2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – First Round Series Preview
Western Conference -
(8) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (1) Vancouver Canucks
Well, well, well, look at the matchup we have here. For the third straight season the Chicago Blackhawks and the Vancouver Canucks will meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The folks on the West Coast of Canada can only hope that the script will read differently this time around.
There are so many stories lines heading into this series. Will the Canucks ever get over the ‘Chicago hump'? Is the third time the charm? How will the Hawks act being the underdogs in this series? Will back-dooring their way into the playoffs affect them? All questions that will be answered by the time this series is complete. The main matchup that will go a long way in deciding who wins this series and advances to the conference semifinals is the battle between the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, and the Chicago defense. The most famous twins in the NHL are two of the top five players in the league, so they need to produce if Vancouver is to advance. However, any time they are logging ice minutes they will most likely be playing against Chicago forward and captain Jonathan Toews plus some rock-solid teammates in the forms of defensemen Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and possibly Niklas Hjalmarsson. Chicago owns not just the knowledge that it has beaten Vancouver two straight years in the playoffs, but also the inner confidence created by a successful Stanley Cup run, the Blackhawks’ first since 1961. It’s going to require a great deal of mental fortitude for the Sedins and the Canucks at large to break through the Chicago barrier and create a long NHL playoff journey of their own… all the way to June and the Cup finals against the Eastern Conference champion.
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Within this larger clash between the Sedins and the Chicago defense is the fact that the Hawks will be bringing a new and not-as-tested goalie into the equation this year. While Cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi went to San Jose to bolster the Sharks, Corey Crawford stepped between the pipes for Chicago with decidedly subpar results. While most of the buzz in this series will rightly flow to regular-season-rich but playoff-poor Vancouver netminder Roberto Luongo, it is Crawford who will likely decide just how long and difficult this series will be. Crawford has to make timely saves and keep his team in the fight so that the Hawks can then break Luongo’s will with decisive late goals. Chicago isn’t as purely talented as Vancouver, so the Hawks will welcome a steady parade of close games that are tied with 10 minutes left in the third period. The Canucks, on the other hand, will want to make sure that they enter third periods with at least a one-goal lead.
One other thing to keep in mind is the health of Chicago forward Dave Bolland, who was a huge X-factor for the Hawks last year and a main reason why they shut down the Sedins and eventually won the Cup. This should be an interesting series, but Bolland’s ability to affect the trajectory of play will be something to look for. Will Vancouver embrace this challenge and respond accordingly, or are the Blackhawks into the Cancucks’ heads after two straight series wins in the 2009 and 2010 playoffs? The hockey world can’t wait to find out the answers to these and other burning questions.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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