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The Globe and Mail

Regular season brings Canucks no guarantees

Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo (1) keeps his eye on the puck during second period NHL hockey action against the Los Angeles Kings at Rogers arena in Vancouver, B.C. Thursday, March 31, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

JONATHAN HAYWARD

Vancouver Canucks captain Henrik Sedin is keenly aware of the history.

Presidents' Trophy winners, as the Canucks became last Thursday with a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings, are guaranteed nada when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin.

Since the trophy, awarded to the NHL team that finishes with the most regular-season points, was established in 1985-86, seven claimed it and gone on to win the Cup, five lost in the first round of the postseason and five more have fallen in the second.

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"It means we have a great team, but it doesn't mean we're going to win it all," Sedin said. "It means we have a great shot."

The Canucks are the first Canadian-based team to finish atop the league standings since the 2002-03 Ottawa Senators. Entering Friday's games, Vancouver was 11 points better than the second-place Philadelphia Flyers, and no team has finished that far ahead of the field since the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings.

Those Red Wings lost in the first round. As did the Washington Capitals last year, and the San Jose Sharks the year before that. Since the lockout, three Presidents' Trophy winners have gone down in the opening round, and only one has emerged with the Cup.

"I don't mind those odds," Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault quipped Friday, when informed that only 30 per cent of Presidents' Trophy winners have made good in the spring.

The same first-round dangers await the Canucks in 10 days, after a hyper-competitive and quality-laden Western Conference sorts out its eight playoff participants. Vancouver's opening-round opponent could well finish with more points than any eighth seed since the NHL lockout.

Here is a look at the most likely opponents, and the specific troubles they pose for the Canucks:

Chicago Blackhawks

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If the playoffs had started Friday, the Canucks would have come smack up against their archrival and postseason nemesis. The Blackhawks have eliminated Vancouver in each of the last two postseasons. Both were conference semi-finals won in six games. Over the last few weeks, several Canucks players have said they want to face Chicago, because they need to get over the hump. The 'Hawks are certainly thinner than last season's Cup champion, and their goaltending remains a question mark with rookie Corey Crawford having never made a postseason start. Vancouver is 2-1-1 against the 'Hawks this season, which includes a 7-1 home-ice loss last November.

Anaheim Ducks

Anaheim's top four forwards - Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne - have all enjoyed personal success against the Canucks. Vancouver has traditionally struggled against sizable forwards, and the Ducks have plenty of them. They also have leftover Cup-winning experience from their championship in 2006-07, which no Vancouver player has, outside of winger Mikael Samuelsson. The Canucks and Ducks split four meetings this season, and three were one-goal games. Vancouver holds a big advantage over Anaheim in depth, but what makes the latter even more dangerous is its goaltending. Ray Emery is 6-0 as a starter since rejoining the NHL in February, while Jonas Hiller has game-stealing capacity.

Nashville Predators

First off, avert your eyes if this series comes to pass. They are the conference's two stingiest teams, and when they meet, they normally bring out the worst in each other - aesthetically speaking at least. Nashville often lulls Vancouver into its low-excitement brand of hockey, and has split four meetings against the Canucks this season. In each of those encounters, the winning team has scored three goals or fewer. The Predators have not won a playoff series in five tries, which either means they are due, or not built for the postseason. But Vancouver would just as soon avoid this matchup. It means extra travel to the middle of the continent, and perhaps some interminable overtime games that sap energy early in the tournament.

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About the Author
B.C. sports correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Matthew spearheads the Globe's sports coverage in B.C., and spends most of his time with the NHL Canucks and CFL Lions. He has worked for four dailies and TSN since graduating from Carleton University's School of Journalism a decade ago, and has covered the Olympic Games, Super Bowls, Grey Cups, the Stanley Cup playoffs and the NBA Finals. More

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