Sedin's status a wild card for Canucks-Kings opener
KINGS (40-27-15) at CANUCKS (51-22-9)
TV: NBCSN, CBC, RDS, KCOP-13 (HD)
Los Angeles 5-2-3; Vancouver 8-1-1
The Canucks won the low-scoring regular season series, but much like the margin in all but one of the four games, not by much. In fact, the only separation was the single point Vancouver (2-1-1) got for taking one of the Kings' two victories to a shootout before losing 3-2 on home ice on Jan. 17. The Canucks won the opener by the same score on Nov. 10 with Terry Murray still behind the Kings' bench. Los Angeles won the next meeting 4-1 -- and improved to 4-0-2 under new coach Darryl Sutter on New Year's Eve -- the only lopsided win of a series that ended with a 1-0 Canucks victory at home on March 26.
Scoring was at a premium between two teams that managed just 15 goals combined (not counting a shootout) in the regular season series -- eight for Los Angeles, seven for Vancouver, with four of the Kings’ coming in one game. With likely Vezina finalist Jonathan Quick
and his NHL-leading 10 shutouts at one end, and a Kings' offense that was also shut out 10 times trying to score at the other end on either Roberto Luongo, who has already been named the Game 1 starter, or backup Cory Schneider, who was one of just four goalies with a better save percentage than Quick, that isn't likely to change in this series.
Certainly no one expects a repeat of their first-round meeting in 2010, when the Canucks won in six games, and the teams combined for a whopping 43 goals.
Leading goal-scorer Daniel Sedin could return from a concussion in time for Game 1. He rejoined the team at practice Monday for the first time since taking an elbow to the head from Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith back on March 21, but wasn't on the ice for Tuesday's practice. He did skate after practice with the extras and other injured players. Vancouver has actually done quite well without Sedin, winning eight of the last nine while getting production out of usual fourth line agitator Maxim Lapierre in his place. But the power play was just 2-for-32 without Sedin before scoring twice in the season finale. That was against the lowly Oilers, and Daniel will be needed against the Kings' fourth-ranked penalty kill.
Like the Canucks, the Kings are hoping to have a key offensive figure back from injury. Jeff Carter
missed the final five games with a bone bruise in his ankle, and at one point was wearing a walking boot. But he too was back on the ice Monday and talking like he would be ready for the start of the playoffs, even if his head coach didn’t sound as certain. What's not in question is his importance since coming to Los Angeles in a blockbuster trade with Columbus and re-uniting with fellow former Flyers forward Mike Richards
The Kings were dead last in goal scoring before Carter arrived, and while they only moved up one spot to 29th by the end of the season, they averaged more than three goals in the 21 games after his arrival, which would be top-four in the NHL over an entire season. Carter only has six of them, and just nine points overall, but his presence with Richards has balanced out the top-six, and created more room and less checking pressure for Anze Kopitar
's top line.
Alexandre Burrows is heating up at the right time, with a five-game point streak to end the regular season that included four goals -- pushing his total to 28 on the season -- and two assists. Burrows will lose his first-unit power-play time if Daniel Sedin is back for the first game, but should benefit from playing five-on-five again with Daniel and twin brother Henrik on a top line that has been one of the League's best for the last three seasons, especially considering all four of Burrows' recent goals came either shorthanded or at even strength.
Sedin would seem to still be a question mark for the Canucks, while forward Zach Kassian (upper body) practised Tuesday with the full team rather than the spare parts and said he is ready to return for his first career playoff game after missing the last two games with a shoulder injury. Defenseman Keith Ballard (concussion) continues to skate but doesn't expect to play Game 1. Aaron Volpatti, out since shoulder surgery in early December, is also skating but hasn't been cleared to return. … Kings Forward Brad Richardson
underwent a surprise appendectomy Monday and won't accompany the team to Vancouver, with no timeline on how long he will be out. Center Andrei Loktionov has been called up from Manchester in the American Hockey League, and will join the Kings in Vancouver. … Carter could be back in the Kings' lineup, while forward Simon Gagne
(concussion) hasn't played since late December.
Getting off to a quick start will be important, both in the series and in each game. The Canucks have won their last eight series-opening games, and the last 10 at home, and won the first two games at Rogers Arena in three of four series during last season's run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Both teams also rely heavily on the opening goal: Vancouver only won eight times all season when giving up the opening goal, so it's a good thing they were one of the NHL's most dominant first-period teams, outscoring opponents 81-46. The Kings, who haven't won a playoff round since 2001, only won eight times when they fell behind 1-0, with Columbus the only team to post fewer such victories (six).
It will be interesting to see whether the Canucks checking unit is matched up against Anze Kopitar
's sizzling first line, or Mike Richards
' second unit. That may depend on how well Carter looks coming off the injury, but the smart money is on Kopitar's trio with Justin Williams
and Dustin Brown
. That will put pressure on Kopitar to make sure he also takes care of his own end, which usually isn't a problem, since Vancouver's checkers, anchored by 2007 Stanley Cup winner Samuel Pahlsson, have been getting it done at both ends. Pahlsson scored in the season finale on a nice set up from Jannik Hansen, who has four points in the last four games. And Chris Higgins has five goals in seven games, not bad for a line that goes up against the opposition's best most nights.