2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – Semifinals Preview
Western Conference Semifinal Preview - (5) Nashville Predators vs. (1) Vancouver Canucks
The Nashville Predators finally won a first-round playoff series, something they had never done before. The Vancouver Canucks finally subdued the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs, something they had failed to do in each of the previous two seasons. Two liberated teams hit the ice beginning tonight as the second round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs gets underway. It will be fascinating to see which team gains more confidence from a cathartic conquest and then translates that fuel into a winning brand of hockey.
It’s impossible to overstate just how much the first round meant to each of these organizations. Nashville had not won a single playoff series in the first 12 years of its existence as an expansion franchise. Coach Barry Trotz had knocked on the door several times in recent years, having forged 2-2 series ties against formidable teams such as the Detroit Red Wings and, last year, the aforementioned Blackhawks. Last year, Nashville owned a one-goal lead and had a power play in the final minutes of Game 5 in a tied series at Chicago. Somehow, the Preds allowed a last-minute goal to the Hawks and lost that tilt in overtime. Chicago finished off Nashville in six games, and another season ended far too soon in the state of Tennessee. The ability of the Predators to dismiss Anaheim in this year’s first round dispelled the shadow cast by that haunting event 12 months ago. Nashville no longer has to live under the burden of that unforgettable letdown against the 2010 Stanley Cup champions.
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That Game 5 loss to Chicago one year ago serves as a perfect point of reference for a Vancouver team that had to battle the Blackhawks over the past two weeks. In Game 7 on Tuesday, the Canucks owned a one-goal lead over the Hawks and gained a power play in the final minutes. Yet, they too allowed Chicago to score a tying shorthanded goal. Vancouver found itself in a position that was very similar (though not identical) to what Nashville encountered in 2010. The Canucks, thrust into the uncertainty of overtime, were one Chicago goal away from enduring a shattering defeat in a series they had led three games to none. It would have been so easy for Vancouver to slump its shoulders and allow Chicago to take control in the extra period, en route to what would have been the single worst loss in the Canucks’ 40-year history. Yet, the Canucks persevered. They killed off a Chicago penalty and then erupted with joy as Alex Burrows made a steal in the offensive zone and blasted a shot into the back of the net, beating the Blackhawks’ valiant goalie, Corey Crawford. Vancouver slew a dragon and conquered a demon with that win, finally stopping the Chicago team that flustered Roberto Luongo, the Canucks’ highly accomplished netminder.
The clarity of this second-round clash is remarkable: Nashville and Vancouver have just removed immeasurable burdens from their shoulders. Now they’ll face each other to see who goes to the Western Conference Finals.
Which team will soar, and which team will flinch? Which team will max out, and which team will feel more trapped by a past it should be able to outgrow?
Predators. Canucks. It’s an untraditional matchup, but it’s a pairing of two teams that no longer have reason to fear failure. If both squads really are freed from psychological paralysis, they could deliver one very spectacular series before they’re done.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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