Series breakdown: Canucks (1) vs. Blackhawks (8)
Regular season series: Tied 2-2
Snapshot: After their last two playoff outings against Chicago, the Canucks and their fans looked as if they'd just sat through a Real Housewives marathon. The viewing was horrific. So Vancouver's long-suffering faithful can be forgiven if they are just a wee bit nervous now. Eighty-two games of Presidential-style dominance and this is their reward: a first-round match-up with the defending Stanley Cup champs, the team that's knocked them out of the postseason the last two years. A best-of-seven against Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp.
Ah, but these are not the same Blackhawks, and these ain't the same Canucks. The salary cap left the champs strapped for quality depth, and that beep-beep-beep sound you heard on Sunday was the Hawks backing into the playoffs. Chicago is an easier team to score on than it was the past two years, especially on the power play (the Hawks were 25th in the NHL in penalty-killing at 79.2 percent). Vancouver had the league's best power play (24.3). So there's your top wedge issue as to how the Canucks are the better team, and how they should be able to turn the series in their favor this time -- while exorcising those Windy City demons.
Spotlight's on: Roberto Luongo. It's hard to imagine a city that wants a Stanley Cup more than Vancouver, which is still without one after 41 years in the league. Its Stanley Park is one of North America's prettiest places, but Lord Stanley's silver punchbowl would be an even prettier sight for the locals. The pressure is intensely on Luongo to make it happen. He had another fine regular season, but that and $4.50 ($4.65 Canadian) will get you a Venti non-fat latte at one of Vancouver's numerous coffee houses. For all Canucks fans care, Luongo's career playoff record is 17-17. His career postseason series mark against Chicago is 0-2.
Lest we forget, backup Cory Schneider helped the Canucks win the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals-against. In other words, there's extra pressure on the 32-year-old Luongo to not only overcome the recent past, but keep the "Put-in-Schneider!" crowd at bay through the first hint of trouble.
X-Factor for Canucks: Ryan Kesler. The do-it-all center has had even more defensive responsibility heaped on him since the season-ending loss of valuable third-liner Manny Malhotra. Kesler is coming off a career-best regular season, but he'll have his hands full trying to check Chicago's top guns up front.
X-Factor for Blackhawks: Patrick Sharp. He's got a bum knee, but that didn't stop him from playing the final three games of the regular season and contributing assists in all three. If he can play anywhere near 100 percent physically, it will help take away some of the intense checking pressure the Canucks would otherwise devote to No. 1 center Toews.
The Pick: Canucks in six games.
FARBER: Canucks dressed for success
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