The Canucks went into last year's playoff series with the Blackhawks as an underdog in the offence category and found it difficult to keep up with the Blackhawks' offensive prowess in the latter part of the series. The two teams are much more evenly matched this year with Vancouver finishing 2nd in the NHL during the regular season (3.27 goals-per-game) followed closely by Chicago in 3rd place (3.20 goals-per-game).
However, the two teams have headed in opposite directions since the start of the playoffs. Both teams played six games in the first round and while the Canucks averaged a staggering 4.17 goals-per-game against the Kings, Chicago struggled in that department averaging just 2.83 goals-per-game versus the Predators.
While the top lines on the two respective teams will be the primary focus (Sedin-Sedin-Samuelsson vs Bickell-Toews-Kane), secondary scoring could prove to be the difference in this series. The offence the Blackhawks got on a regular basis during the regular season from their 3rd and 4th lines was less apparent in the first round. Chicago's bottom-six forwards combined for just three goals in Round One while the Canucks received six goals from their bottom-six forwards - all of them from either Steve Bernier (4) or Pavol Demitra (2).
Vancouver's second line of Raymond-Kesler-Burrows, however, was unable to generate much in the way of offence in Round One combining for just three goals (two of them being empty-netters). Chicago's second line of Kopecky-Sharp-Hossa had a much bigger impact for the 'Hawks against the Predators combining for six tallies.
There will be some shuffling of the 'Hawks lines ahead of the series opener as Dustin Byfuglien is expected to shift from playing defence back to playing forward. Byfuglien was very effective during last year's playoff series making life miserable for Roberto Luongo by engaging in some questionable crease-crashing tactics. He has spent the better part of the last month playing on the blue-line filling in for the injured Brian Campbell.
As far as offence from the blue-line, the Canucks have the statistical advantage after the first round. Vancouver's top-four blue-liners (Edler, Ehrhoff, Salo, Bieksa) all found the back of the net against the Kings whereas only two Chicago rearguards managed a goal in the first round (Keith, Hjalmarsson).
The Canucks out-scored the Blackhawks 11-10 during the regular season series. Alex Burrows, who had just one point (an empty net goal) in the first round, led all scorers in the regular season series against Chicago with five points (1-4-5).
It seemed somewhat odd during the regular season that the Blackhawks had so much negative attention focused on their netminders considering they finished with the sixth best goals-against-average as a team at 2.48 - six spots higher than the Canucks who finished 12th at 2.66.
The Blackhawks managed to keep that same level through the opening round giving up 15 goals in their six-game series against the Predators for a GAA of 2.50 thanks in large part to a pair of shutouts posted by Antti Niemi in the early going.
The Canucks gave up almost a half-a-goal per game more compared to the regular season in the first round with a 3.00 GAA (18 goals against in six games versus Los Angeles) but they were much better towards the end of the series than at the start. The Canucks gave up just four combined goals in the final two games of that first round opening series win. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, surrendered seven total goals in their final two games of Round One.
The Blackhawks were not world beaters with the man-advantage during the opening round finishing with four goals on 23 power play opportunities (17.4 percent success rate), but they may be licking their chops at a chance to face a Canucks penalty kill that surrendered 10 goals on 26 short-handed situations - a paltry 61.5 percent efficiency rate.
The good news for Vancouver is that their penalty kill got better as the first round went along. The Canucks closed out the opening round killing off their last eight straight short-handed scenarios and 11 of the last 12 overall. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, scored just one power play goal on their last 10 opportunities over the final two games of their series against the Predators.
The Canucks power play in the first round was very effective scoring in five of the six games and finishing with six goals on 24 opportunities overall in the series (25.0 percent success rate). They will be up against a Blackhawks' PK that gave up only one goal on 27 short-handed scenarios over six games (96.3 percent efficiency rate).
Vancouver's special teams barely edged Chicago's during the regular season series scoring twice on 13 opportunities overall (15.4 percent success rate). The Blackhawks scored just once on 16 power play chances (6.2 percent success rate).
The Canucks could get a significant upgrade to their penalty killing corps with the potential return of Ryan Johnson. Johnson missed the entire first round with a broken foot but began skating on his own in the days leading up to the start of Round Two. The Blackhawks were able to bolster their PP unit midway through Round One when offensively-gifted rearguard Brian Campbell returned to the lineup after missing over a month of action with broken collarbone. He has averaged 2:14 of ice-time on the power play since his return but has yet to record a point since his comeback.