Who will laugh last when I slash your calf?
Make it cease
Get your big ass out of my crease.
Byfuglien, by Roberto Luongo
Among his many and varied talents – stopping pucks, appearing in TSN mockumentaries, entertaining the masses on Twitter – Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo is also something of an amateur poet. He has penned odes to the Sedin twins, to his backup goaltenders, to his Olympic gold medal, and most memorably, to Dustin Byfuglien, his notable adversary during a couple of hard-fought playoff series with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Byfuglien isn’t around for this year’s playoffs – his current team, the Winnipeg Jets, came up just short – but there is someone who plays in the Byfuglien style looming in the opening round, hoping to complicate life for either Luongo or Cory Schneider, whoever gets the start in goal for coach Alain Vigneault.
That would be the San Jose Sharks’ Brent Burns, a 6-foot-5 native of Ajax, Ont., with a fascination for collecting snakes and tattoos (great fodder for Luongo’s next poetic effort, one would think).
As with Byfuglien, Burns is one of those rare, versatile NHLers who can play both forward and defence. As with Byfuglien, Burns knows how to clear a crease at one end, and how to fill a crease at the other.
Of late, the Sharks have deployed Burns up front on the right side of a potent and potentially intimidating line that includes playmaker extraordinaire Joe Thornton and all-round pest T.J. Galiardi.
With his size, Burns has been a physical force, winning puck battles along the boards and making life miserable for defencemen around the Western Conference.
San Jose paid a small ransom – the equivalent of three first-round draft choices – to acquire Burns from the Minnesota Wild two summers ago because the Sharks coveted his size, his strength and his ability to launch howitzers from the point on their power play. But Burns started the year on the injury list, recovering from an off-season sports hernia, and when he was ready to play, San Jose coach Todd McLellan shifted him back to his original position – forward – where he was so effective that they just left him there.
This will be the second time in three seasons that the Canucks and Sharks will play in the playoffs. Two years ago, their meeting came in the conference final, where Vancouver prevailed and advanced to the Stanley Cup final. Last year, both clubs lost in the opening round.
The Sharks are a mature club, in the playoffs for a ninth consecutive season, but as with Vancouver, their window for winning a championship with the current core appears to be closing.
The Western Conference’s playoff pairings weren’t sorted out until the final game of the night Saturday, when the Sharks lost on the road to the defending champion Los Angeles Kings.
The Kings will open on the road against the St. Louis Blues, in a rematch of last year’s second-round meeting, which Los Angeles won in four straight. The Kings and Blues are mirror images of each other, two teams with comparable talent that play a heavy-hitting defensive style. Overall, Los Angeles has won its last eight against St. Louis, a team that doesn’t match up well against the Kings.
For locking up the No. 2 seed, the Anaheim Ducks were rewarded with a first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings, a team that qualified for the playoffs for a 22nd consecutive season. Detroit was up and down all year, but with a playoff spot in jeopardy, won its final four games and received fantastic production from its key two players, Pavel Datsyuk (eight points in his last three games) and Henrik Zetterberg (10 points in his last four). The Red Wings will pose a threat to a Ducks team that was just 8-9-2 down the stretch after a 22-3-4 beginning.
The team to beat in the West will be the Chicago Blackhawks, winners of the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s regular-season champions. The Blackhawks rested most of their key players for the meaningless 3-1 loss to the Blues on Saturday, only the seventh game they lost in regulation all season.
Though there is some uncertainty over goaltender Ray Emery and centre Dave Bolland’s injury status, the belief is the Blackhawks will have all hands on deck for their opener against the Minnesota Wild, a team that needed the tiebreaker – most regulation and overtime wins – to squeeze into the playoffs ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Minnesota stuttered and stumbled down the stretch and was in jeopardy of missing the playoffs altogether when it was crushed at home Friday night by the Edmonton Oilers. Opening against Chicago, the Wild will have the advantage of exceedingly low expectations, which can sometimes be a levelling factor in any playoff series.
The possibility of a Chicago-Vancouver rematch is tantalizing, but it cannot take place before the third round at the earliest. In the meantime, Schneider has missed the last couple of games because of an undisclosed injury, and Luongo was lit up for seven goals by the Oilers in what would otherwise have been a meaningless finale Saturday night.
Luongo was showered and out of the dressing room in mere minutes, unhappy with the outcome but presumably experienced enough to put that event behind him, with the playoffs on tap. Vigneault indicated postgame Saturday that Schneider would get the call if healthy, and if he wasn’t, then they have confidence in Luongo’s ability to stand in. Burns vs. Luongo? Poetry in motion.