Blackhawks/Canucks: who’ll turn other cheek

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:41 PM ET

CHICAGO — Five storylines to watch when the Blackhawks and Canucks renew acquaintances. Or is that hostilities?

Whose stars shine brightest?

Chicago’s offence took its time to click against the Nashville Predators in the opening round, but eventually Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa all found their range.

Not to be outdone, Vancouver’s gunners were in fine form against the Kings. Mikael Samuelsson showed the veteran savvy he gained from his years in Detroit, while Henrik and Daniel Sedin also came through.

If all those luminaries continue to shine, the final scores in this series could make the NHL look like it did in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Which brings us to ...

Will either masked man dominate?

Search “Antti Niemi” and “bad goal” on YouTube. You’ll easily find the doozy the Blackhawks netminder surrendered to hand Nashville a win which put the Predators ahead 2-1 in the series. Sure, Niemi had a pair of shutouts against the Predators, but didn’t quiet the critics who have called him Chicago’s weakest link. And now he’s facing a team which can score goals by the bucket load.

Roberto Luongo was outstanding in Vancouver’s three-straight wins to defeat Los Angeles, but his goals-against average (2.92) and save percentage (.893) don’t invoke images of Terry Sawchuk.

Last series, neither netminder had to win the games so much as not lose them. The task will be more difficult this round.

Which supporting cast will arrive?

Alexandre Burrows led Vancouver with 35 goals in the regular season. His lone tally against Los Angeles was into an empty net.

He’s not the lone Canuck to be cold. Mason Raymond scored only once against the Kings and Kyle Wellwood was blanked.

Chicago’s second-tier scorers are also ruining people’s hockey pools. Troy Brouwer started the playoffs on the top line but failed to garner a point against Nashville. Same with Dustin Byfuglien. Kris Versteeg has just two assists and Andrew Ladd just one goal.

Who gets more “O” from the “D”?

Neither team had a great powerplay in the first round, which is why the usual suspects on the blueline haven’t collected many points. Chicago’s Duncan Keith had just one goal and one assist — and went minus-4 — against Nashville. For Vancouver, Kevin Bieksa, Alexander Edler, Christian Ehrhoff and Sami Salo all collected three points, but were never big in the attack. Both teams will be looking for a breakout blueliner — although Chicago is probably more in need of it.

Who’ll turn the other cheek?

It’s been an instant rivalry between these teams, sparked by last year’s playoff meeting and fuelled by a few other incidents. Last season, Keith claimed Burrows pulled his hair during a dust-up. Kesler called Ladd a coward, claiming he suffered a broken nose from a cross-check in the playoffs, and then they had a celebrated scrap. Both teams have players who bend the rules. Emotions will be hard to keep in check.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


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