The Canucks gave up 7 goals against only once this season, in the infamous Voldemort game against Chicago on November 20th. Though “Voldemort” implies that it shall not be named, like Dumbledore, I have never seen any reason to be frightened of talking about it. After all, the Canucks followed up the game by going on an incredible run, winning 17 of their next 21 games. The two games are remarkably similar actually: both games were tied after the first period, the Blackhawks scored four goals in the second period of both games, and Canucks fans collectively flipped the pool after each game. Also, both games were excruciating to watch. I should know: I watched that game and I watched this game.

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Jonathan Toews had some interesting things to say after game three, things that I felt were a little odd and inflammatory. He claimed that his team wasn’t “exposing them for what they really are.” I thought the implication was that the Canucks are not as good a team as they might seem, that their Presidents’ Trophy and 3-0 lead in this series are not indicative of what they really are. Some speculated that this was simply a motivation tactic for his own team, but it seemed odd to take potshots at your opposition, potentially giving them bulletin board material.

But then I considered the alternative: what if Jonathan Toews doesn’t think that the Canucks are a bad team, but something far more sinister? He doesn’t want his team to expose the Canucks as a poor hockey club, but for what they really are. This is what Jonathan Toews suspects the Canucks really are:

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They don’t. Now that that’s settled, Qris Johnson, like others before him, can speak of many other things.

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By now, you’ve probably seen the above clip, featuring Angry Hawks Fan, the furiously exuberant Chicago Blackhawks supporter that celebrates a Ben Smith goal with some sort of tantrum. The intensity of his goal celebration was simply too funny to let go, earning its own video upload from CanucksHD, his own topic at the HF boards, multiple animated gifs, and a spot in the game 2 highlight packages for TSN, CBC, and Sporstsnet.

My favourite line comes from the TSN package. Jay Onrait, after the Ben Smith goal: “That oughta make Blackhawks fans happy! … or very, very angry.” Yeah, angry Hawks Fan’s fitful fit is legend.

So who is this guy? Is he an escaped mental patient, maybe, or a passionate admirer of Ben Stiller’s performance in Mystery Men? Neither, as it turns out. Angry Hawks Fan is actually a soft-spoken native Chicagoan named Matt, in town to catch his team’s road playoff games and visit friends Adam Schwartz and Mike Johnson of the popular poker podcast Two Plus Two. As luck would have it, Adam follows us on Twitter, and was kind enough to put us in contact with Matt for a brief chat. Do enjoy.

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“Everyone wants to look at the stats all year and talk about what [the Canucks] do well and how good of a team they are. That’s whats frustrating. We’re not exposing them for what they really are. I think a lot of people outside this locker room are giving them too much credit. Maybe we are as well. We know that we can be a better team and we just haven’t shown it yet.”

Really?

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After two consecutive years of being “outcoached” by Joel Quenneville, Alain Vigneault is winning this series with shrewd icetime management. Three days ago, he announced that he planned to limit the Sedins’ shifts to between 30 and 35 seconds, and he caught flack for it (Tony Gallagher said there had never been a dumber idea). Despite criticism, however, he’s followed through since. For the second game in a row, Daniel and Henrik averaged 35-second shifts. In a series where the Blackhawks’ stars are being played to exhaustion, the twins have been able to hop over the boards fresher than the prince of Bel-Air and score timely goals against exhausted opposition. It made the difference two nights ago, and it made the difference again tonight. I watched this game.

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There’s been a lot of talk, recently, about history. A lot of hay was made about how the Canucks had never won Game 2 against the Blackhawks. The question came up a lot in interviews with players. They didn’t seem too interested in the question. Neither did Vigneault, who didn’t say much when asked about Game 2: “If you learn from the past, the past won’t necessarily dictate the future. We’ve learned from our past experiences.”

In other words, past is past. Vigneault’s attitude seemed along the lines of, “Why are you wasting my time with this question?”

Ironically, Scott Oake read this quote at the beginning of Game 2, as if it were something profound. Some folks just can’t seem to help themselves. There’s a problem, though. In the NHL playoffs, history is irrelevant when it comes to predicting the future.

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The Canucks went into game 2 of their opening round playoff series with the Blackhawks hoping to do something they had failed to do in two previous tries: win the damn game. They succeeded, too, although it was no picnic, perhaps because this isn’t the National Picnic League. Tonight’s Blackhawks had more jump, more grit, and more offense than the Chicago team from two nights ago, but unfortunately, they didn’t get to play the Chicago team from two nights ago. They played the Canucks, who had more jump, more grit, and more offense than tonight’s Blackhawks. I watched this game:

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One of the most impressive elements of the Canucks’ game one victory over the was their physical play. After finishing 20th in the NHL in hits in the regular season, averaging 21.85 hits/game, the Canucks came flying off the bench like they were The Hart Foundation, finishing the night with 47 hits. Alex Edler and Maxim Lapierre played the roles of “The Hitman” and “The Anvil” respectively, leading the way with 15 combined hits, many of the genus holy jumpin’. This was a little surprising: after all, Edler is coming off mid-season back surgery and Maxim Lapierre seemed to lack the advertised aggravation after being traded to Vancouver at the deadline. The Canucks’ generosity with their hits, their physical philanthropy if you will, received an enthusiastic response from the Rogers Arena crowd and no response from the Chicago Blackhawks, much to Joel Quenneville’s chagrin. But is this the start of a larger trend or just a one-game anomaly?

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Usually, when it’s observed that the Blackhawks lost a lot of their key depth, it’s observed in the same breath that their core is still intact. It’s true that Kane, Toews, Sharp, Hossa, Keith, Seabrook and Campbell are all still there. Depth is important, but with a strong core like the Hawks have, they can threaten to look a lot like the team that won the Cup a year ago.

