Though it seemed unlikely for most of the day, the Vancouver Canucks will now face the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the 2011 NHL playoffs. The Dallas Stars had their fate entirely in their own hands today. All they had to do was win in either regulation or OT against the Minnesota Wild. Such a win would have propelled them to the off-season and sent Chicago golfing. Chicago narrowly avoided being of those rare teams that win the championship one season and then miss the playoffs the next.
I would have preferred playing Dallas, but I suppose the more dramatic match-up would be against Chicago. The Canucks have lost to the Blackhawks in the playoffs for the last two years; both times in the second round, both in six games. Many talk about this notion of having to exercise these “playoff demons” by going through Chicago. I don’t care about any of that. The road to the Stanley Cup is littered with tough teams no matter who beat you in previous years. Also, beating one team doesn’t make the following rounds any easier.
Another thing to keep in mind is that isn’t the same Chicago team that the Canucks faced in the last two years. Because of salary cap issues, the Blackhawks had to disperse parts of their Cup winning team. Gone are guys like Niemi, Versteeg, Burish, and Byfuglien. They do have their core group like Toews, Kane, Sharp, Seabrook, and Keith though, which is why they’re still a dangerous team.
At the end of day, I’m just glad the regular season is now over and all the playoff match-ups have been decided. If there was one thing bad about having such a great regular season, it was having to wait weeks for the playoffs to start. Wednesday is when the fun begins.