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Western Conference Quarterfinals: (3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) St. Louis Blues
The two hottest teams in the NHL since the all-star break face off in this quarterfinal match-up. Roberto Luongo was named the NHL’s first star of the final week of regular season games, and Chris Mason was right behind him at second star. The Blues are fast, young, and dynamic up front, and they have some warriors on the back end. The Canucks are deep up front, a marked difference from years’ past. They also boast one of the deepest defences in the league, and the great equalizer between the pipes.
Paul Kariya will be returning for game one, and look for him to reunite with Brad Boyes to form a deadly power play combination. The Blues were top 10 in both power play and on the penalty kill, so the Canucks will need to pick up their special teams. The Blues are relatively thin at defense after Barrett Jackman, but Eric Brewer is inching closer to a return.
Ryan Kesler has been in the league for a while now, but thanks to injuries has only seen one playoff game (that seven-period marathon against Dallas in 2007). His game is tailor-made to the playoffs. Look for him to emerge as a star forward for the Canucks. On the other side, the Blues have some young stars that have energized the veterans. TJ Oshie and David Backes in particular have combined a skill game with a nasty physical edge. This series will be full of big hits, that is one guarantee.
Forwards: Even. The Canucks have a very impressive top-six group, and an underrated third line centered by Kyle Wellwood, who has unexpectedly developed into a solid defensive center. The Blues are deep as well, and have Jay McClement who will be seeing a lot of Daniel and Henrik.
Defense: Vancouver. After Jackman, the Blues have surprising youngsters Roman Polak and Jeff Woywitka who have both stepped their games up. The Canucks have six mobile, physical, big defensemen. Sami Salo is one of the most underrated defensemen league-wide and is the key to the Canucks back end.
Goaltending: Vancouver. When he is on, Luongo is nearly unbeatable. Not to discredit Mason, who is the main reason for the Blues resurgence, but Luongo takes this one.
Intangibles: Even. Andy Murray is a master tactician, and the Canucks have Mats Sundin, who may be playing in his final post-season.
Match-up to Watch For:
The Canucks second line (Pavol Demitra, Sundin, Kesler), against the Blues second defensive pairing. The Sedin twins will see a lot of Jackman. Who can shut down the second line?
In a very interesting series, I like the Canucks a bit more. Luongo is in the zone right now. Canucks in seven.