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matthew sekeres

If the NHL playoffs had begun Thursday, the Vancouver Canucks would have come face-to-face with the archrival Chicago Blackhawks in a first-round series.

For Canuck Nation, that is a sobering thought.

The Canucks sit atop the NHL table, and fans may be drunk on their team's sensational 2010-11 regular season, but here's betting that the Blackhawks crest would look far more intimidating this spring than it does Friday, when Chicago and Vancouver meet for a fourth and final time this season.

The clubs are on opposite ends of the Western Conference playoff spectrum, with the Canucks holding first place, and the Blackhawks scrambling for the eighth and final postseason position. Gone are a long list of Canuck antagonists - Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, Adam Burish and Ben Eager - and for the first time in the past two-plus seasons, there might be reason to believe that Vancouver is top-to-bottom better.

Canuck Nation better hope so, because history has not been kind.

Vancouver and Chicago have played 23 times in the past 837 days, including two postseason series, and the Blackhawks hold every advantage.

They won both playoff rounds - both conference semi-finals lasting six games and ending on May 11 - and are 14-9 against the Canucks, including a 6-5 record in regular-season contests, over that span. This year, the Blackhawks have won two of three games, including a 7-1 Canuck humiliation at Rogers Arena last Nov. 20, which Vancouver players have since cited as a turning point to their slow start.

Since it began during the 2008-09 season, two trends have emerged in this rivalry. For starters, it's a road team series.

Vancouver is a respectable 6-5-1 at the Chicago's United Center, but the Blackhawks have been dominant at Rogers Arena (previously General Motors Place). The Blackhawks are 8-3 in Vancouver, winning eight of the past nine contests. They carry a four-game winning streak, in which they've scored 24 goals, into the game Friday.

Second, unlike some rivalries between evenly matched foes, the Blackhawks and Canucks produce a litany of blowouts.

Just four games have been decided by one goal, and just four games have featured empty-netters that have increased the margin to two goals. One game has gone to a shootout, and just one game was decided in overtime.

The average margin of victory in the series is a staggering 2.7 goals, and it has been loaded with offence. On four occasions, the winning team has scored seven times, and in 11 games, the winner has scored at least five goals.

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