We've mentioned it before, but we have a hard time paying a ton of attention to that weird Northwest Division. The division has Vancouver and Cal and Gary in it, we know that. But isn't Minnesota in that division? And isn't Minnesota like near Wisconsin?
And make no mistake, we've always wanted to visit Vancouver, but until we get there and see it for ourselves, we're not entirely sure it exists.
Combine that with the fact that the most recent Blues/Canucks battles occurred back in the early days of the millennium and we haven't paid a ton of attention to their team (Todd Bertuzzi and Markus Naslund have apparently moved on and we're pretty sure they lynched Dan Cloutier) leading up to this surprising No. 3 - No. 6 matchup.
So we've scoured the internet for information and have put together a primer leading up to the start of this series. Here's what we know, what we think we know and what we wish we knew* about each player pulling on the tri-logo jersey for Vancouver.
*what we wish we knew may or may not be completely made up.
|2008 - Roberto Luongo||54||3181||33||13||7||5||124||2.34||1542||1418||.920||9|
What We Know: Everyone who knows anything about hockey and anyone who knows nothing about hockey all have the same opinion about this playoff series; Roberto Luongo can and will steal games for his team. He's done it against the Blues just this year, shutting them out 3-0 back on Mar. 19.
What We Think We Know: Even the best goalies give up goals and even the guys who steal games have bad games, too. The Canucks best chance starts with the man they call "Bobby Lou", but the Blues beat him just one week after he shut them out. Oh, and yeah, rookie TJ Oshie scored the nhl.com goal of the year against him in that game, too.
What We Wish We Knew: We wish we could prove that Luongo hates that stupid nickname and that he hates it when the home crowd chants, "Looooouuuuuuuu!" whenever he makes a save, whether outstanding or ordinary. Being a man's man, if someone started calling us 'Bobby Lou' we'd kill someone, that's for sure.
|2008 - Henrik Sedin||82||22||60||82||22||48||4||0||8||0||143||15.4|
|2008 - Daniel Sedin||82||31||51||82||24||36||9||0||7||1||285||10.9|
What We Know: Actually, this is more like 'What Don't We Know'. The media love these giant-headed freaks and while the NHL expected them to set the NHL on fire in a way never seen before when they were drafted 2nd (D) and 3rd (H) overall by Brian Burke back in 1999, it just hasn't happened.
Which isn't to say that they aren't good players, because they are. Henrik has always been the playmaker and Daniel has always been the triggerman, but honestly they can both do either effectively.
Strangely enough, the twin thing does seem to have some credence, as the two have made some seriously sick plays together that seemed to occur only with the aid of some sixth sense.
What We Think We Know: Neither of these guys are known for being particularly gritty and in their combined 86 NHL playoff games (43 each, of course) they have posted a total of 38 points, well off their regular season averages. The increased physicality of the second season could throw them off their giant-headed games.
What We Wish We Knew: You know what? Actually we don't want to know any more than we already do about the Danrik. We sleep poorly as is.
|2008 - Pavol Demitra||69||20||33||53||6||20||4||0||1||0||143||14.0|
What We Know: Aw, man. has it really been five years since the last ownership group let 'Pavs' walk for nothing? has it really been that long since we all got to enjoy post-game interviews with No. 38 and wait excitedly until he said how 'hoppy' he was to have a good game?
No one had led the Blues in goals and assists in a season since Pavol left St. Louis until Brad Boyes did it this year. We'll be honest, we have tried to pretend all this time that he didn't exist rather than admit he was actually gone.
What We Think We Know: We always denied it was true when he was a Blue, but the statistics bear it out: Demitra isn't tough enough for the playoff grind. A nearly point-per-game regular season performer, Demitra's playoff numbers always dove to the .5 pts/gm level come the second season.
It's still true.
With Minnesota he increased his percentage, but it was over such a short span (11 total post-season contests, 7 points) that it's statistically irrelevant. We hate to say it, but it's time to play the body and take Pavs out of the equation.
What We Wish We Knew: If Demitra would have stayed in St. Louis after the lockout if he'd been offered a contract. Due to boneheaded ownership we'll never know, but No. 38 always seemed like a Blues lifer to us.
|2008 - Ryan Kesler||82||26||33||59||8||61||10||2||2||0||179||14.5|
What We Know: Kesler is Vancouver's David Backes. Offered a contract by the Flyers as a restricted free agent in the summer of 2007 it was quickly matched by the Canucks. At the time, the contract looked inflated, but the player has stepped up to fill the role expected.
