Canucks-Preds Prepare for Showdown

Both of these teams overcame their franchise’s historic obstacles to reach the second round of the playoffs.  The Canucks finally beat the Blackhawks after being eliminated by Chicago the previous two seasons.  Meanwhile, the Predators advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history after losing in round 1 the previous five times they reached the postseason.

The pressure remains squarely on the Canucks, who won the President’s Trophy this season with the league’s best record and are the favorites to reach the Stanley Cup Finals from the Western Conference. Nashville, on the other hand, is a decided underdog and feels as if it’s playing with house money.  That being said, a solid showing against Vancouver or actually even winning the series and advancing to the conference finals could do a lot to help solidify the Preds fan base in a non-traditional hockey market.

The clubs split four games this season with each team winning once at home and once on the road. In what may be a harbinger of what we can expect in this series, neither team scored more than three goals in any of the four games played between the two clubs.

The Canucks clearly have more star power than the Preds.  Their top line featuring Alex Burrows and the Sedin twins, is one of the most potent in the league.  Ryan Kesler centers Mason Raymond and Mikael Samuelsson to provide a very strong second unit. Vancouver really misses the injured Manny Malhotra who centered the third line, killed penalties and is one of the best faceoff men in the league. A player like him is even more valuable in a playoff series like this one.  That being said, Vancouver still has a solid and capable third line.

On defense, the Canucks may have the deepest six man unit in the league.  Kevin Bieksa, Christian Erhoff, Sami Salo and Dan Hamhuis make a strong top four. Alex Edler and Keith Ballard are the third pair and are can be put out for a lot of minutes without fear.

In goal, Roberto Luongo had an uneven performance against Chicago, but came up big in Game 7 and hopes that it is the spring board for changing his reputation as a playoff choker.

Nashville may lack star power but they have balance.  The Preds roll four lines and come at you with a tireless forecheck that wears down opponents over the course of a game.  A total of 13 different Predators scored at least three points in the six game series against Anaheim.  Mike Fisher and tied for the team lead among forwards with three goals apiece in the playoffs while Jordin Tootoo surprised everyone with four assists and five points. Sergei Kostitsyn has playoff experience and remains one of Nashville’s more dangerous forwards.

Defensively, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are an exceptional top pairing but the Preds lack the depth of the Canucks top to bottom.  The second pairing of Cody Franson and Shane O’Brien is steady and quite capable.

Pekka Rinne was good but not great against the Ducks, but the Predators will need him to be on top of his game if they hope to pull off an upset in this series.  He’s been doing it all season and if Rinne gets hot, he is capable of being a difference maker.

Vancouver also had the league’s best power play during the regular season.  Nashville struggled on the PK against the Ducks but cannot afford a similar performance against Vancouver.  Special teams may separate the two teams during this series as the Canucks were also third in the league (during the regular season) on the PK.

The Canucks will be a bit tired after being taken to seven games by Chicago, especially after being up 3-0. The Preds need to take advantage of this and get an early jump in the series.  If they do, Vancouver may really start feeling the pressure that is on them to win the Cup this year.  Nashville is a hard working team and the Canucks will know they were in a battle, but they are too talented for Nashville and should find a way to win the series.

Prediction: Canucks in 6

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