By Yuda Shih, Residence Advisor
With exams and the end of the school year fast approaching, so are the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which start April 11th, the first day of exams.
The hometown Vancouver Canucks have clinched their fourth consecutive Northwest Division title and their fifth division title in six years. As of March 26th, they hold the 2nd seed in the Western Conference trailing the President Cup leaders St. Louis Blues by 2 points. With the majority of the core returning from last year’s Stanley Cup run, on paper, the Canucks look poised to make another run at the Cup that eluded them last season.
However, the Canucks have struggled offensively as of late producing only 7 goals in their last 5 games. With leading scorer Daniel Sedin out indefinitely with a concussion, the Canucks need to find other sources for goals. Goaltender Roberto Luongo has been under fire by critics all season and with reason too as his numbers are mediocre at best with a 2.41 GAA and a .920 save percentage. With a $6.7 million salary this season, he is expected be a difference maker and those stats frankly are not good enough.
The Canucks need to find their rhythm before the playoffs starts if they hope to make it out of the Western Conference that has been fiercely competitive all season. Coach Alain Vigneault stated in an interview that he feels any of top 8 teams from the West have a shot at making it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Vancouver, Detroit, Chicago, Nashville, St. Louis, and even the San Jose Sharks have legitimate shots at making the Stanley Cup Finals.
However, the Canucks probably possess the most talented team in the West and should they find their rhythm, you can bet that the odds-makers in Las Vegas will have the Canucks listed as the favourite to make a return to the Stanley Cup Finals. (For the record, the odds-makers currently have Vancouver as 11/2 favourites to go all the way).
The story of Eastern Conference this year has perhaps been the success of the New York Rangers. John Tortorella has his talented group of players playing together at last, and injury prone sniper Marion Gaborik has somehow managed to stay healthy through 75 games this season, netting 37 goals thus far. Should the Rangers and the Canucks both make it out of their respective conferences, it would be a repeat of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals. (Vegas currently has the Rangers at 7/1 odds to win the cup.)
However, the Bruins cannot be counted out even though they have been inconsistent at times this year. They boast the second highest scoring offense in the league behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and also have two solid goaltenders in Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask. They are big and physical and you’d think that in a best of 7 series, their physical play could bruise opposition and wear them down.
Finally, there’s the Pittsburgh Penguins, the hottest team in the East having gone 8-1-1 in their last ten games. They have been good all year even in the absence of their captain Sidney Crosby. However, since Crosby’s return to the lineup on March 15 from concussion like symptoms, the Penguins have gone 5-1-1 during which Sid has racked up 11 points. They currently sit a point back behind the Rangers for the top spot in the East and with the way they have been playing as of late, they look to be the favorite to make it out of the East. (Odds-makers in Vegas currently have the Pens as the favourite to win it all at 5/1 odds)
The prospect of a repeat from last year’s Stanley Cup Finals, or the Finals from 1994 is tempting, but we have to keep in mind that each finalist still has to make it through 3 grueling best of 7 series, where anything can happen (the best example from recent memory is from 2010 when the 8th seed Montreal Canadiens upset both the Washington Captials and Pittsburgh Penguins before losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Conference Finals). But I am optimistic that Vancouver will pull through and make it out of the West and my prediction is that they will meet the Pens in the Stanley Cup Finals in June.