On Monday we looked at three of the teams the Canucks might play in the opening round of the playoffs. Since then Calgary virtually eliminated themselves with a loss to Los Angeles, Colorado were felled by our (hockey) blades Wednesday night, and the other, San Jose, remains in the hunt. Incredibly enough, a mere four points separates the 7th and 11th spots in the rankings and for the Pacific Division teams, a win could catapult you into the 3rd seed. With just four games remaining for most of these teams, every minute of every game will be vital in booking a spot in the post season. Here is part two of our look at who the Canucks could play in mid-April.
Dallas Stars: Currently 3rd (89 pts)
Hockey: On the surface, it’s easy to overlook the Stars purely based on their place in the standings; in 3rd place, they don’t appear to be an immediate threat to Vancouver. A couple of losses could change all that. If the Canucks were to face Dallas in the opening round, people still might be prone to underestimating them. Don’t. They may not boast a player that will finish the season with a point per game but the Stars have a relatively balanced line up. In goal Kari Lehtonen is reaching his full potential after getting in shape, they have a defense with a bit of a mean streak, and their offense has game-changing talent with the likes of Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, and Mike Ribeiro. Another factor to look into again is the travel. A match up with Dallas is geographically one of the farthest and a long series between the two teams and the amount of travel it would entail could prove costly towards a deep playoff run.
Fans: As previously noted, the Stars have some pretty talented guys to watch out for. Ribeiro’s stick handling skills are among the best in the league and Victoria boy Benn is an emerging star. Defenseman Mark Fistric and Stephane Robidas are tough to play against and bring a physical element to the game, while Steve Ott and Vernon Fiddler play the role of ever present pests.
Los Angeles Kings: Currently 7th (88 pts)
Hockey: Last time Vancouver played Los Angeles in the playoffs, the Kings scored seven straight power play goals before the Canucks were able to kill one off. As unlikely as any sort of special teams embarrassment is to occur this time around, a series against the Kings is one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Offensively they are challenged, but the stellar play of Jonathan Quick in net is more than enough to make them a competitive team. Though they’re led by the always dangerous Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles doesn’t have much else to offer other than best buddies Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. They have a severe lack of offensive support on the wings, leaving a lot of the work up to the three aforementioned players.
Fans: The Kings actually have quite a few talking points when it comes to entertainment. On the bench you have the emotionless Darryl Sutter whose facial expressions, or lack thereof, or always a subject of comedy. Then there’s Dustin Penner, who got back spasms from trying to eat pancakes. The biggest draw of LA coming to Vancouver however would have to be the arrival of two of hockey’s biggest playboys, Richards and Carter. By all accounts these two like a good party so if you were to see the two at the club, do your team a favor and buy them a drink or five.
Phoenix Coyotes: Currently 7th (89 pts)
Hockey: If you’ve seen any of Phoenix’s games this year then you know that an opening round series against them would be challenging. Their stifling brand of hockey is at times boring to watch, but it is effective in that it forces opponents to make mistakes. At age 39, Ray Whitney is still an offensive machine, Keith Yandle is a stud at both ends of the rink, and in net, Mike Smith has provided solid goaltending. In order to get through a series with the Coyotes unscathed, Vancouver would have to play a very disciplined game while managing to breakdown the suffocating style Phoenix employs.
Fans: If you’re interested in watching the Canucks play the Coyotes in the postseason, you must also like watching paint dry and snails race. There is very little excitement to be had from a series against Phoenix and the only plausible reason for wanting to play them is inexpensiveness of going down to Arizona and watching a game there. In fact it’s probably cheaper than buying a playoff ticket in Vancouver.
Chicago Blackhawks: Currently 6th (95 pts)
Hockey/Fans: With a six point cushion on 7th place, it’s extremely unlikely we would get a repeat of last year’s opening round thriller between Chicago and Vancouver. But oh what a series it would be. A fourth consecutive meeting in the postseason would be no less entertaining than a previous series and I’m sure Vancouver would like to exact a certain amount of vengeance on one Mr. Duncan Keith. By now every Canucks fan is familiar with what the Blackhawks are capable of and the threat they pose. Strategically, it may not be the best option as it would likely sap the team a lot of energy, but with all the drama, controversy, action, and emotion another Canucks and Blackhawks match up would bring, who wouldn’t want to see it happen.