With the Canucks having sewn up their spot in the playoffs via a clever combination of playing in the terrible Northwest division and being the best team in the NHL, the time has come to consider who the Canucks will face in the playoffs. With a comfortable 10 point lead on the Red Wings for first place in the Conference, the Canucks could safely go .500 over their remaining 8 games and still be guaranteed top spot. So let’s look at the teams that could end up in the 8th spot and face the Canucks in the first round.

Mathematically, there are still 12 teams that could potentially finish in 8th. Still, it’s safe to say that the Red Wings and the Sharks won’t be taking such a drastic fall. Similarly, the Blues, Blue Jackets, and Wild are unlikely to make improbable runs to the playoffs over their few remaining games. That still leaves 7 viable teams who could wind up facing the Canucks in the first round: the Coyotes, Blackhawks, Kings, Predators, Ducks, Stars, or Flames. Which of those teams would be an ideal match-up for the Canucks? Obviously, the Canucks don’t need to be afraid to face any team this postseason, but which team would be preferable?

Calgary Flames
Currently 10th with 85 points
Season Series: 4-0-1

Likelihood of 8th: The Flames are the least likely to make the playoffs of all the teams on the bubble, thanks to having the fewest games remaining. They haven’t done themselves any favors, either, losing their last three games, two of them against teams just above them in the standings. In order to make the playoffs, they will need to win each of their final six games and have two of the teams ahead of them go under .500 down the stretch. If all goes well for the Flames, their final game of the season against the Canucks will be a potential playoff preview and a win-and-you’re-in scenario. Otherwise, it will instead be a chance for Daniel Sedin to cement the Art Ross Trophy in the same way Henrik did last season: with sheer absurdity.
Do we want them in the first round? Yes please. It’s hard to argue with a 4-0-1 record, with the only loss coming via the shootout. The Canucks have owned the Flames like they’re majority shareholders this season. In addition, it just feels right: in their only two runs to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Canucks met and defeated the Flames in the opening round of the playoffs. That’s the kind of history I can get behind.

Dallas Stars
Currently 9th with 86 points
Season Series: 4-0-0
Likelihood of 8th: After a strong start to the season, the Stars have regressed severely, to the point that if the playoffs started today, they wouldn’t be in them. This shouldn’t be a surprise. The early success of the Stars was a function of good luck and a hot goaltender, two things that rarely persist throughout a season. Still, the Stars have a decent chance to sneak into 8th spot, as they are just 1 point behind Anaheim and 2 points behind Nashville, Los Angeles, and Chicago, with 9 games remaining. Considering that their final four games are against the woeful Blue Jackets, Avalanche, and Wild, it would not be the least bit surprising.

Do we want them in the first round? As Professor Farnsworth would say, “Oh my, yes.” The Canucks haven’t just beaten the Stars in each of their meetings, they’ve throttled them, with an overall goal differential of +15 over four games. In those four games, the Stars have been exposed as exactly what they are: a mediocre team that has gotten extraordinarily lucky. It’s difficult to imagine a better first round opponent for the Canucks to face.

Anaheim Ducks
Currently 8th with 87 points
Season Series: 2-2-0

Likelihood of 8th: Since the Ducks are already in 8th, their odds of finishing in 8th are quite good. Unfortunately, they’re also the only team in this discussion that has a negative goal differential and they’ve gone through some tough times without their superb Swiss netminder, Jonas Hiller. Of course, now comes the news that Hiller is back with the team and will be playing tonight. The question then becomes, will he be the pre-injury Hiller again or will there be an adjustment period. With only 9 games remaining in their schedule, an adjustment period could easily result in the Ducks slipping out of the playoffs.

Do we want them in the first round? Goodness gracious, no. While there is no doubt in my mind that the Canucks would win a playoff series against the Ducks, it would not come without a cost. The Ducks are a big, fast, and physical team, especially when it comes to the playoffs. Their top line doesn’t just score goals; they finish their checks and aggravate goaltenders. I would rather the Canucks didn’t enter the playoffs bruised, battered, and beleaguered. If the Ducks finish in 9th or 7th? Great. Keep them out of 8th.

Nashville Predators
Currently 7th with 88 points
Season Series: 1-2-0
Likelihood of 8th: As I (very safely) predicted at the start of the season, the Nashville Predators will make the playoffs. It is always foolish to bet against Barry Trotz and his band of Bee-Gee-loving brothers. Please note that the reports of the Predators loving the Bee Gees are as yet unconfirmed. The Predators are in a slightly precarious situation, however, as they have only 8 games remaining compared to 9 for many of their compatriots. Given how tight the standings are, the Predators can’t afford to let up.

