Road Warrior Canucks Escape New Jersey with 2-1 Win

Vancouver 2               Devils 1

The Vancouver Canucks came into Prudential Center on Friday night with the NHL’s best road record (21-10-2) and then left the arena with another road win, beating the New Jersey Devils 2-1, by holding off a torrid attack over the game’s final 40 minutes. The Devils were unable to tie the game thanks in large part to Canucks goalie Cory Schneider, who made 30 saves and was easily the star of the game.

“We’ve played five games in seven nights, in seven different cities,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said of his team, who managed only 16 shots on goal after playing and winning the previous night in Detroit. “It’s very challenging to say the least, obviously there was nothing left in the tank tonight. Our guys did everything they could on the ice and we were very fortunate tonight to get some unreal goaltending.”

Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome started the scoring 8:44 into the game when he alertly followed up on a shot from his partner Christopher Tanev that Martin Brodeur couldn’t control. The puck deflected off of the paddle of Brodeur’s goal stick and careened directly to Rome who scored his fourth goal of the season.

The Canucks doubled their lead to 2-0 when Mason Raymond fired a wrist shot past Brodeur 2:07 into the second period; Raymond’s shot from just outside the right face-off circle hit Devils’ defenseman Andy Greene’s skate before eluding Brodeur. After that goal New Jersey really picked up their game and began firing quality shot after shot at Schneider, who was gobbling them all up while allowing very few rebounds.

David Clarkson finally solved Schneider (scoring for the third consecutive game) when he converted his 24th goal of the season on a nifty pass from Patrik Elias into a wide open net side at 11:30. Elias faked as if he were about to shoot the puck and then sent a perfect slap-pass to Clarkson for an easy tip-in goal.

The Devils continued to increase the pressure on Vancouver over the final two periods, but Schneider was there at every turn, stopping 22 of the 23 shots he faced. “He’s a good goalie, I played against him in college,” said New Jersey defenseman Matt Taormina after the team’s first loss in five games. “Every year he has backed up (Roberto) Luongo really well, he can be a starter almost anywhere. He’s a really good goalie who’s hard to get a lot of rebounds off of. We just couldn’t bury our chances that we needed to.”

During the game it was announced that New Jersey had traded defenseman Kurtis Foster, forwards Nick Pamieri and Stephane Veilleux and two draft picks to Minnesota for defenseman Marek Zidlicky. He should provide help on the Devils power play, as 40 of his 60 career goals have come during man advantages. Devils coach Peter DeBoer is happy to have another piece added to his roster heading towards the playoffs. “He’s experienced, he can move the puck, we’ve got a pretty good handle on this guy. Patrik (Elias) knows him, assistant Dave Barr worked with him in Minnesota, Jacques Lemaire coached him in Minnesota; I think all of the reports I’ve heard are very positive.”

Prior to the game there was a brief ceremony to honor longtime television play-by-play voice of the Devils — Mike “Doc” Emrick. He stepped away from the position during the summer to spend more time at home after 21 seasons of work with the team and the franchise brought him back so the fans and some of the players could say thank you. He can still be heard on NHL games that air on NBC and NBCSN, as well as the hockey portion of the Olympics.

Game Notes: With the assist on Clarkson’s goal, Elias now has 13 points in 15 career games against Vancouver. Brodeur fell to 6-12 in 18 career games against the Canucks, by far his worst record against any NHL team. Ilya Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 26:34 and defenseman Kevin Bieksa led the Canucks with 23:57. Rome led all players with four blocked shots, while Devils’ winger Steve Bernier led all players with six hits. Zach Parise led all players with seven shots on goal, four players on Vancouver had two each. New Jersey (35-21-4) is off until Sunday afternoon when they host Tampa Bay (27-26-6) and Vancouver (39-16-6) will finish their road trip that same afternoon in Dallas (31-26-4).

