Originally written on Red Light District Hockey  |  Last updated 11/13/14

Entering this season, the Vancouver Canucks were still the favorites to win the Western Conference. Despite losing Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup final, the core which featured stars like Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Roberto Luongo found a way to regain their composure and once again dominate the opposition.

With six games left in their regular season, the Canucks are the first team to clinch their division. But do they have enough for another deep playoff run?

Much of this team's success, and troubles for that matter, has replicated that of last year. Whether that's a good or bad omen is a different story.

In October, Luongo struggled as usual which gave Cory Schneider a few extra starts. And while fans called for Luongo's head early and often, the long-time starting goalie found his bearings and helped the Canucks post what should be a top-5 goals-against average for the second consecutive season. Their solid play between the pipes has helped the team coast to home-ice advantage. However, it can't be construed as their only strength.

Between the dominance of the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows, and the emergence of the 'American Express' line of David Booth, Chris Higgins and Kesler, this Canucks offense can score in bunches. Couple their two two lines with excellent depth in Max Lapierre, Manny Malhotra, Mason Raymond, along with newcomers Zack Kassian and Sami Pahlsson, and this club qualifies as one of the deeper lineups in hockey.

Even though the club dropped off slightly from last season-- averaging 2.88 goals per game opposed to 3.11 last season-- they still found a way to win more often than not.
They can thank the guys between the pipes, their weapons up front, or even their eight solid NHL defenders, but the big question remains: Will they win in the postseason?
Clearly, GM Mike Gillis and company felt they couldn't as constructed last season. That's why they took a gamble by absorbing the Detroit native Booth and his $4.25 million cap hit that runs through 2015. They also sent away former blue-chip prospect Cody Hodgson for the gritty Kassian in a move they hope pays dividends until the power forward hits free agency. In making those trades, the team grabbed players with different games -- ones that drive to the net and won't be pushed around.
Grit, opposed to skill, was the focus in upgrading the forward corps. Yet, the team might need an upgrade up front with top goal-scorer Daniel Sedin sidelined indefinitely with a concussion. Sedin, who was concussed just four games ago, represents arguably the team's top offensive weapon which explains the Canucks only scoring six goals over the past three contests without him. Winning those games shows this team can find a way to win, albeit differently.
The speedy, yet wildly inconsistent, Raymond has filled in admirably on the top line and top PP unit. Raymond, a player whose career was in danger following a broken vertebrae sustained during Game 6 of last year's Stanley Cup Finals, has rebounded nicely to provide the necessary depth. But will he be able to withstand a physical, seven-game battle through four rounds?

Last season, Raymond was unavailable during the final week of the postseason. Others like Dan Hamhuis, Kesler, and the now departed Mikael Samuelsson and Christian Ehrhoff couldn't withstand playing over 100 games and still produce. This season, the team is hoping for contributions from every available source, whether that be a Sedin, Kesler or Malhotra and Dale Weise on the fourth line.
The big question really isn't does this team have the talent to win. They do. The real test will be if they can withstand the rigors of a physical postseason for the second year in a row and take home the holy grail of hockey.
Furthermore, you can't analyze this team without discussing the oft-criticized duo of Luongo and Schneider. Can they keep their composure in order to steal a few games? They've already proven all they can during the regular season, now comes the real test.

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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