Do we want them in the first round? The Predators are one of only two teams on this list that has a winning record against the Canucks. They pushed last year’s Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, to 6 games, and were arguably the ‘Hawks toughest test of the postseason. They’re a tough, hardworking team with top-end talent on defense, a potential Hart candidate in goal, and balanced scoring throughout their forwards. And yet, I’m not the least bit scared of them. The Canucks have the skill, grit, and mentality to beat the Predators; it would be a tight series, but definitely a winnable series. Home ice advantage will be key: the Predators are 20-8-7 at home but only 19-17-3 on the road.

Los Angeles Kings
Currently 6th with 88 points
Season Series: 1-1-1
Likelihood of 8th: Like the Predators and the Blackhawks, the Kings have a slim two-point lead on the Dallas Stars to remain in the playoffs. Their appointed starter, Jonathan Quick, has faltered down the stretch, leading the Kings to go with their other Jonathan, the rookie Bernier, more and more. Thanks to a solid defensive corps and five forwards with 20+ goals, the Kings have been able to weather their occasionally shaky goaltending, and it’s likely that they will be enough to keep them in the top 8 in the West, but it’s entirely likely it will be by the skin of their teeth.

Do we want them in the first round? More than you’d think. Yes, the Kings have a winning record against the Canucks, but their two victories came at the start of the season when the Canucks faltered out of the gate and took a few games to get their legs under them. Having witnessed the Canucks’ victory over the Kings in person with a multitude of other Canucks fans, I would love to see a west coast match-up with the potential for bus/plane-loads of Vancouverites invading the Staples Center. That said, what matters is what happens on the ice, and the offensive firepower of the Canucks grossly outclasses that of the Kings. Plus it’s a re-match of last season’s first round, which is always fun.

Chicago Blackhawks
Currently 5th with 88 points
Season Series: 2-1-1
Likelihood of 8th: Yet another team with 88 points, the Blackhawks are the least likely of the trio to slip to 8th or out of the playoffs altogether. The Blackhawks had no business being as far down in the standings as they were throughout most of the season, as a multitude of bad bounces and losses in one-goal games made them look far worse than they actually are. They have had one of the best goal-differentials in the Western Conference (currently second behind the Canucks) all season long, even when they were slumming it with the cellar dwellers. As much as they are not as good as last season, particularly on their bottom-six and in goal, they still have high-end talent in their top-six forwards and a great group of defensemen. They won’t slip to 8th…

Do we want them in the first round? … and besides, we don’t want to face them in the first round. There’s no poetry to meeting and defeating the Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs after being ousted by them in the second round the last two seasons. It would be a far better story for the Canucks and Blackhawks to meet once more in the second round, with the chance to turn the relationship between the two teams into a true rivalry. After all, it’s not a rivalry if one team keeps winning all the important games. Let’s save the Blackhawks for Round Two.

Phoenix Coyotes
Currently 4th with 91 points.
Season Series: 2-2-0
Likelihood of 8th: The Coyotes are the least likely team on this list to fall to 8th, if only because they have a 3-point cushion and there are so many teams below them. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, but the Coyotes are more likely to focus on trying to catch the Sharks for the Pacific Division. That said, they only have 7 games remaining, 5 of them at home, where they have struggled in comparison with their road record. If that trend continues, one of Nashville, Los Angeles, or Chicago could catch up to them and take away their home ice advantage. I don’t see them slipping all the way to 8th, however.

Do we want them in the first round? If they did fall to 8th, it would be a decent match-up for the Canucks, who have split their season series with the Coyotes (with some help). Phoenix has elite goaltending, as long as Bryzgalov is on his game, decent defense (including, if can you believe it, Adrian Aucoin), a misshapen conglomeration of the NHL’s discarded forwards, and a brilliant coach. The brilliant coach is the one to keep an eye out for: Dave Tippett is as good a coach as there is in the NHL and he keeps the Coyotes competitive despite their lower payroll.

So who should it be? Unsurprisingly, the two teams in this group that the Canucks would most want to face are the two teams currently outside the Top 8. For the sake of nostalgia, the Calgary Flames would be a dream match-up, but they’ll be hard-pressed to even make the playoffs. Instead, I hope to see the Dallas Stars squeak their way into the playoffs, preferably by going all-out over their remaining 9 games, leaving them with nothing left for the playoffs. In lieu of the Flames or Stars, say it with me: anyone but Anaheim.
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