by Tyler Rowe
Only a short time ago, I wrote that the Vancouver Canucks were pretty much locked into the #2 seed in the Western Conference. I had already mapped out the scenarios, dreading a 2nd round date against the much improved Nashville Predators who, on the T-Rowe Sports Show (#2), I picked as my favourites in the West. (Provided their scoring by committee doesn’t dry up, I think the Preds at 20/1 is the best Stanley Cup futures bet available). But only a couple of weeks later, the Daniel Sedin-less Vancouver Canucks are riding a six-game win streak, and sit in the driver’s seat for top seed in the conference. With a little help from Manhattan, Vancouver could even capture their second straight President’s Trophy. While winning the Western Conference and the President’s trophy would both be nice feathers in Johnny Canuck’s tuque, there is a difference between one accomplishment and the other: winning the West could be a critical get, whereas winning the President’s Trophy doesn’t matter a lick.
There are only three teams left in the running for the President’s Trophy this year: the Rangers, Blues and Canucks. All three teams wear the colour blue. Coincidence? I think not. With three games remaing for each side, let us take a peek at the three presidential candidates’ remaining schedules (all times Pacific):
St Louis Blues
|Wed, Apr 4||vs. Detroit||4:30 PM|
|Fri, Apr 6||vs. Phoenix||4:30 PM|
|Sat, Apr 7||@ Dallas||5:00 PM|
|Tue, Apr 3||@ Philadelphia||4:00 PM|
|Thu, Apr 5||@ Pittsburgh||4:00 PM|
|Sat, Apr 7||vs. Washington||3:30 PM|
|Tue, Apr 3||vs. Anaheim||7:00 PM|
|Thu, Apr 5||@ Calgary||6:00 PM|
|Sat, Apr 7||vs. Edmonton||7:00 PM|
Those schedules speak for themselves. You’ve got New York (Manhattan) playing two talented division rivals still determining their playoff seeding, and the 9th and final playoff contender in the East. St. Louis is playing a division rival with something to prove, and two bubble teams desperate for a win. Vancouver gets a walk through the league’s proverbial flower garden with the 26th, 20th and 28th ranked teams in the NHL respectively. It would appear that even though the Rangers are in the lead for the President’s Trophy by virtue of owning the tiebreaker (four more regulation and overtime wins than the Canucks, two more than the Blues), the Canucks are clearly in the driver’s seat due to their remaining schedule which is softer than Kyle Wellwood after Christmas dinner. Why doesn’t it matter if Vancouver wins the PT?
The only scenario where it would factor in at all is in the case of a Vancouver/Manhattan final, which is pretty unlikely either way. A nice insurance I suppose, but that’s as far as I’m willing to go. So of course, like I said before, it doesn’t really matter who wins the PT; it’s just food for thought (woah there, easy Welly).
Where winning the Presidency is pretty much just a ceremonial victory, winning the West actually carries with it a serious benefit: putting off a date against the Predators or Red Wings until the finals. Assuming that Chicago doesn’t (stupidly) sneak into the four or five slot, the first round breaks down like this, with the Canucks as the #1 seed for argument’s sake:
(1) Vancouver vs. (8) Pacific team C
(2) St Louis vs (7) Pacific Team B
(3) Pacific Team A vs. (6) Chicago
(4) Detroit vs. (5) Nashville
Since I don’t believe any of those Pacific division teams are getting out of the first round, and that Nashville will beat Detroit in a 7-game series this time, the second round breaks down like this:
(1) Vancouver vs. (6) Chicago
(2) St. Louis vs. (5) Nashville
As much trouble as Chicago has been in the past 3 playoffs, I think this particular Chicago team is markedly worse than the three that came before it. With Bolland, Kruger and Morrison splitting time as 2nd line centre, and the murderer’s row of Oduya, Leddy, O’Donnell and Olsen rounding out the bottom half of the defensive rotation, they just aren’t the menace they used to be. On top of that, Jonny Toews has been concussed since the middle of February. Oh yeah, and Crawford/Emery is sporting a combined 2.8 GAA/.902SV%, which is about a scary as Dreamhouse with Rachel Weisz and Daniel Craig.
Nashville on the other hand, is a menace. They’re top-10 in both goals for and goals against, Pekka Rinne has a .922 SV% and shines in big games, and they just added Alexander Radulov, who many agree was the best player in the world not playing in the NHL until last week. They can roll two shutdown pairs now that they’ve added Hal Gill to the defensive corps; they’re tough, and they’re fast. The Canucks want to make them somebody else’s problem for as long as possible. If the Preds do in fact make the Western Conference Finals, it’ll be after two rounds against divisional opponents who hate them, and hopefully they’ll show up injured, and the green and blue will be in top form—healthier than a spinach and quinoa salad.
Just like when Ben Kenobi stumbles across Luke Skywalker’s incapacitated body, the Canucks have found a new hope. If they can continue the play they’ve exhibited over the past six games, they’ll give themselves the best possible chance to right the wrongs of last season and finally capture Lord Stanley’s mug (Yoda willing, they’ll avoid Pittsburgh and get back Daniel like Han got back Lando). As for right now though, all they have to do is try to win the West. They might even win another meaningless trophy in the process.