Darren Eliot
Friday April 29th, 2011

If there was a question as to the readiness of the Vancouver Canucks to move on from their first-round series, it was answered early in their 1-0 victory Thursday night over the Nashville Predators. They were the faster, more determined team from the outset.

The Predators appeared slow, indecisive and completely overmatched. Good thing goaltender Pekka Rinne came to play. His brilliance kept the Preds from experiencing an opening game blowout.

It wasn't just the stars of the Canucks either. All four lines took it to the Preds. The more the usually tough-checking Predators tried to initiate, the more the Canucks shrugged them off and headed for open ice.

And, man, was there open ice. I haven't witnessed coach Barry Trotz's team yield so much neutral zone real estate ever. With that, the defensemen lost their usual zeal to hold the blue line, allowing uncontested access to their zone time and time again.

ELIOT: RINNE HEADLINES THURSDAY'S THREE STARS

Still, it wasn't until Chris Higgins found himself all alone in the high slot midway through the second period that the Canucks beat Rinne, who was fantastic in his reads and his catching glove lived up to the billing of best in the NHL. Meanwhile, Rinne's counterpart Roberto Luongo stood and watched.

Through forty minutes he made less than a handful of quality saves. Most impressive is that he had the focus to stay in the game at all since the play was primarily moving away from him most of the night. It was still a close game -- a one goal game -- so every save was crucial. Kudos to Luongo for not surrendering that momentum-crushing goal.

In total, the Canucks played brilliantly and, for forty minutes, the Predators played poorly. Not surprisingly, they found their legs and their game in the third, yet still failed to generate much in the way of quality scoring chances.

But, the final stanza was more their pace, which bodes well for the upcoming games. They had a chance to win a game they had no business being in except for the play of Rinne.

The team will definitely play better -- they're stronger than they showed -- and if Rinne plays at this level throughout, this series will get very interesting.

If not, though, this could be a short one.

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