The Skinny: After watching Alex Burrows blast a puck behind Corey Crawford, Robert Luongo went charging up the ice to celebrate with his teammates in a celebration crazier than Patrick Kaneís winner in OT in last yearís finals and in one shot, the Vancouver Canucks finally slayed the dragon known as the Chicago Blackhawks. The Canucks would be wise to remember that it wasnít the Cup Finals and only round one against the eighth seeded team.
Now they face another stiff test in the Nashville Predators. The Preds are in the second round for the first time in team history and are young and hungry for more.
In the regular season, the two teams were dead even splitting the season 2-2 with a win and a loss at home each. While this isnít a traditional rivalry in the NHL, it has all the makings of becoming one.
Forwards: Vancouver has the deepest group of forwards in the NHL, however, they are banged up and missing Manny Malhotra which is a big blow to Vancouver. Selke nominee Ryan Kesler anchors the two-way side of the Canucks attack with the ability to bulge the twine, prevent great chances, and along with Burrows, annoy the heck out of the opposition.
Hart Trophy nominee Daniel Sedin leads the offensive charge with twin brother Henrik and secondary scorers Samuelsson, Raymond and Hansen all pose a threat. In the bottom six, Vancouver features Maxim Lapierre, Chris Higgins and Cody Hodgson, all are versatile and have the ability to add a big goal here and there.
The Predators have one of the younger forward groups in the league. Led by veterans Mike Fisher, JP Dumont, Steve Sullivan and David Legwand, the Predators feature 25 and under players Nick Spaling, Sergei Kostitsyn, Matt Halischuk, Patrick Hornqvist and Blake Geoffrion, and while they arenít known commodities to the casual viewer, leave the Predators management staff and fan base salivating at their prospects.
Experience however trumps youth and in this case the Canucks lead in that department.
Defense: Nashville features two of the best defenseman in the NHL, and because they play in Nashville, donít always get the respect they deserve. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are in a league of their own when it comes to patrolling the blue line. With size, speed, agility and booming shots, as well as smarts in their defensive end, the two are a treat to watch night in and night out. Both products of the spectacular 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Suter and Weber have developed a chemistry that Predators fans hope lasts for a long time.
In addition to Suter and Weber, Nashville is a defense factory with Kevin Klein, Cody Franson, and Jonathon Blum all products of the Predators developmental system and Shane OíBrien who came over in a deal from Vancouver in the off-season brings added toughness and is a royal pain for opposing forwards.
Vancouverís defense, like its forward group is bruised and battered. Dan Hamhuis is always a hit away from spending extended time on the IR, Keith Ballard has been a disappointment and a sneeze could injure Sami Salo at any moment. Yet, in Vancouverís defense they do have two studs of their own in Alex Edler and Christian Ehrhoff. My feelings on Edler have been documented on here before as I feel heís one of the best younger defenseman in the NHL that nobody talks about. Edler is big, strong and possesses a shot that would make most goalies tremble in fear.
Goaltending: Luongo has finally overcome the Blackhawks, and now weíll get to see what heís really made of facing someone else. Anyone but Chicago and Luongo has pretty good record in the playoffs. He was a hard luck loser in his first foray into the playoffs after the lockout but this is his time to prove that he is the same goalie in the regular season as he is in the playoffs.
Pekka Rinne had an outstanding regular season for Nashville propelling the Preds to fifth in the conference and while at times he looked shaky, he has the ability to be a game changer at any moment.
Rinne has good lateral movement and has an imposing frame in the net that makes it tough for shooters to beat him once he gets into the butterfly.
Coaching: Barry Trotz has been the only coach the Predators have ever known. Heís tough but fair and his teams are always responsible in their own end. Thereís a reason the man has never been let go and thatís because heís one of the best coaches in the NHL. Youngsters develop properly and gain a valuable understanding of what is necessary to win under Trotz, and heís finally got to the second round to show what he can do.
Alain Vigneault on the other hand, while being a pretty good coach with a good team put him in front of him, hasnít tasted success in the playoffs, like the team heís coaching and hasnít made it past the second round. If the Canucks canít make it past the second round this time, I donít like Vigneaultís chances of returning next season.
Series Outlook: What does Vancouver have left in the tank after celebrating like they won the Stanley Cup against the Blackhawks? That sort of thing could either motivate a team, or take everything out of them so it will be interesting to see where they go from here. They are the Presidentís Trophy Winners and have a square target on their back and face the unknown in the form of Nashville.
At the end of the day, Nashville might not have the horses to run with the big dogs in Vancouver and that could be the difference, but theyíre such an unknown that it is difficult to know what they can really do. My heart says that Vancouver is in for a world of hurt after the Chicago series, but at the same time, theyíre the NHLís best.
Vancouver in seven.
Vishal Hussain has been a hockey fan since 1987 and a Devils fan since 1990. A graduate of the critically acclaimed College of Sports Media in Toronto Ontario, Vishal has actively been a fantasy player since 2000, winning his first ever Yahoo! pool and continually finishing in the top 3 each year since. He watches every game, every night through NHL Centre Ice, both online and on TV and is an excellent evaluator of fantasy players and up and coming prospects in the league. Email Coach Hussain at [email protected].