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Five Questions: Goalies, PP top Canucks' concerns

by Brian Compton

The Vancouver Canucks had a lot to deal with this season, but it didn't stop them from capturing their fifth straight Northwest Division championship.

For the first time in three seasons, the Canucks won't find themselves atop the Western Conference standings, but their third-place finish means they'll have home-ice advantage at least through the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Now, the Canucks must find a way to win that elusive Cup. Here are five questions facing them entering the postseason:

1. Who is the No. 1 goaltender?

This is a question Canucks coach Alain Vigneault has been asked during the past year more than anyone can likely fathom. The answer was Cory Schneider at the beginning of the season, which led everyone to believe a Roberto Luongo trade was imminent.

That deal never happened and both goalies are still in the mix and have performed well. Schneider, who made 30 starts this season, hasn't played since April 22 because of an undisclosed injury.

But, if Schneider is healthy prior to the start of Game 1, who does Vigneault go with? Schneider likely will be the guy, but having two No. 1 goalies is a nice problem to have. It will be up to Vigneault to quiet any potential controversy as quickly as possible.

2. Is Kevin Bieksa fully recovered from his "body" injury?

It certainly appears that way. Bieksa returned for a 7-2 loss Saturday to the Edmonton Oilers. The defenseman can contribute at both ends of the ice and plays with an edge, and the Canucks need him on their top pairing alongside Alexander Edler.

Bieksa played a big role in Vancouver's run to the Stanley Cup Final two years ago, when he had five goals and five assists in 25 games.

3. Will Ryan Kesler play center or wing?

Vigneault has experimented using the 2011 Selke Trophy winner at right wing on Vancouver's second line with Christopher Higgins and Derek Roy, who was acquired from the Dallas Stars at the NHL Trade Deadline. Kesler is immensely talented and can handle either position, but where he ends up for Game 1 remains to be seen.

4. Can the power play improve?

It has to if the Canucks are going to play deep into the spring. Despite tremendous talent up front and on the blue line, Vancouver finished No. 23 in the League with the man advantage. Perhaps this is when Jason Garrison makes his biggest impact. The free-agent pickup had three power-play goals during the regular season, but that doesn't mean he's incapable of turning it up a notch or two in the playoffs. If he does, it would help his club a great deal.

5. Does it help the Canucks didn't win the conference?

All eyes were on the Canucks the past two seasons, courtesy of finishing atop the West. The attention this season was mainly focused on the Chicago Blackhawks because of their unbelievable start, which saw them earn points in 24 consecutive games. Perhaps this gives Vancouver an opportunity to fly under the radar a bit. But opponents would be foolish to take the Canucks lightly, because they possess enough weapons to go a long way.


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