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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.