Monday, April 29, 2013

2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Vancouver Canucks v. San Jose Sharks

This is probably one of the more exciting match-ups in the Western Conference. These two teams do not like each other, and fans on both sides bring the heat. I expect this series to go maybe six or seven games to determine the winner. I believe that this will be a high-scoring, physical, fast-paced series. Canucks may be the higher seeded team ranked at number three, but the Sharks are no slouch in the six spot. Both teams have a physical game and powerful offense. They also have the top goaltenders in the league.

One thing to watch for is if goaltender Roberto Luongo starts the series, the Sharks will need to capitalize on his usual cold start. The past two playoff seasons, Luongo has started in the first round against the Blackhawks and Kings. For whatever reason, he doesn't perform at his top level, but he can recover to elite shape that could power the Canucks through the rest of the series if not the playoffs. The Sharks will need to pounce and score early and often, which sounds obvious, but starting hot will probably be key especially because the Canucks also have a very solid second option in Cory Schneider. Not to mention, I believe that Alain Vigneault, Vancouver's head coach, is not afraid to make the switch at net when he needs to.

For Sharks fans, this match-up is probably more favorable because they avoid playing the St. Louis Blues who seem to know exactly how to dismantle the team. Sharks fans should also be delighted in the trade-deadline acquisition of Raffi Torres. Losing Ryan Clowe may not have been ideal because he usually brings that physical presence, but Torres will fill that void. I maintain that while he has made his mark for the team, he probably will not be a long-term solution to replacing Clowe. I expect Wilson to find a player who may have a bit more offensive prowess than Torres does but still have the aggressiveness that Clowe had. Of course, Wilson made the right decision to trade away Clowe because for whatever reason, things were no longer working in San Jose. I would like to see the Sharks get a player on par with a Brandon Prust, Ryan O'Reilly, Steve Downey, or Ryan Malone level. I'm not sure what the contract situations are for those players, but I think those players or those types of players will be targeted during summer's free agency. But back to Raffi, he may have a little more fight in him (if that is possible) to be going against his former team. I think he will be out there doing what he does best, and I think this gives the edge that Sharks need.

I would also like to add that if the Sharks do beat the Canucks in the first round, I fully expect to see Vancouver fire Vigneault. I think he is an excellent coach, but this would be the team's second consecutive first round loss. The Canucks have an intense urgency to bring the Stanley Cup home because Canadians are insane about hockey, and there is going to be pressure to make changes in order to make this happen. After the Canucks won the President's Trophy last season and lost to the lowly eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings (not to mention only winning one game in that series), there were rumors that Vigneault would have been fired then. I speculate that he kept his job for two reasons. The first being that the Kings won the Cup in an incredible fashion. I am not sure that the Canucks lost that series because of his coaching rather than the Kings seemed to find a way to steam-roll every team and go one to only lose four games in the entire post-season to go 16-4. Second, Vancouver was far too concerned with what to do with Luongo. They spent whatever time that was not dedicated to ending the lockout to trying to find a team who would be willing to take on the goaltender's massive contract. The team was geared to promote Schneider to the number one spot, and I would guess that to make the transition smoother for him, they would keep the only head coach he had ever known in his pro career. Of course, Vancouver still has both Luongo and Schneider, and I'm not sure anybody really knows who clearly has the edge in that competition. What is apparent is that if the Canucks lose to the Sharks, Vigneault is not going to keep his job. However, he will probably find a job very quickly and will not be unemployed for long.