(Sports Network) - The Vancouver Canucks have been consistent winners of the
Northwest Division over the past five seasons, but hope a new look in goal
will be enough to earn them their first ever Stanley Cup Championship.
Cory Schneider, not Roberto Luongo, figures to be the guy tasked with trying
to lead the Canucks to another deep playoff run. The 27-year-old came into the
season as the starting goaltender, taking over for the veteran Luongo, who the
club tried to trade during the offseason without success.
Schneider had his struggles early on and Luongo proved to be an outstanding
safety net, but when all was said and done, the former made 30 starts to
Luongo's 18 and turned in a solid campaign by going 17-9-4 with a 2.11 goals
against average, .927 save percentage and five shutouts, tied for the league
lead. Schneider showed solid form during a 9-2 span from March 19-April 8,
allowing more than two goals only once during that run.
The former first-round pick did miss the final two games of the season with an
undisclosed lower-body injury and said on Monday that he is day-to-day after
taking part in a full practice.
"I'd love to play. It's the playoffs and I've felt good about how I've been
playing lately," said Schneider. "This is where the fun part of the year
starts is playoffs. I'd love to be able to and if we feel I'm healthy enough
to play, I will."
The one area of concern for the Canucks will, of course, be experience. While
Luongo has appeared in 61 career playoff games, including five against the San
Jose Sharks, Schneider has appeared in just eight but has logged a 1.91
And riding Luongo never helped in the past as the Canucks have made just one
Stanley Cup Finals appearance during their string of five straight division
titles. That was a seven-game loss to the Boston Bruins in 2011 and Vancouver
did not make it out of the first round a season ago despite a second straight
Presidents' Trophy, losing in five games to the eventual champion Los Angeles
Kings and beginning the transition from Luongo to Schneider.
The Canucks don't come into these playoffs red-hot either, having lost five of
their last eight. That includes a season-ending 7-2 setback in Edmonton.
But it is tough to count out a team that is led by a pair of Sedins in twin
bothers Henrik and Daniel. The duo now rank 1-2 as the club's all-time leading
scorers, with Henrik leading the way with 792. Daniel is right behind with 758
That is also the order that the brothers finished this regular season in
scoring for the club. Henrik Sedin's 34 assists and 45 points led the Canucks,
while Daniel was second in goals (12), assists (28) and points (40). The
brothers have also combined for 45 goals and 135 points in the playoffs.
Linemate Alexandre Burrows led the Canucks with 13 goals as the club finished
tied for 19th in the NHL with just 2.54 goals per game.
However, the Canucks added depth at the trade deadline by getting Derek Roy
from the Buffalo Sabres and their is hope that Ryan Kesler can stay healthy
after getting limited to 17 games this year, first due to offseason shoulder
surgery and then a broken right foot during the season upon his return.
Kesler and Roy could also help a power play that ranked just 22nd in the NHL
this season at 15.8 percent.
Meanwhile, forward Jannik Hansen followed up a career-high 16-goal season a
year ago with 10 tallies and 27 points through 47 games this season.
While Vancouver looks to find some firepower from year's past, the club was a
solid defensive team and was tied for 10th in goals allowed per game at 2.40
while killing off 84 percent of its power plays to finish eighth in the
The Canucks added some scoring to their blue line this past offseason by
signing Jason Garrison away from the Florida Panthers and he was on pace to
match last season's numbers with eight goals and 16 points in 47 games this
Dan Hamhuis, meanwhile, added 24 points and his 23 minutes, 23 seconds of ice
time per game were behind only Alexander Edler (23:50) for the team lead.
Defenseman Kevin Bieksa should also be ready to contribute after returning to
play the regular season finale following a five-game absence caused by a lower
SAN JOSE SHARKS (6th seed, West)
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 25-16-7
2011 PLAYOFFS: Lost to St. Louis 4-1 in conference quarterfinals
(Sports Network) - The San Jose Sharks will begin the playoffs on the road for
a second straight season. They hope things go better this time around.
The Sharks got off to a blazing start to this lockout-shortened season,
winning seven straight to begin the campaign for the first time in franchise
history. The final five wins of that streak came at home, however, and a road-
heavy schedule in February put San Jose's fast start in the rearview mirror.
San Jose seemed to find its game towards the end of the season, winning 12 of
its final 18, but an 8-14-2 road record is a big reason that the Sharks will
start this series in Vancouver and not at HP Pavilion.