He scores, he hits, he's a fan favorite and he could one day don the C if they ever take it off of Luongo's mask (nice decision, by the way).
What We Think We Know: Kesler has but one NHL playoff game to his name, but we think he's got the make-up to be one of those guys who steps up his game when the games matter. On a team that doesn't have a lot of grit on the top two lines, Kesler could help set the tone for his team.
What We Wish We Knew: Kesler is the guy who injected the word 'jinj' into the Creepy Twins' secret twin language. It is a substitute for 'Ginger'. The twins have no idea it refers to them.
|2008 - Alexandre Burrows||82||28||23||51||23||150||0||4||3||1||175||16.0|
What We Know: Burrows is one of those guys who beats long odds to make the NHL. Undrafted, Burrows made the NHL as a grinder and a high-octane never-drifting hitter. He has also just posted the most productive year of his career, smashing his previous high in goals (was 12) and his previous high in points (was 31).
What We Think We Know: Another NHL playoff rookie (one game played), Burrows looks to be another Kesler in the lineup. We'd be shocked if he didn't establish a physical presence, especially around the net.
What We Wish We Knew: Three thoughts that have drifted through Burrows' head recently:
- "If these Swedes play soft, I'll cut 'em in the shower."
- "If I had the hands of any one of these Swedes, I'd be Alex Ovechkin."
- "Why won't they tell me how I'm doing the 'Swedish Tickler' wrong?
|2008 - Kevin Bieksa||72||11||32||43||-4||97||5||0||2||2||153||7.2|
What We Know: Canucks fans love this guy. You'd think he was the second coming of... um... well, of a good Canucks defenseman of old. You know, if they had one.
Short on true 'franchise' defensemen over the course of their history (all apologies to Harold Snepst), Bieksa has become one of the best-loved and most-respected members of the Nucks' blueline. His 11-32-43 season is his best, narrowly edging his 12-30-42 season of 2006-07. His minus-4, however, is right in line with his career minus-15 in four seasons.
What We Think We Know: This guy is over-valued by the fans. He's had a great season, yes, but he's essentially a power play specialist, as 25 of those 43 points came with an extra guy on the ice. At even strength he isn't scary offensively and his defense is suspect.
What We Wish We Knew: You just know he gets confused for Willie Mitchell by pseudo-fans all the time. We wonder if he corrects people or just signs "WieMitcll 8" and keeps going.
|2008 - Willie Mitchell||82||3||20||23||29||59||0||0||1||0||88||3.4|
What We Know: Willie Mitchell is what passes in Vancouver as a 'shutdown defenseman'. His plus-29 leads the team and he'll see action against whatever Blues line the Canucks determine to be most dangerous.
What We Think We Know: Mitchell may be the shut-down guy on the blueline, but he's got very little help. The next-closest plus/minus on the blueline is Matthias Ohlund (plus-14). If Mitchell has shut-down duties, the Blues just need to work away from him or line-change to get away from him. No one else really scares.
What We Wish We Knew: How often Mitchell gets asked for his autograph and actually thinks to himself, "Really?"
|2008 - Mattias Ohlund||82||6||19||25||14||105||3||0||1||0||131||4.6|
What We Know: Ohlund has been a top-pairing blueliner for a decade now and has never made headlines for overly spectacular play nor for overly horrible play. There's something to respect there.
Neither an offensive stud (career-high 36 points) nor a defensive liability (career plus/minus of plus-9), Ohlund plays a steady game and everyone on his team knows what to expect from him.
What We Think We Know: Worthy of respect or not, Ohlund is not a playoff difference-maker. He has no stomach for the rough stuff and no feel for how to deal with the playoff intensity. He has a career minus-10 rating and will lie awake at night worried about the physicality of David Backes and the speed of Andy McDonald.
What We Wish We Knew: How bad he wishes he was Nicklas Lidstrom.
|2008 - Alexander Edler||80||10||27||37||11||54||5||0||1||0||145||6.9|
What We Know: Yet another quiet Swede, Edler's goals, points and plus/minus are all among the Canucks' top three among blueliners. Another member of the Vancouver version of St. Louis' no-name defense, Edler has virtually no playoff resume (three games, zeroes across the board).
What We Think We Know: Despite the large frame, there's no reason to believe that Edler will stand up come the second season and prove he's ready for the more physical game.
What We Wish We Knew: How nervous he'll be heading into Game 4, on his birthday, trying to keep from letting this series slip away.
|2008 - Steve Bernier||81||15||17||32||4||27||2||0||4||0||137||10.9|
What We Know: Bernier, a former first-round pick of San Jose, has managed to underperform and over-babyfat his way through parts of four seasons. Despite his career-high 32 points this year, he has never approached the promise of his draft-day position.
