Wed, 11 Apr 2012 Kings Canucks 7:30 PM TV: CBC/NBCSN
Fri, 13 Apr 2012 Kings Canucks 7:00 PM TV: CBC/NBCSN
Sun, 15 Apr 2012 Canucks Kings 7:30 PM TV: CBC/NBCSN
Wed, 18 Apr 2012 Canucks Kings 7:00 PM TV: CBC/NBCSN
Sun, 22 Apr 2012 Kings Canucks Time/TV: TBD
Tue, 24 Apr 2012 Canucks Kings Time/TV: TBD
Thu, 26 Apr 2012 Kings Canucks Time/TV: TBD
Welcome to the Stanley Cup playoffs in the Western Conference, where the President’s Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks begin with one of the best the eighth-seeded teams in the NHL the Los Angeles Kings.
Then again, the Canucks drew the eighth-seeded Chicago Blackhawks a year ago, a team that had been their nightmare until Alex Burrows’ overtime goal in Game 7 finished off a thrilling first-round series. It was perhaps the best NHL playoff series in the entire 2011 playoffs, after that series win the Canucks went on to the Stanley Cup finals last season.
We are all aware of how their run ended at the hands of the Boston Bruins. By losing four of their last five games to the Bruins, Vancouver have faced their share of questions throughout the 2010-11 season off season, continuing throughout this past NHL season.
How did they respond? Well the Canucks once again have the NHL’s best regular-season record. Not quite sure that says a lot, especially this season, looking at the fact no other team in their Northeast division was even close to making the playoffs.
As for the Los Angeles Kings, well a coaching change in November, a blockbuster trade for Jeff Carter in February, and a second-half surge had them on the verge of a Pacific division title. However two straight extra-time losses to their division rival San Jose Sharks in the final days capped off a wild regular season for a team that some had believed pre-season was poised to contend for the Stanley Cup. They’ll have their chance, but they’ll have to go through the Canucks, and it all starts in Vancouver Wednesday night.
The two teams split their season series, winning two games apiece, the Canucks winning the last encounter 1-0 in Vancouver on March 26. Two seasons ago the two teams faced each other when the Canucks dispatched a very young Kings team in six games.
For the Vancouver Canucks to make a deep playoff run, the health of Daniel Sedin has to be their primary concern. Last season’s Ted Lindsay Award winner has missed the final nine games of the regular season with a concussion he suffered via a Duncan Keith elbow on March 21.
Whether or not there are any setbacks or rust to his game once he does return is clearly the next question. The Canucks will find it incredibly difficult to win the Stanley Cup without both of the Sedin brothers playing at a full and healthy tilt.
Speaking of health issues to top scorers, LA has its only concern with mid-season pickup Jeff Carter. The blockbuster trade acquisition was in a walking boot in late March after injuring his ankle. He luckily avoided any structural damage, which has to be good news to Kings Fans. However, Carter still missed the rest of the regular season and just how this impacts his playoff effectiveness. Given the lack of scoring from the LA forwards this season, a healthy Carter has to be on the Kings Christmas’ miracle wish list. There has been no word as of Sunday whether he’d be ready for Game one of the series. While playing alongside former Philly teammate Mike Richards on the Kings’ second line, Carter has obvious importance for this LA club, it would give the Kings the top-six balance up front they been lacking all season long.
Goals have been hard to come by this season for the Kings, however, LA has scored 54 goals in their 18 games through March and April, which averages out to be about three goals per game. That stat would rank the Kings among the league leaders had they done that all year long. So keep that in mind when you factor in their second to last 2.29 season-long average. This is a much more comfortable team up front than it was at the beginning of the season.
While no one knows exactly who will carry the torch for the Canucks, the LA Kings don’t seem to have the same problem. LA finished second only to the second placed St. Louis Blue as the top defensive teams in the league, allowing only 2.07 goals per game. That’s thanks in large part to the 2011-12 standout in Jonathan Quick. While LA was great defensively, the Canucks weren’t god awful, Vancouver was fourth in goals against with 2.33 gaa as both Roberto Luongo and backup Cory Schneider both put up terrific numbers this season. Even Quick’s wonderful season that could’ve been considered a strength over most other Western Conference opponents is just marginalized a factor against a strong Canuck goaltending tandem. The lingering issue for most Canucks fans will be how the Luongo-Schneider drama unfolds itself. Luongo will get the start in game one but after a meltdown in the Cup finals last season, will Luongo be on a short leash given how much confidence Vancouver has in Schneider.
While the Canucks made it to the Cup finals in last year’s cup finals, this isn’t the same bunch of players that made it to the finals against the Bruins. The Canucks have added the likes of Zack Kassian, David Booth, Sammy Pahlsson and Marc-Andre Gragnani, giving Vancouver extra depth needed to make a long playoff run. In Kassian, Vancouver is provided the grit up front, which many said the Canucks were lacking last season. Pahlsson has made a long playoff run before with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 and provides a great third-line center option who wins key face-offs. Booth is a reliable top-six option, and Gragnani provides blue-line depth. This is a deeper Canucks team, and is probably the deepest Vancouver team that they have ever had.
What to watch for in this series as it is in most playoff series will be special teams. Where a power-play goal can be the difference on many nights during tightly played NHL playoffs games. L.A. was ranked fourth in penalty killing this season, led by their goaltender Quick but also by strong defenseman in Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi. While forwards Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards are worth Selke award discussions for their work this season on the defensive end. These LA Kings are able to shut down the best of the best. This is exactly what they face the fourth ranked power play in the Canucks, led by the Sedins and Ryan Kesler. This could be the matchup that could decide the series, and makes for even more importance of the health of Daniel Sedin.
When Philadelphia Flyers shocked the NHL world by trading their captain, Mike Richards, to Los Angeles, people suggested that Mike Richards was too much of a party animal, and not committed 100% to the game. Well, this will be his first chance to re-establish himself as one of the premier leaders and clutch performers in the game. An upset series win over Vancouver with Richards playing a key role would do wonders to his reputation.
Luongo’s playoffs ended in a nightmarish fashion last June against the Bruins. Crazy that fans forget that he had two shutouts in that finals, he played great in that big Game seven victory over Chicago in the first round. He continued that play against Nashville and San Jose in the next two rounds as well. Until Luongo wins a Stanley Cup, and doesn’t let a weak goal go through his feet, his strongest critics won’t let him away with anything. You can bet if the Kings get up early in the series, the focus from fans will be on Luongo’s play especially with Schneider waiting to take the reins.
The Kings will Canucks all they can handle, but can Quick take this match up. It’s absolutely possible. This will be an incredibly difficult, but the Kings won’t be enough to take down last season Western Conference champions. The Kings made the playoffs on defence and goaltending. Both will be needed to have any chance against the Canucks, especially if Daniel Sedin is able to play. If, Daniel can’t play, the Canucks will need production out of 2011 playoff hero Ryan Kesler who has no goals in 12 games.
SMYTH: Canucks in 7.
BLAIS: Canucks in 7.
DICEMAN: Kings in 7.
PINDER: Kings in 7.
DENSTEDT: Canucks in 6.
JAMESON: Canucks in 6.
DONNELLY: Canucks in 6.