NHL Western Conference Preview Capsules
Capsules of NHL Western Conference first-round series:
No. 1 VANCOUVER CANUCKS (54-19-9) vs. No. 8 CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (44-29-9).
2009-10 series record: Vancouver 2-1-1.
Playoff History: Chicago 3-1. Last meeting: Chicago 4-2 in 2010 conference semifinals.
VANCOUVER: The Canucks carry a team-record 117 points and the club’s first Presidents' Trophy win into a postseason they hope ends with their first Stanley Cup championship. … Unlike any other duo in the NHL, the Canucks are led on offense by high-powered twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Daniel followed Henrik’s league scoring title from last season with his own, posting 104 points _ including 41 goals. He was set up often by Henrik, who had 75 assists and finished fourth in scoring with 94 points. They are the first set of brothers to win consecutive scoring championships. … Ryan Kesler was the other offensive force with 41 goals and 73 points. … If the Canucks don’t beat you with offense, they can get you with defense. Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider combined to allow an NHL-low 185 goals. Luongo could be in position to add the Stanley Cup to the Olympic gold medal he won on home ice last year during the Vancouver Games. He was 38-15-7 with a 2.11 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in 60 games. The defense could be hurt by the loss of two-way forward Manny Malhotra, who is out for the playoffs because of a serious eye injury. … Gritty LW Raffi Torres will miss the first two games of the series as he finishes serving a suspension. On defense, Alex Edler is back from injury along with Sami Salo. Dan Hamhuis (concussion) hopes to return soon. … Vancouver will be looking to get back at the Blackhawks, who knocked the Canucks out of the playoffs each of the past two years _ both times in the second round. … The Canucks finished first in power-play efficiency and in a second-place tie in penalty-killing.
CHICAGO: The defending Stanley Cup champions nearly missed the postseason party altogether, but got a second chance after their regular-season ending loss when Dallas was beaten by Minnesota. … The biggest question for Chicago, as it was last year, is will the Blackhawks have good enough goaltending to make a deep run. Antti Niemi backstopped the Blackhawks to the title, but now he is with the San Jose Sharks. Corey Crawford, in his first full NHL season, went 33-18-6 with a 2.30 goals-against average in 57 games this season. Veteran Marty Turco will provide valuable insurance as the backup. However, he hasn’t started since Feb. 11. … Crawford made 27 straight starts to finish the season and won 16, with two shutouts and four games giving up only one goal. … As was the case last season, captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp lead the offense. Kane will likely head up the second line. That foursome combined for 118 goals and 277 points this season. Sharp is working his way back to full strength following a knee injury.
OUTLOOK: Blackhawks title defense ends early. Canucks in 5.
2009-10 series record: San Jose 3-1-2.
Playoff History: First meeting.
SAN JOSE: The Sharks are again a popular pick to reach the finals and maybe win the Stanley Cup, two things they have never done. … San Jose was sixth in the NHL with 248 goals and recorded a league-best 34 1/2 shots per game. … Antti Niemi had an impressive first season with the Sharks after backstopping the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup-winning run last year. Niemi made everyone forget Evgeni Nabokov by going 35-18-6 with a 2.38 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in 60 games. … Logan Couture will be a player to watch after a rookie campaign of 32 goals and 56 points in 79 games. That was good for sixth on the team in scoring behind such offensive stalwarts as Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley. Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe joined that potent trio by also having 60-point seasons. Couture had four goals in 15 playoff games with the Sharks last year.
LOS ANGELES: The loss of injured forwards Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams severely hurt the Kings‘ hopes of moving on in the playoffs. Williams, Los Angeles’ second-leading scorer, practiced Tuesday and is trying to make a quick return from a separated shoulder. Kopitar is done for the season with an ankle injury. … Captain Dustin Brown, veteran forward Ryan Smyth, and others such as Michal Handzus and Wayne Simmonds will be looked upon to provide offense. Trevor Lewis might get time on the top line in Kopitar’s place. … The Kings should be bolstered by an excited home crowd for just the third all-California playoff matchup. … Jonathan Quick is one of the rising stars among NHL goalies and will probably have to steal at least a game or two if the Kings are going to threaten the Sharks. Quick went 35-22-3 with a 2.24 GAA in 61 games.