(Sports Network) - For the first time in 17 years the Vancouver Canucks have earned the right to play for Lord Stanley's Cup.
The Canucks, who have never won a title, were last in the Cup Finals in 1994 when they were bested in seven games during a classic series with the New York Rangers.
The road back to the Stanley Cup Finals has been a long and tough one for the Vancouver franchise, as the club never made it past the second round between '94 and this spring. But the path the Canucks have taken in this year's postseason has gotten progressively easier.
Alain Vigneault's club blew a 3-0 lead to Chicago in the opening round before winning the series in Game 7. The Canucks then ousted Nashville in six games in Round 2 before beating San Jose in five tests to earn the franchise's third conference title.
Although the Western Conference finals matchup with the Sharks lasted only five games, the Canucks didn't exactly dominate San Jose. Vancouver picked up three of its wins by one-goal margins and clinched the series with a double- overtime victory in Game 5.
The Canucks used an excellent series from the much-maligned Sedin twins and goaltender Roberto Luongo to make quick work of the Sharks.
Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin compiled an amazing 12 points in the conference finals, notching one goal and 11 assists over the five games. Thanks in large part to that monster series, last year's Hart Trophy winner is leading all NHLers with 21 points (2 goals, 19 assists) in 18 games this postseason
Identical twin Daniel, meanwhile, notched two goals and four assists against the Sharks and has eight goals and eight helpers in the postseason.
The Sedins and Alexandre Burrows, who has seven goals and seven assists in the playoffs, clearly give Vancouver a terrific top line, but centerman Ryan Kesler and company are making sure it's not all about the No. 1 unit.
Kesler has 18 points (7g, 11a) in the playoffs and is doing a superb job anchoring the second line with wingers Mason Raymond and Chris Higgins. Kesler did slow down in Round 3 with two goals and one assist in the series after exploding for five goals and six assists against Nashville in the conference semifinals.
Raymond and Higgins have posted eight and seven points, respectively, in the 2011 postseason.
With the top two lines delivering loads of offense the Canucks rely on the rest of their forwards to play solid defense and hand out big checks. Raffi Torres has been especially effective in his role, playing the part of the nasty, physical forward to perfection.
Canucks center Manny Malhotra has been cleared to play, but Vigneault has not said whether he will dress for Game 1. He has been out of action since the middle of March with an eye injury. The faceoff wiz and defensive specialist was hit in the left eye with a puck on March 16 and the injury had been expected to keep him out for the remainder of the year.
However, after undergoing two operations on the eye, Malhotra's status has improved and he could potentially be a big factor in this series. He could also take some of the pressure off Kesler, who has been saddled with the role of the club's top defensive forward with Malhotra out of the lineup.
Between the pipes, Luongo has gone a long way this spring towards dispelling the notion that he doesn't have what it takes to win big games. The 32-year- old netminder had a rough series in the opening round against Chicago, but it has been pretty much smooth sailing since.
One of Luongo's best efforts of the playoffs came in Vancouver's double-OT win over San Jose in the clinching game of the conference finals. Luongo stopped 54-of-56 shots in that contest and halted all 20 Shark attempts in the overtime periods.
The Montreal native and 2011 Vezina Trophy finalist is 12-6 with a 2.29 goals- against average and .922 save percentage in 18 playoff games this year.
Vancouver's top four defensemen have done a great deal to help Luongo turn in a strong postseason and have also contributed on the offensive end. Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis are getting the most minutes out of that group and are also the steadiest all-around blueliners on the club. Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff and Alexander Edler have also provided some offensive punch from the back end.
Bieksa is leading the club's blueliners with five goals and also has four assists this postseason. He is also tops on the team with a plus-10 rating. Ehrhoff has the most points on the defense with 11 (2g, 9a) and Edler has posted two goals and seven helpers.
Hamhuis has one goal and five assists and is plus-five.
Ehrhoff (shoulder) and fellow defenseman Aaron Rome (head) missed the last two games of the San Jose series, but both are probable for Game 1 of the Cup Finals.
Vancouver is averaging 2.78 goals per game in the playoffs and has allowed an average of 2.56 scores per contest.
The Canucks have also excelled on the power play, scoring on 18-of-60 attempts (28.3 percent). However, penalty killing has been an issue at times for the club, as Vigneault's troops have been scored on 14 times in 72 shorthanded situations. The PK problems were obvious against San Jose, which tallied seven times on 23 opportunities with the man advantage over five games.