Series Preview: Vancouver Canucks (3) vs. St. Louis Blues (6)

Do you know why Cinderella was Cinderella? Because there wasn't another broad at the ball getting as assist from a Fairy Godmother and driving up in a tricked-out pumpkin. If there was ... well, then we'd all have to decide whether to root for Cinderella or, like, Joan or Debbie or somebody.

The notion that the Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues are "two Cinderellas" is a failure both factually and in trying to craft the narrative for this series. Sure, the Canucks suffered through a massive losing streak that had their postseason hopes in jeopardy this season; but they're also division champions with the Sedin twins, Roberto Luongo and this bald Swedish poker player that Toronto fans seem to admire.

Scrappy, we'll give you. Underdogs? Not so much, at least in this series. Especially in contrast with their opponents, the St. Louis Blues, who are the only true holy-crap-they-made-it Cinderellas in the Stanley Cup playoff draw (R.I.P. Florida Panthers).

Coming up, the tale of the tape ... and how Cinderella may just waltz away with a win.

Season Series (tied 2-2)

Jan 9: St. Louis 6, at Vancouver 4
Feb 10: Vancouver 6, at St. Louis 4
Mar 19: at Vancouver 3, St. Louis 0
Mar 26: at St. Louis 4, Vancouver 2

Forwards (Advantage: Vancouver)

After Mats Sundin teased more old men than Lolita for several months, he settled on the Canucks and the results were ... meh. At least statistically, as he had 28 points in 41 games, skated to a minus-5 and didn't score a goal in his last 13 games.

But that's an inequitable assessment, because what Sundin did was bring balance to the lineup: The top six of Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows, Pavol Demitra, Mats Sundin and Ryan Kesler has been outstanding, and Sundin's presence played a role in career offensive seasons for Henrik Sedin, Kesler and Burrows.

Role players like Steve Bernier, Rick Rypien, Mason Raymond and Taylor Pyatt (whenever he returns to the team after personal tragedy) make a difference; so does Kyle Wellwood, especially if the NHL decides to tweak its playoff overtime format to include competitive eating as a skills competition.

For the Blues, the majority of the hockey world owes Brad Boyes an apology for ever considering the guy a flash in the pan. Playing on the top line, Boyes has 33 goals and 72 points, leading St. Louis in both categories. Andy McDonald and David Backes have played center and wing, and the versatility has made a difference.

But the engine for this team has been the Kid Line of David Perron, Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie, a.k.a. Destroyer of Nashes. This is one of those lines that fans speak about in hushed tones after a Cinderella run through the postseason. Or, at the very least, a line whose novelty T-shirt is used as a dust rag in about five years.

Keith Tkachuk was second on the team with 14 power-play goals. Fellow geezer Paul Kariya could be back at some point in the series, which would be an emotional jolt. Dude's not bad in the postseason, either.

Defensemen (Advantage: Vancouver)

Vancouver's top four defensemen in ice time -- Kevin Bieksa (23:29), Willie Mitchell (22:54), Mattias Ohlund (21:34) and Alexander Edler (21:07) -- are a solid group anchoring the blueline in front of an all-world goalie. Add in Sami Salo, Philadelphia Flyers castoff Ossi Vaananan and the brooding physicality of Shane O'Brien, and it's one of the most underrated groups in the League (damn East Coast bias).

Of course, it helps when one of your D-men plays with an 80-inch stick.

Much respect to the Blues defense corps, which has overcome injuries to Erik Johnson and Eric Brewer; and much respect to Blues management, which added Carlo Colaiacovo's skating ability (and his 19 power-play assists) at the right time. (And suddenly he's healthy - Signed, Toronto.) Barret Jackman (23:26) and Roman Polak (21:32) shoulder the load; but the Canucks veteran group is simply better top to bottom.

Goalies (Advantage: Vancouver)

When the Canucks were cruising to a division title, the silly scrutiny that has given Vancouver the "goalie graveyard" label in the past started being applied to Roberto Luongo; some nonsense about soft goals or misplayed pucks or too many vowels. So all Luongo did was head into the postseason with a shutout streak of 145 minutes and 56 seconds. The fact that he's now a playoff sophomore is essential.

There are no secrets about Chris Mason ... well, besides why he thinks he can pull off the Andrew Sullivan chrome-dome-with-full-beard look. When he backstops the Blues to the tune of under three goals, they win; when that GAA creeps higher, St. Louis's 19th-ranked offense can't make up the difference.

Bottom line: Luongo's the man. But if there's one guy in the first round that might be able to steal a series, his name is Mason.

Well, Steve Mason. But Chris ain't bad either.

If This Series Was a Movie, It Would Be ...

