Chicago vs. Vancouver
The Blackhawks and Canucks meet in the second round of the postseason for the second consecutive year. Each team was considered a favorite by many to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup finals and now each organization must go through the other in order to continue on the road to becoming champions. Both teams bring very good offenses, good special teams play and an array of stars to the ice in this matchup. While each team was down at one point in their first matchup, they both managed to climb back and
win three straight games in order to ensure a trip to the next round of the playoffs.
Chicago Offense vs. Vancouver Defense
Chicago Offense GVT: +30.3 GVT (Rank 4th in NHL)
Vancouver Defense GVT: +6.7 (Rank: 11th in NHL)
Vancouver Goaltending GVT: +3.3 (Rank: 14th in NHL)
We know that the offense of the Blackhawks is one of the best in the game, especially at even strength. Between Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa on the first line, who combined for 22 points in the first round, and Patrick Kane, Dave Bolland and Kris Versteeg on the second line, who combined for 11 points in the first round, very few teams are capable of keeping up with Chicago. Granted, some of their shooting percentages from the first round are unsustainable. Anyone think Kane's will stay around 25.0%?
If there's one defense left in the postseason that has the ability to stop the dynamic Chicago offense, well, it's not Vancouver's. The Canucks weren't able to keep pace with the Los Angeles Kings' gifted forwards in the first round, so it shouldn't be expected that they turn it around in the second round. Christian Ehrhoff, the German skater and main blueliner, leads the way for the Canucks on defense. While he can be a threat to score on offense, he's not one to be taken seriously on defense. Sami Salo, Alexander Edler and Kevin Bieksa are the three other primary defensemen for Vancouver, with Salo being the only reliable skater defensively. After those four, their defensive depth drops dramatically.
While Roberto Luongo had his troubles in the regular season, he was still good at even strength and is at least better than anything Chicago has to offer in the net. The Canadian Olympian will need a legendary performance against Chicago if the Canucks expect to make it to the Western Conference finals. A second consecutive series for Luongo with an .893 save percentage would spell the end for Vancouver.
Advantage: Chicago Blackhawks
Vancouver Offense vs. Chicago Defense
Vancouver Offense GVT: +37.3 (Rank: 2nd in NHL)
Chicago Defense GVT: +33.8 GVT (Rank: 1st in NHL)
Chicago Goaltending GVT: -14.2 GVT (Rank: 27th in NHL)
This is not the same Vancouver offense as in previous seasons. Between the Sedin brothers, Ryan Kesler, Alexandre Burrows and Mikael Samuelsson, the Canucks are a force to reckon with on offense. Those five skaters alone contributed 14 goals and 36 points in the first round against a third ranked Los Angeles defense, in terms of GVT. The Sedin brothers, the two most integral skaters to the Canucks offense, were decent but not spectacular last year against Chicago in the second round. If they can dominate against Chicago's defense, then the Blackhawks could be in for a difficult series.
The Sedin and Samuelsson line will be up against Norris Trophy candidate Duncan Keith and shutdown defenseman Brent Seabrook. This will be the best matchup on the ice to watch, as the team that wins this battle will likely take the series. Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson overachieved on offense in the first round, but he could certainly be a sleeper for the impact player in this series.
Antti Niemi played the entire series for Chicago against Nashville in the first round. If he can handle the same amount of time in the crease this series while posting a .921 save percentage against Vancouver's scoring powerhouse, then Chicago will be in great shape to win this series. In reality if he get's more than two quality starts in this series (.913 SV% +), then he's done his job.
Advantage: Vancouver Canucks
Chicago Power Play vs. Vancouver Penalty Kill
Chicago Power Play GVT: +2.3 GVT (Rank: 9th in NHL)
Vancouver Penalty Kill GVT: +1.7 (Rank: 13th in NHL)
Chicago converted on 17.9% of their power play chances in the first round, which was consistent with their man advantage unit in the regular season. Jonathan Toews had the biggest impact during 5-on-4 play with 1 goal, 2 assists and 3 points. If Chicago can mirror their solid, yet not spectacular play on the power play in the second round, they'll be fine.
With a 61.5% penalty-killing rate and 10 goals surrendered while on the penalty kill, the Canucks looked absolutely lost down a man in the first round against Los Angeles. Ryan Kesler and the rest of the key penalty-killers decided not to show up in important special teams situations. If they let this happen again in this series, they'll be doomed quickly.
Advantage: Chicago Blackhawks
Vancouver Power Play vs. Chicago Penalty Kill
Vancouver Power Play GVT: +9.2 (Rank: 2nd in NHL)
Chicago Penalty Kill GVT: +11.5 GVT (Rank: 3rd in NHL)
The Canucks converted on one in four power play opportunities with a 25% man advantage scoring percentage. Ryan Kesler led Vancouver with 12 power play goals on the season, while noone else finished with over 10. The Canucks biggest challenge will be getting past a penalty-killing unit that's almost as good as their power play.
The Blackhawks excel down a man, and in the first round against Nashville they proved how good they were by killing 26 of 27 penalties for a 96% penalty-killing rate. While they were nearly perfect against the Predators, they have yet to face a legitimate power play team this postseason.
Advantage: Vancouver Canucks
Season Series Results
Chicago and Vancouver split their four game regular season series, with each winning two games. In the four contests, the Canucks outscored the 'Hawks by a count of 11 to 10, with two games decided by one goal. The other two matchups were split, with Vancouver winning by four in one and Chicago winning by three in the other.
Injuries and Intangibles
Since suffering a concussion after a hit from Evgeni Malkin back on January 16th, defenseman Willie Mitchell has been out for Vancouver. For Chicago, Brian Campbell returned to the ice for the last three games of the first round against Nashville. Overall, both of these teams are fairly healthy.
Vancouver has the edge in the net, while Chicago has the edge on defense. Aside from those two categories, these teams are as close as can be in talent. The key to this series will come down to which side wins the battle between the Sedin brothers and Samuelsson line, and Chicago's top pairing of Keith and Seabrook. While it's a close call, Chicago will hold Vancouver's offense in check at the end of the day.
Prediction: Chicago Blackhawks in 7 games.
Andrew Rothstein is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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