
  3. Tuesday, May 3 at Nashville, 6:00 p.m.
  4. Thursday, May 5 at Nashville, 5:30 p.m.
  5. *Saturday, May 7 at Vancouver, 5:00 p.m.
  6. *Monday, May 9 at Nashville, TBD
  7. *Wednesday, May 11 at Vancouver, TBD

All Times Pacific. * If Necessary

Monday, April 25, 2011

Deserving of a Better Fate?

The Vancouver Canucks played their best game of the series, but it wasn't enough to finish off the Chicago Blackhawks. Alain Vigneault shook things up by juggling his lines and starting Corey Schneider in goal. Despite outplaying the Blackhawks in the second half of the game, Vancouver couldn't get the one goal they needed. For Canuck fans it was just another heartbreaking loss. On to the game notes...

  • Before the game the twitter world was abuzz with the late news that Corey Schneider would start (for a while there "Corey Schneider" was trending worldwide). Schneider played very well between the pipes, unfortunately he was a disaster when he left the crease. Two poor plays handling the puck led to two goals against and in the end a loss. Without those two goals Chicago probably isn't in the game. Schneider left the game after cramping up following a failed save attempt on Frolik's penalty shot.
  • That meant Roberto Luongo would get his chance at redemption. While he played admirably in a tough situation - facing little action for most of the 3rd - the winning goal was yet another misplay for Luongo. Sure there was a lot of traffic, but you've got to find a way to stop that puck without completely removing your ability to stop the rebound. Once again Luongo failed to get it done.
  • While Alain Vigneault's line juggling payed off, his decision to dress Raffi Torres and Andrew Alberts backfired. Torres took yet another offensive zone penalty, this time a goaltender interference call. Fortunately it did not lead to a goal this time, but Torres wouldn't see the ice for the remainder of the game and may not ever see it again as a Vancouver Canuck. Andrew Alberts played well in his first game since February 14th. Unfortunately, when Sami Salo went down early, it left Vancouver with a predicament on defense. Alberts of course couldn't handle Marion Hossa in overtime which resulted in the winning goal. The decision to start Alberts over Ballard may have cost Vancouver the series.
  • In a game which the Canucks dominated most of the second half it's hard to believe that the Canucks only drew two power plays (Chicago had 4 plus a penalty shot). John Scott absolutely leveled Burrows in front of the net after play was whistled dead - no call. On one of the Canucks rare power plays Kesler got absolutely leveled from behind, taking away Sedin's passing target - no call. Then there was Henrik's stick being chopped in two, an automatic penalty for most of the season - no call. And of course there was Bickell's hit on Bieksa, a carbon copy of the Torres hit on Seabrook. Game three it was a penalty, game 6 - no call. Then you have the worst call of the night... I can live with the officials putting their whistles away, but the decision to scrape the ice half way through OT after the Canucks had Chicago's 4th line stuck on the ice following an icing... unbelievably absurd. 100% the wrong call, don't care how the NHL decides to defend it. And just for the record here the power plays in this series are now 27-16 in favour of Chicago.
  • While the Canucks aren't getting any help in the power play department, part of it is their own fault. When 4 of your top 6 forwards have reputations for embellishing your not going to get the benefit of the doubt. Henrik Sedin flopping like he was shot at the end of the second isn't going to help him get a call later in the game.
  • A lot of Canucks had their best game of the series. Chris Higgins finally showed up, winning more puck battles in the first period than he had in the entire series up to that point. Max Lapierre was huge during the third and overtime. Burrows finally got going offensively, despite missing a wide open net. Bieksa was a beast on defense and the Sedins played by far their best game.
  • Unfortunately Ryan Kesler still has not scored. If the Canucks are going to win game 7 they need a goal from #17.
  • Speaking of the Burrows missed opportunity, the ice at the United Center was terrible. Puck was bouncing all night long.
  • Finally, the Canucks need to find a way to get more point shots through. Chicago blocked 31 shots, the most important was a poor attempt by Hamhuis which would result in Chicago's first goal.

So the big question over the next day is who starts in goal? Tough call. Schneider played well, but not well enough. On the other hand Luongo has never beat Chicago when it matters. Flip a coin? In the end I think you have to go with Luongo, if for no other reason than you can't have another situation where Schneider is forced to leave the game early or fails to make a save due to his cramping issues.

Vancouver has one more chance. It's hard to believe that it's come down to this, but as a Canuck fan are you really surprised? A win could propel them on to the Stanley Cup. A loss and it's hard to fathom the repercussions...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Test of Faith

Canucks fans have experienced many moments of pain and disappointed over the last 40 years. My first real experience was in 1989 Vs the Calgary Flames. Mike Vernon's overtime glove save on Stan Smyl and the series clinching goal off the skate of Joel Otto are still fresh wounds 22 years later.