Dan’s 3  Stars of the Game:
#1 — Cory Schneider (Van) — 30 saves, win (14-5-0)
#2 — Mason Raymond (Van) — gw goal (7)
#3 — David Clarkson (NJ) — goal (24)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com

How the West Will Be Won

How the West Will Be Won

Western Conference predictions

Round 1:

(8) Chicago over (1) Vancouver

(7) Los Angeles over (2) San Jose

(3) Detroit over (6) Phoenix

(4) Anaheim over (5) Nashville

Round 2:

(8) Chicago over (3) Detroit

(4) Anaheim over (7) Los Angeles

Round 3:

(4) Anaheim over (8) Chicago

Vancouver (1)        vs. Chicago (8)

Last Cup Win: Vancouver (never), Chicago (2010)

Why the Canucks will win: The team won the President’s Trophy (117 points), Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider won the Jennings Trophy (185 goals-against) and Daniel Sedin won the Art Ross Trophy (104 points). This team is built to win now and this is probably the first of their two-year window of opportunity to do just that.

Why the Blackhawks will win: Their nucleus from last year’s championship is still in tact despite losing several key pieces; and Patrick Kane brought his playoff-mullet back.

Vancouver’s most important player: Whichever player replaces Manny Malhotra (eye injury) as the third-line center; his ability to win key face-offs and his lead-by-example attitude will be sorely missed.

Chicago’s most important player: Captain Jonathan Toews has led the Hawks’ playoff push in the second half and he will need to continue with that effort to help his team advance past the Canucks.

Vancouver’s biggest question mark: Can Luongo finally beat Chicago? Two years in a row the Canucks were sent packing for the summer by the ‘Hawks; if Vancouver does win the series will it be a stepping stone to bigger and brighter things?

Chicago’s biggest question mark: The Blackhawks will try for a second consecutive spring to win the Cup with a rookie goalie. Corey Crawford had a stellar season, but can he duplicate Antti Niemi’s 2010 success? If Crawford falters, Chicago can always send in Marty Turco.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Vancouver (Mikael Samuelsson), Chicago (Dave Bolland, Toews, Troy Brouwer, Marian Hossa, Kane, Tomas Kopecky, Patrick Sharp, Brian Campbell, Jassen Cullimore, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook).

PREDICTION: HAWKS IN 6 Luongo may be crying again after this one as the rejuvenated champs begin their defense of the Cup by eliminating the Canucks swiftly.

San Jose (2)            vs. Los Angeles (7)

Last Cup Win: San Jose (never), Los Angeles (never)

Why the Sharks will win: San Jose’s players have a lot of playoff experience, just not too many winning experiences though. The additions of Antti Niemi and Ben Eager (who won the Cup with Chicago last season) should help, but will it be enough for this underachieving bunch to finally make the Finals?

Why the Kings will win: Two words — Jarret Stoll. One of the NHL’s most underrated players is very important to LA’s success. He was a key cog in the Oilers’ run to the ’06 Finals and whether it’s winning a key face-off or scoring a clutch goal, you can expect to see Stoll’s name a lot if the Kings are to do some damage this spring.

San Jose’s most important player: Dany Heatley, He had a very un-Heatley like season this year (26g-38a), but he can make that a distant memory if he’s clutch in the postseason.

Los Angeles’ most important player: Jonathan Quick, He’s made the big saves all season long and is the rock solid foundation of the Kings’ stingy defense. With the offense hurting, he will have to steal a game or two for his squad to advance.

San Jose’s biggest question mark: Niemi, yes he won the Stanley Cup in the Windy City in 2010, but the ‘Hawks defense was and is a lot better than the Sharks’ blueline.

Los Angeles’ biggest question mark: Where will the Kings’ goal scoring come from with their top two scorers (Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams) sidelined? Paging Wayne Simmonds

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: San Jose (Dan Boyle, Eager, Kent Huskins, Niclas Wallin, Niemi), Los Angeles (Dustin Penner, Rob Scuderi, Williams)

PREDICTION: KINGS IN 7Quick will steal two games, including Game 7 in the Shark Tank.

