Hawks could see Canucks in first round

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Vancouver Canucks' Ryan Kesler celebrates one of his goals against the Phoenix Coyotes, during the third period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011, in Glendale, Ariz. The Canucks defeated the Coyotes 6-0.

    Vancouver Canucks' Ryan Kesler celebrates one of his goals against the Phoenix Coyotes, during the third period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011, in Glendale, Ariz. The Canucks defeated the Coyotes 6-0. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 2/3/2011 10:28 PM

If the Blackhawks continue to hang around seventh and eighth place in the Western Conference, it could set up one of the more interesting first-round playoff matchups.

How about the Hawks and Vancouver Canucks in the first round this year?

 

Barring a late-season collapse, it appears as if the Canucks are going to win the Western Conference. They take a 33-10-9 record into tonight's game with the Hawks, who have eliminated Vancouver in the second round of the playoffs the last two springs.

The Canucks sport the kind of depth the Hawks had in the past that starts with perhaps the best 1-2 center punch in the NHL in Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler.

Henrik Sedin leads the league with 51 assists, while Kesler already has 30 goals in the midst of a career year.

Daniel Sedin is third in the league in scoring with 62 points.

"We're playing good," Kesler told reporters after Thursday's win at Dallas. "We're getting chances from everybody on the ice. We're playing strong and we have a lot of confidence. We're going into every game knowing we can win but not taking it for granted."

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These aren't the same Canucks who lost in six games to the Hawks in the second round last season.

Free-agent center Manny Malhotra has added grit and is a top faceoff man, while defensemen Dan Hamhuis (free agent) and Keith Ballard (trade) were brought in to round out maybe the league's deepest defense.

Alex Edler, the Canucks' best defenseman, is out for the rest of the regular season following back surgery, but he plans to be back for the playoffs.

Defenseman Sami Salo also is close to returning from a torn Achilles' tendon.

The Hawks lead the season series 2-1 and handed the Canucks one of their worst losses of the season back in November, when they skated out of Rogers Arena with a 7-1 victory.

The Canucks won the last meeting 3-0 in Chicago on Dec. 3.

"It just didn't look like we had enough energy and enough jump to our game out there," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said after the December loss. "Anything they threw at us, it's like we were just going to let them have it."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Hawks practiced in Vancouver on Thursday, with center Jake Dowell back on the ice. Dowell blocked a shot in Tuesday's win at Columbus and didn't practice Wednesday.

Center Ryan Johnson remains sidelined with a lower body injury, while John Scott was sick and didn't make the trip to Vancouver.

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said Marty Turco would start again in goal after his win at Columbus.