Now that the Canucks have clinched the Northwest Division, part of the playoff focus shifts to who we may play in the opening round. Though the opportunity to claim the President’s Trophy is still there for the team, it’s a lock that Vancouver will finish first or second in the Western Conference and thus they’ll play whoever finishes seventh or eighth. With the playoff race so tight, here’s a look at possible match ups from both a fan and hockey perspective.
Calgary Flames: Currently 11th (83 pts)
Hockey: It’s unlikely, but the Flames have an outside chance of making the playoffs. While Calgary-haters would love to see them miss the playoffs yet again, this could be one of the more favorable match ups for the Canucks. The Flames do not boast the toughest team and severely lack any real offensive depth to really trouble the defense or Luongo. However the biggest factor that would make Calgary a good first round opponent is travel. If Vancouver is to go deep in the playoffs, managing their stamina and fatigue levels will be key; traveling to Calgary for away games would be a huge benefit to a team that spent more time in transit than any other last year.
Fan: It’s a bit disappointing but the Vancouver-Calgary rivalry has diminished over the years. Due in large part to an increasing gap in talent on both sides, Canucks and Flames games have lacked a certain x-factor for some time now. A playoff match up could change that. Think of all the trash talk that could be stirred up by a Western Canada match up. Plus it would open up the possibility of easy travel for away games for fans.
Colorado Avalanche: Currently 10th (86 pts)
Hockey: We saw a possible preview of this match up Saturday night and will again on Wednesday. If the weekend game was any indicator, the Avalanche would be a tougher affair than you’d expect. This mainly stems from their additions of Steve Downie and Jamie McGinn at the trade deadline. Both have been very effective for the Avalanche thus far and are your prototypical playoff type players; tough, hard-working guys who are able to contribute at both ends of the ice. Where the Canucks have the advantage though is on defense. Colorado has a relatively young and untested d-core when it comes to playoff experience and as we saw on Saturday night on Higgins’ winner in OT, they aren’t the toughest to play against. If our recent success against Colorado shows anything (14-0-2), this could be a quick series for Vancouver.
Fan: As is the case with Calgary, the Vancouver-Colorado rivalry has taken a hit ever since the days of Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote. With such a large influx of young talent in the Avalanche squad, a series like this could pave the way for a more hotly contested rivalry in the coming years. Players like Downie and Roxy-regular Shane O’Brien will always provide fans with a target for verbal abuse and Matt Duchene can wow fans with his talent.
San Jose Sharks: Currently 9th (85 pts)
Hockey: Avoid this match up like the plague. They may not be having the best season, but if they make the playoffs they definitely will be
wolves sharks in sheep’s clothing. It’s not so much that a series against San Jose is not winnable, it certainly is. The issue is how much it would likely wear on the Canucks so early in the playoffs. Travel to San Jose has always been an issue, and dealing with the size of the Sharks’ forwards is likely to take a toll on the Canucks. You can argue that playing a team like this at any point in the playoffs is a bad match, but the point is you want to stay as fresh as possible for as long as you can and facing San Jose would ensure that we don’t.
Fan: Playing the Sharks would certainly deliver that desirable ‘playoff-like atmosphere’. It would be a physical affair with Douglas Murray always lurking about and it certainly wouldn’t be without some post-whistle drama with Dan Boyle being quite the whiner. Plus, who doesn’t like to bash Joe Thornton?
Look for Part Two of our playoff preview in the coming days as we take a look at Los Angeles, Phoenix, and yes, Chicago. Don’t forget to follow us @Xchecked on Twitter as well.