Who will the Canucks face in the playoffs?
Remember white towels? Remember the chills that went down your spine as Alex Burrows scored in OT against the Blackhawks? Remember how the Predators could do nothing to stop Ryan Kesler? Remember the stanchion?
It’s back, the playoffs are just around the corner, and this city is crossing its fingers ever so tightly to see history be made.
But as high and mighty as the Canucks can seem around the league, it’s the matchup that matters, and who’s hot. The team learned their lesson in 2012 against the 8th seeded Kings, so you know that coach Vigneault and his staff are keeping an extra close eye on who their opponents will be.
As of Monday night’s win against the Blackhawks, the Canucks have clinched the 3rd spot in the West, ensuring them a matchup against the 6th seeded team. That playoff spot is still unclear, but we can narrow it down to at least six teams.
- Los Angeles Kings: 27%
- St. Louis Blues: 16%
- San Jose Sharks: 41%
- Minnesota Wild: 16%Let’s take a look at the four potential first round opponents, and how they face off against the Canucks.
Los Angeles Kings
% Chance at 6th place: 27%
Season Series against Canucks: 2-1 in favour of Vancouver
Pretty much the last team that the Canucks would want to face again, but a re-do of the massive disappointment that was the 2012 series for fans could be something the team itself is pining for. With Jeff Carter and the offense on a torrid pace for goals, Jonathan Bernier proving to be a starting candidate in net against Jonathan Quick, and a new Brazilian touch on the back end with Robyn Regehr, the Kings are arguably better than their 2012 form. All that matters right now though, is whether or not they can create the same cup-winning momentu. The season series between the Canucks and Kings has the higher seed at an advantage, but in playoff conditions, coach V needs to push his grinding and checking pieces in place to keep away Dustin Brown’s elbows from taking out any key players.
St. Louis Blues
% Chance at 6th place: 16%
Season Series against Canucks: 2-1 in favour of St. Louis
Were this matchup to happen, it would mark the third time in ten years that the Blues faced the Canucks in a playoff round, but it would look no way similar to the last time they matched up. 2009 saw the Canucks sweep their first series in history against a young squad that was meant to challenge only for a top pick in the draft that year. This year, that team is all grown up, and players like David Backes, Alex Pietrangelo, Chris Stewart, and Kevin Shattenkirk are capable of winning a series. In net, expect Brian Elliot to be an irritating brick wall against a Canucks offense that has been sporadic even in the best of games, but that worry can be balanced against what the Blues would face with the likes of Corey Schneider. This series would be full of intense physical battles, as previewed by the battles these teams have waged in the regular season. The upside of facing the Blues lies within the fact that on paper, Vancouver has a higher stacked team on paper, and has only lost to the Blues in the shootout. The downside? The Blues play a gritty game, have a mean streak, and could inflict enough physical damage on Vancouver to keep them from a deeper run. As with the Kings, the likes of Tom Sestito, Zack Kassian, Dale Weise, and Max Lapierre would need to bring out the best in their physical game.
San Jose Sharks
% Chance at 6th place: 41%
Season Series against Canucks: 3-0 in favour of San Jose
Only a few months ago were the Sharks ranked as the best team in the league next to the Blackhawks. Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, and Joe Pavelski’s offensive output has since fallen off, but against the Canucks there’s a wholly different story with San Jose going undefeated in their series against Vancouver. In three games including one shootout loss, the Canucks were manhandled by the likes of Joe Thornton, and Adam Burish, with notable battles between Thornton and captain Henrik Sedin. This time, the Sharks wield an even tougher player in Raffi Torres, who as we saw in 2011, can use his toughness to bulldoze through even the best of teams. As bad as Vancouver’s record has been, the Sharks don’t have comparative talent to challenge the skill that dots all four lines of the Canucks, as at the trade deadline, the Sharks sold away a tough defensive piece in Douglas Murray, and a force on offense in Ryan Clowe, to the Penguins and Rangers. It may be a long series, but this would decisively be the Canucks’ series to lose.
% Chance at 6th place: 16%
Season Series against Canucks: 2-2 tied
For a majority of this season, the Canucks worried about their chances at maintaining their five-year domination of the Northwest division in its final year before realignment. The Wild posted an excellent 13-3-1 record on the board early in the shortened season, but since then they’ve seen a collapse that couldn’t come at a worse time. Prior to Wednesday, the Wild scored only four goals in a five game stretch, but the calls for improvement are hard to make, as they’ve outscored opponents game after game. Against the Canucks, the Wild have been marginally successful by splitting the season series, but a hot Corey Schneider and an already unlucky Wild offense means that a series between the two would look to be a lot more frustrating on the side of Minnesota. Players to watch out for against the Canucks range high, but the biggest targets for the checking lines stand to be captain Mikko Koivu, new acquisition Jason Pominville, and the $196 million men, Zack Parise and Norris candidate Ryan Suter. As it stands, a Canucks-Wild matchup could go either way on paper, but the hot streak for the third-seed, were it to continue, should make quick work of the Minnesota club.
Whoever the first round opponent is, the Canucks team this year is still one of the best in the league, and have the pieces to turn the spring of 2013 into another cup run year for a city that so deserves the silver.
Who do you want the Canucks to play in the postseason, and why? Comment below!
Vyas Saran is the Canucks Columnist for Vancity Buzz. Follow him on Twitter via @vyassaran