What We Think We Know: Bernier has seven points in 22 playoff games, but we guarantee that he plays even softer than that. Yet another guy on Vancouver who plays smaller than his frame, we expect to say at some point during a game, "See, I told you Bernier was playing."
What We Wish We Know: How badly the Canucks' management wishes they could trade the guys they offer-sheeted (Backes) for the guy St. Louis offer-sheeted (Bernier).
|2008 - Kyle Wellwood||74||18||9||27||2||4||10||0||3||0||94||19.1|
What We Know: Wellwood is actually a pretty good story. Drafted in the fifth round by Toronto in 2001, the Ontario native had a difficult time sticking with his boyhood team and was eventually put on waivers. Grabbed back from the verge of having to find a real job, Wellwood was claimed by the Canucks and never looked back.
He has shown flashes of talent before, but his 18 goals are a career high and his 10 power play goals is tied for tops (Kesler) on the team.
What We Think We Know: Wellwood has never played a playoff game, and his 5'10, 180 lb frame means he'd better have a big heart or he'll be lumped in with the fat/Swedish guys for being soft if Vancouver falters.
What We Wish We Knew: Who has more fat jokes written about them, Wellwood or Bernier?
|2008 - Sami Salo||60||5||20||25||5||26||5||0||2||0||110||4.5|
What We Know: Hi. I'm Mattias Ohlund Light. Minus the devastating, nearly-career-ending eye injury that would make me a compelling story.
What We Think We Know: Oh, goody. Yet another over-sized Swede who plays smaller and weaker than he should and who's regular season stats dwarfs his post-season production (0.41 pts/gm regular season, career plus-96; 0.27 pts/gm playoffs, career minus-12)? Fantastic!
Wait, you say he's not Swedish? He's Actually a Finn?
What We Wish We Knew: How he knew to look right at the camera in that action photo above.
|2008 - Taylor Pyatt||69||10||9||19||0||43||0||0||1||0||99||10.1|
What We Know: Stop us if you've heard this before, but Pyatt, yet another first-rounder who has never reached his potential, is constantly berated for his softer-than-his-size play. He was selected by James Mirtle as a 'top defensive forward' this year which makes us think that maybe Mirtle spent too long staring into Pyatt's dreamy blue eyes as he compiled his list.
Pyatt's career year came while patrolling the non-Daniel wing of the Sedin line, but now finds himself on the third line, not using his size effectively.
What We Think We Know: If the Canucks expect Pyatt to be one of their top shut-down guys, he'd better show everyone in the NHL that he's been sandbagging all along, because we've seen enough laziness out of this guy over the last four years to fill the Laziana Trench.
What We Wish We Knew: Why general managers continue to believe that big bodies will eventually become good players.
|2008 - Mats Sundin||41||9||19||28||-5||28||5||0||2||0||84||10.7|
What We Know: Sometimes $10 million doesn't go as far as you'd think.
Sundin, who crapped on the heart of every Maple Leafs fan (you what on my heart?) not once, but twice by refusing to hasten their rebuilding process by accepting a trade at the deadline last year and then teasing them about coming back before heading to the Canucks, has become the 'player we shall not mention' among Canuck fans.
His mere nine goals and 28 points in half a season are well off his traditional point-per-game performance and his minus-5 is his worst since leaving the then-horrible Quebec Nordiques in 1992.
What We Think We Know: Canuck fans are hoping that Sundin catches on fire and then explodes in the playoffs.
While his playoff numbers aren't wildly off his regular season performance (74 points in 83 playoff games), the fact of the matter is that Sundin hasn't played in a significant playoff run since 1999 when the Leafs played 17 post-season games.
What We Wish We Knew: Look, she isn't exactly what we'd call turbo-hot, but she's at least hockey-wife hot. But seriously, what does Sundin's wife look at when it's time to pay the dues? Does she have a giant picture of money on the bedroom ceiling?
|2008 - Jason LaBarbera||9||451||3||2||2||0||20||2.66||235||215||.915||0|
What We Know: LaBarbera was acquired from Los Angeles because the team had no faith in former Blue Curtis Sanford as Bobby Lou's backup. He has put up his career-best numbers as a Canuck. Of course he has played only nine games.
What We Think We Know: There is exactly zero percent chance we see LaBarbera play during the series, unless, you know, the Blues decide to dress Geoff Courtnall for Game 1.
What We Wish We Knew: Hey, Geoff Courtnall. Whatcha been up to? Feel like skatin'?