So what’s the game plan against them? Play to their weakness.

The Blackhawks’ depth players just can’t be leaned on.

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There was a lot of noise made prior to last night’s 2-0 victory about the importance of the first game. The Canucks had to win the first game, according to some fans and pundits, or the Blackhawks would be able to get into their heads. And now that the Canucks have won the first game, clearly victory is assured.

Not so fast, Canucks fans. Don’t get cocky.

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Prior to puck drop in this series, you might have wondered, at times, if the Blackhawks were the higher seed. A lot of people talked about how this was a good matchup for them, and how they had managed, in successive years, to get in the Canucks heads. We heard about Roberto Luongo especially, how the Blackhawks seemed to have his number, and how he was going to have to exorcise hordes of playoff demons. Then, Luongo didn’t make himself available to the media prior to the game, and the murmurs started.

But it turned out that Luongo wasn’t hiding from the media. He was merely consulting with Constantine, Buffy, and the kid from Reaper–a demon-hunting dream team, of sorts–in order to determine how best to vanquish these playoff demons once and for all. Clearly, it worked. Luongo was slaying Hellspawn all night. (Sidenote: it might be unfair to call the Blackhawks players Hellspawn, but this ain’t your grandaddy’s blog. Did your grandaddy have a blog? He probably just had a log, into which he etched his thoughts. You can get splinters from those. It’s barbaric. Thank God for progress.) I watched this game.

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Everyone in Vancouver remembers well how our last two playoff series went against the Chicago Blackhawks: ashes, sackcloth, gnashing of teeth. I also recall some wailing and saw a few torn garments on the streets. It was, like the Chicago Blackhawks, bad.

But neither the Blackhawks nor the Canucks are the same team as they were in those match-ups. I went over some of the changes to the Blackhawks lineup on Monday, but the Canucks have also experienced a fair degree of turnover. The bottom-six was completely remodeled: gone are Kyle Wellwood, Pavol Demitra, Steve Bernier, and Ryan Johnson. In are Raffi Torres, Cody Hodgson, Victor Oreskovich, and Maxim Lapierre. Unfortunately, this isn’t as big an upgrade as it would be if Manny Malhotra hadn’t had his season ended by a malicious puck.

On defense, Mike Gillis pulled off the extremely rare double cannonball, making two big splashes. He acquired Keith Ballard in a trade with Florida and Dan Hamhuis in free agency. Then the most unlikely event in the history of the world occurred: Sami Salo got injured. With the injury, Kevin Bieksa miraculously did not need to be traded. A combination of seemingly convenient injuries throughout the season allowed the Canucks the luxury of entering the playoffs with a top-six defensive corps making 22.3 million dollars per season while still employing other hockey players.

While the core of both teams has remained the same, the surrounding flesh of the hockey apple has changed significantly. So how did these two new teams match up in the regular season. And are the Canucks a Golden Delicious or a Granny Smith?

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There’s a lot of hype around this series, and the storyline is readymade. Will the Canucks finally have the ability to defeat their arch-nemeses? Unfortunately, the hype around it really doesn’t feel as justified, this time.

The theme for the Canucks-Blackhawks series seems to be demons, and the exorcism of them. That, right there, tells you all you need to know about how much of a threat the Blackhawks really are. Last season was different. Last season both teams had improved, and it was a really interesting matchup. This season is a lot like the 2008 playoff matchup between the 1st seeded Red Wings and the 8th seeded Avalanche — when you take away the history, it becomes pretty dull.

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For the third year in a row, the Vancouver Canucks will be facing the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup playoffs. After two ignominious defeats in the second round, this year the Canucks will get the chance to exorcise their playoff demons in round one. The match-up is one the media, fans, and players have been eagerly anticipating, but it’s not exactly a pure re-match.

The Blackhawks of 2010-11 are not the Blackhawks of 2009-10. Last season, the Blackhawks were just plain better than the Canucks. In the off-season, however, due to some mismanagement of the cap by Dale Tallon, the Hawks said farewell to much of their vaunted depth. Gone are Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, Brent Sopel, Colin Fraser, Adam Burish, John Madden and Canuck nemesis Dustin Byfuglien. Gone, too, are both goaltenders from last season. Playoff hero Antti Niemi signed with the San Jose Sharks while Cristobal Huet was sent to Switzerland to eat chocolate, wear pocket watches, and design knives.

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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 [...]

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Obama Just Got Keslurked

Oh Ryan Kesler, you so crazy. This image, taken during the Blackhawks’ visit to the White House yesterday comes to us courtesy of egatti, Canucks.com forum photoshopper extraordinnaire.

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The opening goal of Friday night’s game versus the Blackhawks is scored when Christian Ehrhoff comes off the bench and immediately steps into a slapshot on the blueline. It beats Marty Turco cleanly. But here is something you might have missed: We see, in clip above, Ryan Kesler turn back to the bench, seemingly disinterested [...]

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Canucks 4 – 3 Blackhawks Was that an exciting game or what? The correct answer is not “what.” Chicago came out flying tonight and put the Canucks on their heels through most of this game. It can be argued that they deserved the win: a questionable no-goal call went against the ‘Hawks and the Canucks’ [...]

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I’ve said before that Vancouver fans and media often suffer unfortunate bouts of tunnel vision when it comes to the Canucks. A Canucks’ win is followed by praise, and a Canucks’ loss is followed by blame, but nothing is ever attributed to the opponent. How did they play? Who plays for them? Is anybody on [...]

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