A couple first round series wins over the Winnipeg Jets in the early 90's gave me hope that all you had to do was get into the dance and anything was possible. 1994 confirmed that. A tough first round series led to a relatively easy run to the cup finals. Before the advent of espn classic, my most vivid memories of game 7 were Jyrki Lumme taking a 1st period cross checking penalty (despite not having a stick in his hands) leading to a Ranger goal and Nathan Lafayette hitting the cross bar late in the third.

After '94 it really did seem like all you needed to do was just make the playoffs and anything could happen. Then came the dark ages of the whale and Orca Bay. The Stanley cup was a distant dream. Harold Druken's goal Vs Los Angeles in 2001 felt like one of the greatest moments in Canuck history. Sad really, but finally returning to the playoffs for the first time in five years really was one of the greatest moments in franchise history. After all, if you just make the playoffs anything can happen right?

Of course nothing did. The Canucks would be swept by the Avalanche in '01 and would lose 4 straight to Detroit - after taking a 2-0 series lead - in '02. Both opponents would of course go on to win the Stanley Cup.

Then came 2003. Despite losing the division title on the last day of the season, the Canucks managed to get by the St Louis Blues and found themselves up 3-1 against the Minnesota Wild. For the first time in almost a decade there was a clear path to the Stanley Cup.

Then it happened. The most epic and heartbreaking collapse a Canuck fan could imagine.

Now, after almost a decade of lockouts, missed playoffs and early playoff exits the Canucks have their best team ever and hold a commanding 3-0 series lead over their nemesis. Surely this is the year right?

Game 4: 7-2. Game 5... I don't know how to put it in to words. Perhaps one of my frustrated, beer induced tweets sums it up best:

This is just beyond bizarre. Can we just send this franchise to another city and start fresh with the Coyotes or Thrashers?

Heading into this series if you told Canucks fans' they'd be healthy and up 3-2 heading to game 6... The vast majority would be pretty happy. Yet no Canuck fan on the planet is happy right now. Most are probably questioning why they are stuck rooting for a franchise that continually breaks their heart.

It was once unfathomable that something could eclipse the heartbreak of the Wild series. Yet somehow the Vancouver Canucks are on the verge of doing just that - the most heartbreaking and epic collapse imaginable. As a fan it's hard to keep the faith, but what else can we do? We've gotta believe.

This IS the year.

Let's go boys!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Canucks Finally Win a Game 2 Vs Chicago

It got interesting late, but the Vancouver Canucks managed to hang on to a 4-3 lead and win game #2 for the first time in the past three series against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Canucks had another dominant opening period, once again scoring first while hitting the Hawks hard and often. The Canucks never lost the lead and responded every time Chicago scored or gained momentum. The Canucks' stars were better than the Blackhawks' stars and the Canucks dominated the special teams game. Without a few Luongo miscues this game may not have been close. On to the game notes...

  • Roberto Luongo was brilliant in game one, but for whatever reason he wasn't nearly as sharp in game two. All three goals on their own merits weren't terrible - they can all be explained away - but their totality showed a lack of focus or sharpness from Luongo. The first could have been played better by every Canuck involved in the play, but 9 times out of 10 Luongo either blocks that pass or is ready to push off and make the save; The second came off a routine D to D pass that jumped over Edler's stick. Stalberg quickly shot through Edler and Luongo didn't pick the puck up in time. In game one he makes that save; The third was simply a poor rebound; In the past these types of goals have snowballed, let's hope Luongo can put game two behind him.
  • Chicago had only two powerplays, but the Vancouver penalty kill was dominant nonetheless. Chicago failed to register a shot on goal while the Canucks had a few shorthanded chances. Alex Burrows was tremendous, both in his own end and applying pressure up ice.
  • Chicago got a good push from their secondary players, but their big four struggled. Toews and Kane both played over 20 minutes, but had just two shots between them. Brent Seabrook struggled while Duncan Keith played nearly half the game and was a -2. The Canucks have done a great job shutting down the big 4, while Quenneville - playing from behind all series - has been forced to play them at every opportunity. We'll see how much of an effect last change will be when the series hits Chicago.
  • Their are a few clich├ęs which always come to fruition during the playoffs. One of those is "never give up a goal in the first or last minute of a period." Chicago did both in the second period of game two.
  • Average shift time for Canucks skaters ranged from Ballard's low of 31 seconds to Dan Hamhuis' high of 47 seconds.
  • The Canucks actually lossed the faceoff battle in game two, winning only 20 out of 50 draws. Most concerning is that Vancouver's right handed centres (Kesler and Lapierre) were a combined 4 for 12 in the defensive zone. Canucks will need to be better in Chicago where they don't have the advantage of last change.
  • Mikael Samuellsson missed the game with what the Canucks call "the flu"... cough, cough, bullshit. It's obvious to everyone that Samuellsson is still battling through an injury or two. Either that or Torres' "food poisoning" is actually the flu and it's spreading around the team.
  • If Samuellsson can't go in game three Cody Hogdson may keep his spot in the lineup when Torres returns. Hogdson played pretty well in 10:22 picking up an assist and a couple shots on goal. Unfortunately he was also on the ice for two Chicago goals. It will be interesting to see how he handles his defensive duties in the pressure packed atmosphere of the United Center. Without last change his ice time will be limited, especially if it's a tight game.
  • Finally what can you say about Alex Edler. Just returning from back surgery and it looks like he didn't miss a game. 22:12, a goal, 2 shots, 2 blocked shots and 4 hits, including a gamesetter against Kane early in the first. He was also huge during the final minutes as the Hawks were pushing to tie. Best all around defenseman to ever play in a Vancouver uniform and he's only 24.
  • Despite Luongo's struggles, Vancouver once again showed that they are the better team this year. It's going to be tougher in Chicago, and the series certainly isn't over, but Vancouver looks like a team on a mission. It's hard to imagine a scenario where this team loses 4 of 5. Game three goes Sunday at 5:00 (CBC) in Chicago.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Canucks Take Game One 2-0

