Fare thee well Nashville, you put on a good show to prove that yes, hockey is part of the sports fabric in Tennessee. After some tough seasons the fans there showed well enough that they love them some Predators hockey. As for five thoughts…
1. It’s remarkable that the Canucks were able to win a playoff series without getting major contributions from Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin. The twins combined for two goals and five assists in the series and weren’t exactly dominating forces the way they normally are in most other games.
Their absence was made up for by Ryan Kesler alone (five goals, six assists) but as we’ve been stressing all along, if the Canucks are going to win the Stanley Cup they need them both to be on their game and producing offense. A slump in the next round out of the twins would almost certainly mean a failure in the conference finals. Getting nothing from them against San Jose or Detroit will result in another Cup-less season in Vancouver.
2. As huge as Kesler was against Nashville, and let’s face it the Canucks basically get no offense if it isn’t for him, Roberto Luongo’s performance was the real story here. Six games, six starts (crazy to have to stress this after the first round nonsense) a 1.63 goals against average and a .933 save percentage. He gave up six fewer goals to Nashville than he did to Chicago despite essentially playing the same number of games. If Luongo can keep this kind of play up, he’s going to silence a lot of his critics. It’s hard to believe that a guy as good as Luongo brings naysayers out as much as he does, but they’re there (yours truly included).
Luongo is a big name, big money goalie and we haven’t seen one of those win a Stanley Cup in a while. If the Canucks do go on to win it all, it wouldn’t be outlandish to give his backup Cory Schneider a lot of credit in helping to keep Luongo fresh by giving him a solid reliever. Luongo hasn’t really had a capable guy like that backing him up in his tenure in Vancouver leading to Luongo starting 70 games a year and running out of gas in the postseason.
3. In a postseason that’s been loaded with role players going above and beyond the call of duty, the Canucks haven’t really had a player like that emerge yet. They’ve gotten some good offense from their blue line with Christian Ehrhoff and Alex Edler, but up front it’s been the usual suspects doing their part. There’s always time for a secret hero to emerge and if there’s a guy to keep your eye on right now, it might be Chris Higgins.
Higgins has been playing well in the playoffs and with three goals and an assist through two rounds, some of those chances will improve. We’re not expected Conn Smythe-like play here really, just someone out of the woodwork to help spur a team on. Higgins is in that position to be that guy if he continues to play tough and inspired hockey. After bouncing around the last few seasons, he’s carved out a good place for himself in the playoffs with the Canucks.
4. We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk a bit about the Predators here and what’s impressed us the most through these playoffs for them is the fans in Nashville. From the tossing of giant catfish on the ice, to the chants that make us think we’re at a college hockey game, to the volume of the crowd at Bridgestone Arena. Not to mention the country music celebrity appeal going on and all of a sudden you’ve got yourself a vibrant and bustling hockey market. It’s incredible to think that this city was in a lot of trouble years ago with maintaining this franchise, but a deeper-than-usual playoff run has sealed it up that this is a tremendous market for the game.
5. We know that Barry Trotz’s system isn’t the most exciting thing on earth, but the one thing that really hurt the Predators in this series was the lack of a game-breaking player. Without that sort of offensive force, the Predators had to try and grind things down and even use the occasional sneaky trick shot to score goals. Playing that brand of hockey is physically demanding and when the puck just isn’t going in the net times get frustrating. Having a guy that can fit into that system and plug 30-40 goals would do the Predators wonders. Unfortunately players like that don’t just fall out of the sky.