Canucks swept Oilers in regular season, now underdogs in playoffs

The Vancouver Canucks won the Pacific Division by five points over the Edmonton Oilers and swept the regular-season series. Yet when they kick off their Western Conference semifinal series Wednesday in Vancouver, the Canucks are the underdogs.Canucks swept Oilers in regular season, now underdogs in playoffs

“I love being doubted,” said Vancouver coach Rick Tocchet, whose team beat the Nashville Predators in six games in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. “At the start of the year, if you asked, ‘Is Vancouver going to make the playoffs?’ A lot of people said no or a bubble team. So, we were underdogs there. As the season went on, when are they going to fall? Now, same thing. … I just think we kind of like that underdog role and I think players should embrace it.”

The longtime division rivals — whose battles date all the way back the 1979-80 season when the Oilers joined the NHL from the World Hockey Association — are meeting in the playoffs for only the third time and first since 1992, ancient history.

The fact Vancouver won all four regular-season meetings is also ancient history. Three of those four games came during Edmonton’s first 11 games, and before a coaching change and torrid run sent the Oilers rocketing up the standings.

The Canucks are well aware Edmonton put those struggles in the past, in big part due to improved defensive play on top of its potent attack. A huge reason the Oilers needed only five games to dispatch the Los Angeles Kings for the third consecutive season was their special teams play. Edmonton’s power play scored nine time and was perfect on the penalty kill in the first round.

“You could talk about playing defense and shutting whoever down, but when we play Canucks hockey, we’re in your face and play in their end more than in our own,” forward J.T. Miller said. “You’re not going to eliminate all the looks when you play a guy like Connor (McDavid), but we’ve proven this year when we focus and play our game and worry about ourselves, we can have the results. So, try to keep it five-on-five and bear down and win your one-on-one battles.”

It is doubtful the Oilers will have as much special teams success against the Canucks, but those numbers are a cautionary tale for the opposition.

“I don’t think we’re going to have that same (special teams) advantage in this series,” coach Kris Knoblauch said. “We’re going to have (to get) more offense five-on-five. But as far as what we need to do to be successful is match their work ethic. They’re a very hardworking team, but they have a lot of skill.”

Even if the majority of their meetings this season were early in the campaign, the Oilers know what the Canucks can achieve when they are not defending well enough. That said, this year’s playoffs have already shown how things can change from the regular season.

“Winnipeg beat up on Colorado all year long, and it’s obviously different hockey in the playoffs,” noted McDavid, who racked up 12 points in the first round. “Not saying it doesn’t count for anything — they played really well throughout the course of the year and beat us — but we don’t carry much stock going into it. I’m looking forward to the challenge, they’re a great team and we’re a good team, it’ll be a good series.”

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