"Borat," thanks the disturbing resemblance from Luongo to the famed Kazakh journalist. Very nice.

(By B.D. Gallof of Islanders Independent.)

Power Play (Advantage: St. Louis)

The Blues were hitting at about a 75-percent clip at the start of the season, and ended with the eighth best power-play in the NHL (20.5). Boyes (16) and Tkachuk (14) were money on the man advantage all season. The Canucks have balanced scoring on the power play, but the unit was only ranked 16th at an 18.8 conversion rate.

Penalty Kill (Advantage: St. Louis)

The Blues are third in the League, killing at an 83.3 percent clip. Jackman, forward Jay McClement and shot-blocking machine Jay McKee are the ice-time leaders. The Blues scored 10 shorties this season.

The Canucks are middle of the pack at 81.4 percent; Willie Mitchell is the ice-time leader by nearly a minute per game (4:15).

Fight We'd Love To See

Bieksa is a beast, but we'd like to see Dan Hinote get another shot after taking about two dozen to the noggin in this fight from February:

Coaches (Advantage: St. Louis)

In the words of Ben Kuzma of Canwest: "If Andy Murray isn't coach of the year, there should be an NHL investigation because the Blues got here without long-term injuries to Eric Brewer, Erik Johnson and Paul Kariya."

Murray's pushed all the right buttons this season; would he go power-for-power by matching his top line with the Sedins?

Alain Vigneault is a survivor, in the sense that everyone thought he was toast last spring and then again in January. He's got a contract through next season, so he's safe; but Murray's been dynamic this season, so the edge goes to the Blues.

Best Player Nicknames (Advantage: Even)

The Sundin line actually has a decent nickname: The RPM line, taken from the first names of Kesler, Demitra and Sundin. Willie Mitchell's nickname in Minnesota was "Bill Pickle." What's the dill with that? (Awful)

As the story goes, Nick Schultz, Mitchell's former teammate in Minnesota, would call him Bill (short for William).

"He'd say what's up Bill? And Andrew Brunette's pretty on top of things as far as reading the media guides and finding out personal stuff about people, and he read that I like dill pickle chips, my favourite food. So one day he just said, 'Hey old Bill Pickle,' because of dill pickle chips, and it just kind of stuck."

The Blues, of course, have "The Kid Line." But more importantly, they have an iconic, famous nickname for one of their stars: "Walt," for Keith Tkachuk. And as this video from last season explains, Jay McKee's nickname is "Cheese" for some odd reason that hopefully doesn't involve his toes. 

Home Ice (Advantage: Vancouver)

The Blues (23-13-5) and Canucks (24-12-5) were both solid at home. The Blues are on a 7-1 roll right now; the Canucks are 13-1-1 in the last 15. Yikes.

Captains (Advantage: Canucks)

Blues captain Eric Brewer's been out with a herniated disc since his Dec. 19 surgery. Roberto Luongo was named team captain in a precedent-setting move by the Canucks, and no plague of locusts ensued. Even if meant playing all season with a giant 'C' on his chin.

Essential Blog Reading:

For the Canucks, we enjoy reading Canucks and Beyond; Nucks Misconduct; Canucks Hockey Blog; the Kurtenblog; and the great Tom Benjamin.

For the Blues, the wily gang from St. Louis Game Time gets it done day after day.   

Pests (Advantage: Canucks)

Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler are like gnats that spit lemon juice into cuts, only they also have that vintage Claude Lemieux-ian ability to hurt you offensively, too.

The Blues have one of the top pests of the last decade on the roster in Dan Hinote. And really, anyone who marries a Playboy model and has Jim Carrey show up dressed as Fidel Castro deserves some level of respect.

Potential Unsung Heroes

Well-worn fat jokes aside, Kyle Wellwood's the kind of player who can cash in on a critical power play. He's never going to carry the team, but he's always a threat for that unanticipated offensive contribution.

For the Blues, David Perron is just the sort of baby-faced playoff newbie that could get on a roll like he did at the end of March. He's one of these players that's had the coach riding his ass for the better part of the year, and would like nothing more than to be a playoff hero.

Prediction: Blues in six.

Because noted Blues deserter Ryan Johnson must pay!

Seriously, though: The special teams advantage for the Blues is an important one, and the youthful enthusiasm of playoff virgins is contagious. If Kariya comes back and makes an impact, that's huge. But the pick here is St. Louis in an upset because the feeling is that Mason's going to steal a few games here. Yes, against a potent Canucks attack. Yes, against Luongo across the ice. Part of this is logic, but most of this is gut. And there's something about this Blues team that keeps convincing us that they're not done yet.

Take It Away YouTube Superstar Steve Dangle!

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