That could prove a tough hill to climb for the Sharks, who were 17-2-5 at home
and didn't drop their second game in regulation as the host until April 21.
San Jose had similar success last season by going 26-12-3 at home, but it
opened the 2012 postseason in St. Louis and dropped four straight to the Blues
after stealing Game 1 in double overtime.
Quite a few faces remain for the Sharks, who make their ninth straight
postseason appearance. The offense still runs through Joe Thornton, Logan
Couture, Patrick Marleau and Martin Havlat, while Dan Boyle is still manning
the blue line and Antti Niemi returns in net.
The Sharks did shake up their roster before the trade deadline, dealing away
defenseman Douglas Murray, reliable center Michael Handzus and big winger
Ryane Clowe, adding the physical Raffi Torres, defenseman Scott Hannan and
number of draft picks for Murray, Handzus and Clowe.
The loss of Clowe didn't hurt the offense in terms of goal scoring, seeing as
the forward had zero goals and 11 assists in 28 games before the deal.
Instead, it was the usual faces pacing San Jose's offense, which ranked just
24th with 2.42 goals per game. Thornton led the way with 33 assists and 40
points, while Couture was on pace for a third straight 30-goal season with 21
tallies through 48 games.
Marleau (17 goals) and Joe Pavelski (16 goals) were also solid contributors,
but Havlat had another disappointing season with only eight goals in 40 games.
Brent Burns, though, added some surprising scoring after he shifted from
defense to forward following a return from injury and he matched Boyle's 20
points despite playing in only 30 games to the former's 46.
The move of Burns to the top line with Thornton and TJ Galiardi also had a
trickle down impact as it strengthened the second line of Marleau, Couture and
Havlat while putting the talented Pavelski on another combination.
And of course, a team that can throw Thornton, Couture, Pavelski and Boyle at
you on the power play is always dangerous and the Sharks ranked seventh in the
NHL on the man advantage at 20.1 percent.
And unlike most teams that usually lean heavy on the top-two defensive
pairings come playoff time, head coach Todd McLellan gets a six-man effort
from his group. Boyle averaged 22 minutes and 47 seconds per game to lead the
team, while Marc-Edouard Vlasic and veteran Brad Stuart averaged just over 20
minutes per game.
San Jose also ranked sixth on the penalty kill this season at 85.0 percent.
Then there is Niemi, who tied for the league lead with 24 wins and helped earn
the Chicago Blackhawks a Stanley Cup title in 2010.
His two postseasons with the Sharks have not been as fruitful. Though he
helped lead San Jose to the conference finals in 2011, his numbers were less-
than-stellar: a 3.22 GAA and .896 save percentage.
Niemi was a bit better last season, but San Jose's offense was outscored 14-8
by St. Louis in the opening round.
The Sharks possess four players with over 100 games of playoff experience in
Thornton, Marleau, Stuart and role player Scott Gomez, while Boyle and Hannan
are no stranger to the second season either.
Despite a number of recent finishes near the top of the Western Conference,
the Canucks and Sharks have met only once before in the postseason. That
encounter did have a lot on the line as Vancouver knocked off San Jose in five
games to advance to the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.
Niemi struggled the whole series, giving up at least three goals in all five
games and 20 in total, while Luongo started all five games for the Canucks and
posted a 2.38 GAA.
Henrik Sedin had 11 assists and 12 points in that meeting, while Daniel added
a pair of goals and four assists.
Marleau was the star for the Sharks, finishing the series with four goals and
The Sharks come into this rematch with the momentum, having swept the three-
game season series. They won twice at home and claimed a shootout victory in
Niemi won all three games for the Sharks with a 1.62 GAA, while Schneider was
charged with all three setbacks.
"Obviously, meeting in the past and being top teams in the Western Conference
there's always been that rivalry," said McLellan. "But every team takes on its
own personality each year. There's a new group that comes in and it's been two
years since we last saw them (in the playoffs), so I don't know if there's
going to be a huge carryover but the rivalry exists."
While the two clubs combined for 33 goals in their conference finals meeting,
it could be defense and goaltending that defines this series. The special
teams edge seems to favor the Sharks, so the Canucks will need to play smart
and responsible hockey.
That shouldn't be an issue for the Sedin brothers, who thrive on making plays
and not hits. Schneider also seems to be playing with confidence and home-ice
should be the difference maker in this series.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Canucks in 7
The Sports Network