The Vancouver Canucks opened their 2011 Stanley Cup drive with an impressive 2-0 victory over the Blackhawks. The Canucks took it to Chicago early, dominating in the hit department while adding a couple goals. The Hawks got it together in the 2nd period, but Roberto Luongo was outstanding, posting his second career playoff shutout. On to the game notes...

  • The big story of game one was obviously Roberto Luongo. His huge save off Brian Campbell late in the second was both an amazing stop and a key save at a critical time. The Blackhawks had played a strong period, but in the end had nothing to show for it. It's a totally different 3rd if Chicago gets within one.
  • Luongo was outstanding, but he was also pretty lucky. Chicago hit a lot of posts and misfired on several chances. Sure, the Canucks also had their share of posts and close calls, but Vancouver needs to tighten up the defensive coverage. Eventually some of those bounces aren't going to go their way.
  • Much has been made about the Canucks' physical play and their whopping hit total of 47 (almost half of which came in the first period). While it's nice to rack up the hits and punish your opponent, the Canucks may have been a little too aggressive. There were a few occasions where they got caught out of position after going for the big hit. There were also a few missed open ice hits that could have resulted in penalties or suspensions had they connected. Not saying they shouldn't be physical, just that they need to make sure they're on the right side of that fine line.
  • Despite their aggressive approach the Canucks did a great job of staying out of the penalty box and when they did take a penalty the PK was outstanding.
  • It's clear that this is no where near the same Chicago team as the one that won the Stanley Cup last year. Beyond Toews, Kane, Seabrook and Keith there's just not a whole lot there. The only way Chicago can win is if those 4 guys dominate. They all played well in game one, but it wasn't enough. If the Canucks can keep Toews and Kane off the scoresheet this series will be over quickly... if they don't Chicago is still very capable of winning the series.
  • Unlike Chicago the Canucks are oozing depth. The depth on the blueline is arguably unprecedented in the salary cap era and Vancouver has all 4 forward lines contributing (a lot like the Hawks last year).

It's only game one, but as a Canuck fan you have to be pretty happy with your team's performance . Sure they were a little too reliant on Luongo and they got some lucky breaks, but you have to be good to be lucky. The Canucks took it to Chicago early and forced them to play from behind all night. Perhaps the most encouraging thing to take from game one is that Vancouver can be a lot better. It's early, but the Stanley Cup dream is alive and well.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Canucks Clinch Presidents' Trophy

For the first time in their 40 year history the Vancouver Canucks have won the Presidents' Trophy!

Sure it doesn't mean a whole lot, but it is a nice accomplishment. What's more impressive is the way they accomplished the feat. They've scored the most goals while allowing the fewest. They have the NHL's best power play and the best penalty kill. They could boast the league's top 2 scorers and will have multiple nominees for the NHL awards. They went 10-2 in March, playing against teams fighting for their playoff lives, when they themselves had little to play for. It's been an incredible season, but all the accolades will mean nothing without playoff success.

They know it, the fans know it. It's Stanley Cup or bust.

They could get bounced in the first round, but there's something that tells me this team is something special. Sure they have the scoring and the depth, but it's the intangibles that are going to make the difference this year. The way they go about their business is something we've never seen in Vancouver. This team has one goal and everyone is buying into the process that will achieve it. Under the leadership of the Sedins this team is on a mission.

The fragility of the Markus Naslund era has been purged.

This team knows it can win and more importantly, knows how to win. They're getting stellar goaltending. Despite numerous injuries the defense core has been great all year. Everyone has been contributing up front and when the Canucks need to step up, the Sedins lead the way. From top to bottom this is the best team Vancouver has ever seen.

Only four more games until we get to see this team in playoff action. I can't wait...