With just a few days to go in the regular season, the Los Angeles Kings joined the other seven top seeds in the West as they officially clinched a playoff spot. Good news, yes, but they weren’t content with just squeaking in. On the final day of the regular season, the Kings could have finished as high as 3rd or as low as 8th. Unfortunately, they wound up with the latter seed. However, with that, they solidified a first-round meeting with the team they were eliminated by two springs ago, a team they have built an intense feud with since that time.
The Vancouver Canucks head into the playoffs with the loftiest of expectations. In addition to going 8-1-1 in their final ten games, the Canucks clinched the President’s Trophy as the team with the best record in the NHL while boasting a franchise-best 51-22-9 record. Of course, being that they fell just a single game shy of the game’s ultimate prize, nothing short of a Stanley Cup victory will be acceptable in VanCity – and it’s anyone’s guess as to how the Canucks will handle that pressure.
The big news heading into their series with the Kings is Vancouver’s injury front. Daniel Sedin had missed the final nine games of the season due to a concussion. The good news for the Canucks is that he was participating in practice yesterday and will be expected to be ready for Game 1. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, that makes their task a little tougher.
Up front, the Canucks are loaded. Henrik Sedin led the way this season with 81 points. Given that only 14 of those were goals, it goes to a show how lethal a playmaker the Canuck captain is. Brother Daniel led Vancouver in goals with 30 and added 37 helpers before being sidelined because of his aforementioned concussion. Then there’s Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler who scored 28 and 22 goals this season, respectively. Other forwards include Chris Higgins, Jannik Hansen and mid-season-acquisition David Booth who have all shown no difficulty in helping their team win some key games.
On the blueline, Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa are Vancouver’s top two. Edler registered 11 goals and 38 assists while Bieksa eight goals and 36 assists. Bieksa’s play has been especially impressive given the heavy heart he’s had to play with following the death of his dear friend and former teammate Rick Rypien last summer. Even without Christian Ehrhoff (who signed in Buffalo last July), the Canucks still have a great defensive core who can get the job done. Others on the backend include veteran Sami Salo and recently-acquired Marc-Andre Gragnani.
In goal is where the two teams should match up very nicely (assuming they don’t already on forward and defense). Although he battled with Cory Schneider for the #1 spot during parts of the season, Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo went 31-14-8 in 55 games this season. He was key two years ago against Los Angeles, had a great run last spring and, while he’s expected to play admirably this time around, his counterpart may just be a little better. Jonathan Quick had a Vezina-type season that saw him collect 10 shutouts, a franchise-record three-straight shutouts, a 35-21-13 record with a staggering 1.95 goals-against average, the highest of any netminder this season to play over 40 games (St. Louis’ Brian Elliott had a better GAA but played in 38 games).
In four meetings this season, the Kings went 2-2 against the Canucks. While Los Angeles had one of their best outings against Vancouver in a 4-1 home win on New Year’s Eve, they unfortunately also had one of their worst showings of the year against this same team in a lethargic 1-0 loss at Rogers Arena on March 26.
But it’s a brand new season and while the #8 is never usually given a chance against the #1 seed, many are thinking that the Kings could be this spring’s Cinderella team. While the Canucks have picked up their game a few notches in recent weeks, no one can deny that the Los Angeles Kings have been playing their best hockey of the season at just the right time.
This series is going to come down to will. Both teams have enough talent and enough skill to move on to Round 2. But while the Canucks are expected to win it all, not many are expecting the Kings to knock off the Canucks. Of course who needs expectations when it’s better just to shock the hockey world? The latter’s a hell of a lot more validating. Wouldn’t you agree?
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