November 06, 2011
If it wasn't already a foregone conclusion that the best rivalries are made in the playoffs, consider the animosity that exists between the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks, who have now met early in the postseason in three consecutive years.
These two teams are not fond of one another, and their games are constantly among the best entertainment the NHL has to offer.
Unfortunately, Alex Burrows are Duncan Keith(notes) are both going to miss the first battle since last year's thoroughly entertaining playoffs series, (with back and hand problems, respectively), meaning we won't be privy to a reprise of the hair-pulling incident from a couple years back.
However, there are a number of other heated battles that we can expect to see. Here are five.
Carcillo all but promised shenanigans, horseplay and capers in these contests at his introductory press conference during the offseason, rattling off the members of the Canucks with whom he intended to tussle when the two teams met. Of course, not unlike a Fox News anchor, Carcillo's more of a firebrand than a researcher -- most of the guys he listed no longer played for Vancouver.
One assumes, however, that Carcillo won't take too long to get acquainted with the actual Canucks roster. A recent tweet indicates he has plans to "backhand slap" a few of them, perhaps with a white lacy glove.
And heck, maybe he's smarter than all of us and he's actually just setting himself up for a readymade defense: Honest, ref, I didn't mean to hit hit from behind; I was just trying to get close enough to learn his name.
Somewhat less visible than Dan Carcillo, but probably on the ice quite a bit more, will be Ryan Kesler and Jonathan Toews, two of the NHL's best two-way centres and two of the three most serious men ever to call the Midwest home (the third being the guy in A Serious Man).
While both are immensely talented goal scorers, both are also among the league's best shutdown centres, which means these arch-rivals tend to spend most of the game trying to make one another disappear. It's like the exact opposite of that movie The Prestige.
It's a hard battle to spot, especially since, after the faceoff, both men basically become invisible, but keep your eyes open for it. These two can Selke one another to the brink of death.
To say that Roberto Luongo has had his struggles against the Blackhawks is probably something of an understatement. In the last three years, playoffs in, the Chicago has scored four or more goals in games Luongo started a whopping 13 times. Suffice it to say, they seem to know where to go to beat him.
If you're wondering, "where to go" is typically top corner from the centre of the ice, which is pretty standard for any shooter, especially top-flight snipers of the sort the Blackhawks have in spades.
If the Vancouver defense wants to play it smart, they'll work to keep the majority of Chicago's shots to the outside. However, they often forget to play smart against the Blackhawks, perhaps because these games are so heated. If the Canucks see red, expect Luongo to see even more when that damn goal light won't stop going off.
Bieksa has had a rough start to the season. He's a minus-8, good for 667th in the NHL (i.e. close to last), and he's looked nothing like the player that earned the five-year, $23 million extension from the Canucks this offseason. He's been understandably and visibly frustrated.
This is the bad news for Canuck fans. The good news is that, when he's frustrated, he's generally on the lookout for someone to punch. If this one gets nasty, and these ones often do, expect Bieksa to be in the thick of it.
Last season, Bieksa delighted Vancouver fans and infuriated Chicago fans when he chose the generally un-pugilistic Viktor Stalberg(notes) as his punching bag, adding to his reputation as a spot-picker. Will he pick on someone his own size tonight?
Probably. Not only is Bieksa not really a spot-picker (his best tilt over the course of this rivalry came with former Blackhawk Ben Eager(notes), who outsized him), but the Blackhawks boast a much tougher lineup than last postseason, so it won't be as easy to spot the wimp, anyway.
It seems as though there is nobody in the NHL who plays Daniel Sedin(notes) and Henrik Sedin(notes) quite as well as Dave Bolland. During last year's playoff series, the Canucks jumped out to a 3-0 series lead while Bolland sat out with a concussion, but the entire dynamic changed when the underrated defensive centre returned in game four, went at the twins -- especially Henrik -- hard, and seemingly scored at will when they were on the ice.
The Sedins are the red pandas of the NHL, peaceful sorts that would prefer to be left alone. Consider that, in a recent game, Henrik Sedin accidentally high-sticked an opponent, then drew attention to it by waving the linesman over so that the player could receive care.
But niceties of this sort are entirely nonexistent when Dave Bolland is around. He infuriates them, and they don't play nearly as well when they're angry, perhaps because they're not used to such strangely novel emotions.
Bolland is coming off a minus-3 from the other night in Tampa Bay, so he'll be looking to bounce back defensively. The Sedins, meanwhile, will be sporting a fill-in left winger, what with Burrows out, and have struggled of late. This could be the battle of the night.