Round about the time the Canucks were up 3-0 in their series against the Blackhawks, fans got a bit cocky and started pondering who the Canucks would face in the second round. It was a little bit premature. But, sure enough, the Canucks eked out the victory and will take on the Nashville Predators. There are a plethora of stories here: two Vezina candidates will face each other for a goalie duel (sadly without pistols or sabres). A favorite for the Hart trophy (Daniel Sedin) will face a favorite for the Norris (Shea Weber). The favorite for the Selke (Kesler) will face…Mike Fisher, I guess? Meanwhile, former Canuck Shane O’Brien and former Predator Dan Hamhuis will enrage their former fanbases by being better than they remembered. I don’t remember SOB carrying the puck so well through the neutral zone! Well I don’t remember Dan Hamhuis recording takeaways rather than giveaways!
Both the Canucks and Predators are coming off Round One victories in which they vanquished their respective playoff demons. The Predators won their first playoff round in franchise history, while the Canucks gutted out an emotional win over the Blackhawks after losses to said ‘Hawks in the previous two years. Will one or both of these teams experience a subconscious satisfaction with their accomplishments and subsequently have a letdown in their performance? Will the proximity of the first game of round two to the seventh game of round one allow the Canucks to carry their momentum or will it wear them out?
More to the point, how will the Canucks perform against the Nashville Predators? Up here in the Northwest, fans don’t hear much about what goes on in Tennessee. In fact, there seems to be a continual surprised reaction when the Predators make the playoffs year-after-year. Not me. I predicted the Predators would make the playoffs this year because I’ve learned that it’s foolish to bet against Barry Trotz and his rag-tag team of Olympians. Ignore the fact that I also predicted they would lose in the first round. I didn’t know they’d be facing the Ducks.
The Predators build their game on strong defense, relying on the twin peaks of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter along with the stellar goaltending of Italian sensation Pekka Rinne. Wait, you mean he’s Finnish? His name just sounds Italian? My bad.
On offense, the Predators spread the love around, with 8 players recording double digits in goals. While they do not have any overt stars at forward, their balanced scoring throughout their lineup can catch teams unawares. They were especially successful against Anaheim in the first round, scoring 22 goals in 6 games. Let’s keep in mind, however, that Anaheim barely has a defense and their star netminder missed the entire series due to recurring issues with vertigo. Despite their defensive lapses against Chicago, it is hoped that the Canucks will provide more resistance. That said, the Predators are one of the toughest opponents at even-strength and their offensive capabilities cannot be taken lightly.
Oddly enough, all of the Canucks games versus the Predators came in the latter half of the season, well after the Canucks had established themselves as a power in the Western Conference and the definitive team to beat. The Predators played a solid road game, holding the game scoreless through the first two periods and opening the scoring in the third, but Luongo made 26 saves, including this ridiculous save on Joel Ward in the dying seconds. The story of the game was Lee “Rudy” Sweatt scoring the gamewinning goal for the Canucks in his first career NHL game. But while his wristshot is a beauty, it’s the physical play by Alex Burrows and the sublime pass by Daniel Sedin that sets up the gold opportunity for Sweatt.
Burrows was thoroughly fantastic in this game, scoring the tying goal after Shea Weber opened the scoring, helping to set up Sweatt’s gamewinner, and performing in a hilarious Vaudeville act with Shane O’Brien where they pretended to hate each other. It was wonderful. Also wonderful: Keith Ballard led the Canucks in icetime in this game. I suspect it was the only time it happened this year.
Also of note: Dirk Hoag from On the Forecheck spoke to The Kurtenblog yesterday and mentioned that he hoped Jarred Smithson and Nick Spaling could shutdown the Sedins so that other lines could focus on offense: that line was on the ice for both goals against in this game. Lovely.
The second meeting between these two teams came in the midst of the Canucks most devastating injury woes on defense. The only defenseman in the lineup who started the season in the top-six was Christian Ehrhoff. The other defensemen on February 18th were a newly-healthy Sami Salo, Aaron “Tripped and Fell Leading to the Game Winning Goal” Rome, and rookies Chris Tanev, Yann Sauve, and Evan Oberg. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Canucks lost. Still, Rinne had to make 35 saves for the victory, so the Canucks didn’t entirely make it easy for them.
Daniel Sedin scored the lone goal for the Canucks, a slick powerplay marker, but the defense just couldn’t do enough in front of Luongo. Nashville got goals from Spaling, Erat, and Fisher; those latter two will be players to watch in round two, as long as Erat returns from his day-to-day injury.
While the Canucks February 18th loss had the ready-made excuse of a litany of injuries, March 3rd was just plain ugly. In the midst of an extended “slump” in which the Canucks couldn’t string two wins together but simultaneously refused to lose two games in a row, the Canucks continued the trend with a sub-par performance against the Predators. In golf, a sub-par performance is good. In hockey, it isn’t.
This game can be viewed through a different lens: you could instead see it as the Predators working their game plan to perfection. Through hard work and sound positioning they limited the Canucks’ ability to break out of their zone and kept shots to the outside. Weber and Suter played over 26 and 28 minutes respectively. They were opportunistic and capitalized on their scoring chances, with Blake Geoffrion, Patric Hornqvist, and David Legwand tallying the goals. And Rinne was as good as he had to be: as much as the Predators limited the Canucks to shots from the outside, Rinne stopped all of them. This game should serve as a warning of what the Predators are capable of doing.
If it comes as a shock that all four of these games are tight-checking, low-scoring affairs, then you apparently haven’t been paying attention to how Nashville consistently makes the playoffs almost every season despite never having a consistently healthy point-per-game scorer since Paul Kariya. Remember when Paul Kariya was consistently healthy? Good times.
The Canucks first game against the Predators this season featured the first career goal for rookie Lee Sweatt, while the last featured the first career goal in a Canuck uniform for Aaron Rome. The goal was hilariously shepherded in by Henrik Sedin, though things could have happened differently. Of course, this empty net goal wouldn’t have been possible without the Canucks having a lead at the end of the game. After Mike Fisher opened the scoring in the second period, Burrows and the Sedins took it upon themselves to win da turd.
Henrik Sedin’s absurd backhand-one-time-saucer-pass on the tying goal is a textbook example of Wizardous Sedinerie, while Burrows’ second goal of the game is a textbook example of his only breakaway move. They read a lot of textbooks. Meanwhile, Luongo only needed to make 16 saves, though most of them were truly great saves. This game should serve as a reminder of what the Canucks are capable of doing.