Playoff battle nears for Canucks

HOSEA CHEUNG, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:30 AM ET

It's all been decided but the opponent.

With two wins over the weekend, the Canucks have clinched both a playoff spot and the Northwest division title.

And while the second spot in the West is mathematically within reach, Vancouver has third place locked up, meaning they'll be playing whoever finishes sixth in the first round.

Here are the four teams (Phoenix dropping down to sixth is a longshot) the Canucks may face in the opening series:

NASHVILLE PREDATORS (5th)

SEASON SERIES: 2-2. Goal differential: 12-10 for Canucks.

PROS: It's surprising to see the Predators in a playoff position considering how bad their special teams are. Nashville's powerplay ranks 25th overall while the penalty kill is 29th. The Canucks also have five players with more points than the Preds' top scorer, Patric Hornqvist (30-21-51).

CONS: Although Nashville's PK is terrible, they take the least penalties in the league. Same can't be said about the Canucks, who take the fifth most. With Nashville sporting a 27-9-6 record in one-goal games, it will come down to the goaltenders. Pekka Rinne - who has four shutouts in his last 12 starts - and Roberto Luongo have similar numbers.

BOTTOM LINE: It's a tough one to call. The Predators won't go run and gun with the Canucks but they are a well-rounded team which finds a way to win.

DETROIT RED WINGS (6th)

SEASON SERIES: 1-2-1. Goal differential: 15-14 for Wings.

PROS: The travel will hurt an older Detroit team more than it'll hurt Vancouver, who has the home ice advantage. The Canucks will also be unleashing a deep four lines against an unproven playoff goaltender in Jimmy Howard.

CONS: Not only will they shoot often (33.4 shots per game, second overall), the Red Wings won't make many saves easy for Luongo. With a healthy team now, the Red Wings are dangerous up front and have offensive power (the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, etc.) to match the Canucks. More pressure on Luongo to step up his game.

BOTTOM LINE: You've got to beat the best to be the best, right? Facing last year's runner-ups in the first round is the toughest challenge out of the four teams, but the Canucks tend to bring their A-game against the elites. Oh, there'll also be a Todd Bertuzzi storyline.

L.A. KINGS (7th)

SEASON SERIES: 3-1. Goal differential: 12-11 for Canucks.

PROS: The inexperience on the Kings could prove to be a positive for the Canucks in pressure situations, more so with Jonathan Quick in the L.A. net. The goaltender ranks 28th in save percentage (.908) and 14th in GAA (2.51) - definitely not the best numbers when taking on the second-highest scoring team in the league. The short travel is also a plus for Vancouver.

CONS: Although the Kings only have three players with 20 or more goals, they have the firepower to go head-to-head offensively with Vancouver, especially if goalie Roberto Luongo can't find his "swagger". Just take a look at that 8-3 shellacking they gave the Canucks last week. L.A.'s powerplay is also ranked sixth.

BOTTOM LINE: With young guns like Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty leading the Kings, this would make for an entertaining matchup - one where the Canucks have the upper hand in most categories.

COLORADO AVALANCHE (8th)

SEASON SERIES: 4-1 (one game remaining). Goal differential: 22-11 for Canucks.

PROS: Poor defensive coverage and shaky goaltending will be the Avs demise, which is fortunate for the Canucks if the two teams do meet. Although Craig Anderson started the season strong, he has allowed three or more goals in 14 of his last 17 starts.

CONS: Colorado's problems sound much like Vancouver's, with a questionable blueline and netminding, which just might set up for a high scoring opening round. The Avs are the lowest shooting team in the league but are sixth in goals for, led by 28-goal man Chris Stewart and 72-point centre Paul Stastny.

BOTTOM LINE: The division rivals always put on a good show but the advantage goes to a more-rested Canucks team, who won't be struggling to make the playoffs.


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