Well that was close, wasn’t it? The Canucks came back from the brink of what would have been the most disappointing season in team history and turned Game 7 into a rallying point to begin Round 2.
Every team that wins the Stanley Cup goes through some adversity first. The Oilers dynasty teams only came to be after Wayne Gretzky and Co. were defeated by the previous powerhouse New York Islanders. More recently, the Pittsburgh Penguins won their Cup only after being knocked out by the Detroit Red Wings.
So, with Chicago out of the way, are the Canucks now destined for the Stanley Cup? Not so fast. While they are still the top seed in the West and that cannot be taken away from them, the Canucks will face some incredible challenges just to get out of the conference.
First, let’s start with the Nashville Predators. The Music City men won’t beat you with offensive flair, but if they catch you napping, they’ll jump all over you. The Preds are built on responsible defensive play and around a stellar goalie in Pekka Rinne. It’s hard to imagine Vancouver losing this series, mainly because they have the offensive horses as well as the defensive stars to dominate Nashville at all angles, but the Canucks’ worst enemy right now is complacency.
Do they enter Round 2 on a high, or do they come in overly confident against a lesser opponent, having just beaten their arch-nemesis and defending champions?
And of course there’s Roberto Luongo. Replaced by Cory Schneider for most of Game 6, Luongo responded just the way coach Alain Vigneault hoped he would in Game 7.
Though he did look a little shaky at times, Bobby Lou came up big when he needed to, namely on Patrick Sharp’s power-play one-timer in overtime that was the most important save of Luongo’s career to this point. It can only be assumed the Predators won’t be in Luongo’s head the way Chicago was, so there’s another advantage Vancouver didn’t have against the Hawks.
Round 2 isn’t a sure-win, but the Canucks should be more favoured to beat the Preds than they were to beat the Hawks. But, even if they do get by Nashville, the Canucks will only be starting the tough road.
San Jose or Detroit, two teams that looked very strong in the opening round, will be waiting in the conference final and each will provide its own unique set of challenges.
And then there’s the emotional roller-coaster of the Stanley Cup final. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.