Detroit. Colorado. Nashville. Phoenix. Los Angeles. One of these teams will be the first round opponent for the Canucks. The big question is, who is the ideal matchup for Vancouver? Which team will they have the most difficulty with and which one will provide an easier path to the next round? Let's take a little look at some of the scenarios, and do that speculation thing, because I don't get yelled at enough on the internetz.
If the playoffs were to start today, we'd be facing the Los Angeles Kings. The Canucks have already won the season series against the Kings, winning 3-2 (SO), 4-1 and 3-1. The Canucks have seemed to be able to handle the speed of the Kings, and done a great job shutting down guys like Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar. The Kings will be riding Jonathan Quick into the post-season, and are a mediocre 4-4-2 in their last 10. The Kings are going to be a force to be reckoned with in years to come as the balance of power starts to shift in the Pacific Division. They've drafted well, and appear to have some really good pieces for the future, most notably Drew Doughty. But when I look at this team right now, I see the St. Louis Blues of last season. It's been a while since they made the post season, and they're not likely to go very far. I like the way the Canucks match up against the Kings, and think this match is the best one for Vancouver.
Colorado have been a definite surprise this season. Weren't they supposed to be rebuilding? Everyone's waited for them to collapse, and it just hasn't happened. Full credit to coach Joe Sacco for getting an amazing season out of team that on paper didn't look like they were going to be in the mix. The Canucks have handled the Avs rather well, leading the season series 4-1, and outscoring the Avalanche 22-11. Goalie Craig Anderson has been a huge part of the success in Colorado this season, but apart from a 3-0 shutout in the 2nd game of the season, hasn't had an answer for the Canucks.
The Nashville Predators are another team people are always ready to write off, yet manage to continue to surprise people. Coach Barry Trotz has a hard working team with speed and grit, solid defensemen including BC's Shea Weber and Dan Hamhuis, and a very good goaltender in Pekka Rinne. Their games against the Canucks have been hard fought battles this season, and the teams split the series, the Canucks outscoring the Preds 11-10. The Canucks will have an edge over the Preds via playoff experience, especially when Mikael Samuelsson returns to the lineup. I could see this one going 6 or even 7 games, but I still like the Canucks.
Is there a bigger story this season than the Phoenix Coyotes? In a year that many signalled as potentially their swan song in the desert, the 'Yotes and coach Dave Tippett have ridden stingy defense and Vezina worthy goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov all the way to a shot at 1st overall in the West. They don't score a lot though, and there's not a lot of playoff experience on this team. The playoffs are a different beast as we all know, and with the focus on this team and the expectations of a fan base that hasn't seen a playoff game in almost a decade could be too much for them. I'd prefer to see the Canucks face them in a second round matchup though, but they could emerge triumphant in the long run. No shootouts for Phoenix to rely on in the playoffs.
The Detroit Red Wings weren't supposed to be where they are. A combination of injuries, better competition in the West and goaltending issues led to them having to battle just to get into the 8th spot. Much of the talk has them being the team no one wants to face. And let's face it, they're still primarily the same team that went to the finals the last 2 years. The Canucks split their season series against the Wings, outscoring them 11-10. The series mirrored the one with the Preds in the way the two teams matched up, but make no bones about it, Detroit is a team very capable of a first and even second round upset. The big question is, can rookie Jimmy Howard give them the kind of goaltending they will need in the pressure cooker that is the playoffs? If he falters, can Chris Osgood regain the form he's shown in years past, that he hasn't even shown a glimmer of this year? They're not the one I want to see the Canucks face in round 1, but they're not without faults though. Still, if we have to face Detroit, a 2nd or 3rd round date is much preferable after the much older Wings have taken some abuse at the hands of their opponents.
Breakfast choices: What goes good with misery?
Last night's game between Calgary and the Islanders was a microcosm of the Flames season: a lead thanks to the hard work of their pluggers, the 'stars' of the team invisible, and the inevitable collapse. Another blown lead against a team where they showed they lack heart as much as they do talent. They're as good as done, and the future looks bleak when you see the guys they have locked in. Mikka Kiprusoff. Robyn Regehr. Jarome Iginla. At least one of these guys will have to be moved if the Flames want to be able to rebuild properly. It's gonna be a long summer on the Red Mile...
The Rangers and Thrashers are still in the hunt in the East, and it's just a matter of time until one, if not both of them leap into the top 8. Will it be the Bruins, or Flyers that falter down the stretch? Or both? My guess is Philadelphia, racked by injuries will be the ones to fall from grace here. Coin toss as to who is gonna knock them out though, but deep inside, I don't want it to be the Rangers. The less Avery we have to endure, the better.