Blackhawks-Canucks III begins Wednesday, with the hated rivals set to do battle once again. To gain a bit more insight into the opponent, I traded emails with Vancouver Sun beat writer, Brad Ziemer, who has done a fantastic job of covering the Canucks.
Ziemer gives us his thoughts on the the differences between previous Vancouver teams, the resurgence of Roberto Luongo, the keys to the series and his prediction.
You may not enjoy his answers.
Bartl: Everyone knows the playoff history between the Blackhawks and Canucks. They don’t like each other. However, Vancouver enters this series as the favorite while the Blackhawks are backing in with a bit of luck. What are some noticeable differences from this year’s Canucks team and the two previous teams which lost to Chicago?
Ziemer: This is a much more confident and mature Canuck team. Guys like Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows, who used to waste much of their energy trash-talking and getting involved in scrums, have for the most part stuck to hockey this season. The team is also much deeper on defence. They enter the playoffs with their top six defencemen all healthy for the first time all season.
Bartl: Roberto Luongo posted the best GAA (2.11) and second-best save percentage (.928) of his career during the regular season. But it’s no secret Luongo has seemed rattled against the Blackhawks in the playoffs the past two seasons, and he’s heard it from the fans in Vancouver. How much pressure is on Luongo to succeed in this series despite his regular-season success?
Ziemer: There’s no question that given his recent struggles against Chicago, Luongo will be under the microscope. But the fact is he has just completed his best NHL season and seems have really benefited from the tutelage of new goalie coach Roland Melanson. I have never seen him look more comfortable in goal and he seems to be making difficult saves almost look routine. He just doesn’t give up the soft goals anymore.
Bartl: Not often do you so much star power from each team in a No. 1 vs. No. 8 matchup. Luongo, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler … Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa … There are plenty of players who will draw attention. Overall, looking at the stars and role players combined, what do you feel will be the biggest factor in this series when it’s all said and done?
Ziemer: I think it may come down to special teams. Both teams have excellent power plays, but the Canucks also have one of the league’s best penalty-kills. The Hawks don’t. Vancouver’s first-unit power play with the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler up front has been virtually unstoppable all season. It could be the difference in this series.
Bartl: Finally, what is your prediction on the series and why?
Ziemer: Canucks in six games. I think these two teams are pretty much a wash offensively. Both can score lots of goals. I just think if you break down the two teams, Vancouver has the edge in too many areas. The Canucks seem to have a big edge in goal and are deeper on defence, where they have an effective shutdown pair of Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis, and a terrific offensive duo in Christian Ehrhoff and Alex Edler, who are usually on the ice with the Sedin twins. Their third pairing of Sami Salo and Keith Ballard isn’t too shabby, either.
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