Detroit (3)              vs. Phoenix (6)

Last Cup Win: Detroit (2008), Phoenix (never)

Why the Wings will win: Detroit has too many savvy and talented players to lose in the first round right? Look for Todd Bertuzzi and Mike Modano to have big impacts in this opening round series.

Why the Coyotes will win: For two consecutive seasons now Phoenix has hovered around the NHL’s elite with back-to-back stellar regular seasons. Obviously this is not a fluke and captain Shane Doan just might get out of the first round for the first time in his career.

Detroit’s most important player: Johan Franzen aka ‘The Mule’ is an absolute proven playoff beast — 69 points (35g-34a) in 75 career playoff games — and if Phoenix has any hopes of surviving this series they better find a way to corral the large Swede; he also has 11 playoff game-winning goals.

Phoenix’s most important player: Ilya Bryzgalov
is the backbone of the Coyotes and could be the biggest factor in knocking the Wings out. His 36 wins and seven shutouts this season place him among the NHL’s elite netminders going forward.

Detroit’s biggest question mark: How healthy is Henrik Zetterberg is the main question in the Motor City; if he is at less than 100% the Wings could be ripe for the taking against the hungry Desert Dogs. He will definitely miss Game 1 with a left leg injury.

Phoenix’s biggest question mark: Can they finally get past the big, bad Red Wings? They should be motivated and know what to do after being eliminated in seven games by Detroit in last year’s first round.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Detroit (Pavel Datsyuk (2), Zetterberg, Brian Rafalski (3), Franzen, Nicklas Lidstrom (4), Nicklas Kronwall, Dan Cleary, Valtteri Filppula, Tomas Holmstrom (4), Kris Draper (4), Brad Stuart, Drew Miller, Darren Helm, Chris Osgood (3), Modano), Phoenix (Bryzgalov, Ray Whitney)

PREDICTION: RED WINGS IN 7 Experience wins out for the Wings, but they will get another scare from the gritty Coyotes.

Anaheim (4)           vs. Nashville (5)

Last Cup Win: Anaheim (2007), Nashville (never)

Why the Ducks will win: Who on Nashville can stop Corey Perry? No one in the league has been able to contain the league’s leading goal scorer (50) in the 2nd half, so good luck Preds.

Why the Predators will win: Defense wins championships, and Nashville has two of the NHL’s premiere defensemen (Shea Weber, Ryan Suter) plus a Vezina Trophy candidate in Pekka Rinne.

Anaheim’s most important player: I think it will be Saku Koivu’s time to shine in the first round. With all of the defensive attention (and rightfully so) being paid to the Ducks’ top line, watch out for the Finnish dynamic duo of Koivu and Teemu Selanne to wreck havoc.

Nashville’s most important player: If Rinne can stand on his head (and get in his opponents’ head) the Ducks might be in trouble here. His numbers (2.12 GAA, 33 wins, .930 save %, six shutouts) speak for themselves, but his ability to take over a game can’t be measured in numbers. Nashville’s penalty killers (fifth overall) will be tested against Anaheim’s power play (third overall).

Anaheim’s biggest question mark: Who’s in goal for them? Is it All-Star Jonas Hiller, vagabond Dan Ellis or head case Ray Emery? If one of these tenders steps up the Ducks will be hard to eliminate and SoCal could be celebrating their second Stanley Cup in four seasons.

Nashville’s biggest question mark: Who the heck is going to score for this team? They have only two 20-goal scorers (Sergei Kostitsyn, Patric Hornqvist) and obviously rely on defense and scoring by committee. If Mike Fisher and JP Dumont find their scoring touches, the Predators could pull off the upset.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Anaheim (Ryan Getzlaf, George Parros, Perry, Selanne, Francois Beauchemin, Todd Marchant, Andreas Lilja), Nashville (none)

PREDICTION: DUCKS IN 5 The Ducks will be too powerful for the gutsy Preds; the series will only go five games, but each game will probably have a 2-1 final score.

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.