As we head into the playoffs that we didn't see coming, I thought the best way to preview the upcoming series would be to look at four or five of the burning issues that will decide this series. Let's start off with the most important one, and the one that probably decides everything:
Can the Canucks keep their heads?
If this series were played by a computer or in an EA Sports simulation, the Canucks would win and probably rather easily, in five or six games. They're more talented, they're deeper, everything seems to be going their way, and so much more. They can hurt you from three different lines, have three pretty solid pairings on defense and one of the best goalies in the game.
But talent hasn't been the Canucks problems the past two seasons when they were feeling the cut of the 'Hawks sword in their chest. It was what was between the ears. And frankly, no one's going to know if that's been cured until this series is over.
If Hawks fans want encouragement on this front, they need look no further than the last time these two met. It was at the beginning of February in a game that for all the world looked like a conference final game, such was the speed and passion of it. And the Canucks took six penalties, all of them of the dumb, impatient manner (though the Hawks took five, but those were mostly in the run of play). What's more, the Canucks biggest hotheads melted down in Kevin Bieksa and Ryan Kesler both taking moronic penalties. If this is going to be a trend, and the Hawks power play can get back its soul from whoever took it lately, the Hawks are going to have a big chance at pulling this upset that would probably cause the enitre province to sink into the Pacific.
But it goes beyond penalties. It's about poise and confidence. The past two years, the Canucks have snuffed any test of these, or their testicular fortitude as we're so fond of saying around here. Two years ago, the Canucks were two minutes from taking both games at the United Center and packing up a 3-1 series lead headed back to Vancouver. They snuffed it there, letting Martin Havlat score on a shot he partially fanned on, Ladd scoring in OT and then Luongo threw his teammates under the bus. The next game it was tied in the 3rd period in Vancouver, and Bieksa took a selfish penalty that Bolland won the game on. You may remember Game 6 of that series where the Canucks decided to not play defense and Luongo played goal as if attacked by bees.
Last year, the Canucks held a 3rd period lead in Game 2 and had a power play, and they let Patrick Sharp waltz down for a shorty and tie the game, before Versteeg won it in the last minute. After that, they were so terrified of Dustin Byfuglien they let him dominate Game 3 and then donated 235 penalties in Game 4 that Jonathan Toews was only too happy to capitalize on.
And it comes from their coach, Alain Vigneault. He seemingly always has this team wound as tight as possible. He talked up Byfuglien before last year's series even though at the time Buff was nothing more than an underperforming, lazy, sizable winger. Whenever something goes against the Canucks in the past, they've fallen apart at the seems.
Are they better prepared this year? Well, win Game 1 and find out.
Sam Fels is the proprietor of The Committed Indian, an unofficial program for the Blackhawks. You may have seen him hocking the magazine outside the United Center at Gate 3. The program is also available for purchase online. Fels is a lifelong 'Hawks fan and he also writes for Second City Hockey .