After years of wearing the “rebuilding” tag, the Kings have shed that label and reached the next echelon: a playoff team. Are they for real? Let’s take a look.
Kings (6th, 46-27-9) vs. Canucks (3rd, 49-28-5)
Kings Regular Season Record vs. Vancouver: 1-2-1, The Kings dropped a pair of contests to the Canucks early in the season and dropped a tilt in the shootout. However, the Kings blasted the ‘Nucks at the end of the season by a score of 8-3 (Luongo allowing all 8 goals). Will that lone game bolster the Kings confidence against their conference foe?
Players to watch: For the Canucks it’s more like who do you not watch? Henrik Sedin is fresh off his Art Ross Trophy campaign and if you crunch the numbers you’d realize his brother Daniel was on pace to match him had he not missed 19 games to injury. Then there are Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows. Kesler upped his career high in points by 26 and continues to be a thorn in his opponents’ side with 104 PIMs. Burrows led the team in goals with 35 and racked up 121 PIMs. Roberto Luongo led his countrymen to Gold in the Olympics and notched another 40 win season.
For the Kings it has to be Kopitar. He is the offensive catalyst in all situations and has to be the best player on the ice for L.A. Ryan Smyth and Rob Scuderi are on the squad to lend their playoff experience and need to bring the playoff-rookies along quickly. Dustin Brown, the Kings captain, will no doubt play an important leadership role, but he and Wayne Simmonds will need to match Kesler and Burrow’s contributions as both offensive forces and chippy disturbers. Drew Doughty has passed every test with flying colors and established himself as not only a bright young prospect, but a Norris Trophy contender, likely for years to come. The young Blue-Liner already has an Olympic Gold on his resume, can he add playoff-warrior to that list? Last but not least, can Quick shake his recent slump and return to the regular season form that got the Kings to where they are now?
Match-Ups: The onus will be on the Kings to neutralize the Sedins. That duty will likely fall to Doughty and Scuderi when they can get them on the ice. Lord help us if they get out there against Jones. Expect Jack Johnson to log significant ice-time against the opposition’s best as well. The Kings present a similar problem to the Canucks as their offensive weapons include Kopitar, Brown, Smyth, Williams, Frolov, Handzus, Simmonds, and Stoll. Vancouver will have their hands full containing the Kings depth with an already weakened defense corps.
X-Factor Players: With the Canucks’ blue-line looking black and blue, can Alex Edler and Christian Ehrhoff be the leaders they need on the back end?
If Quick falters, can Jonathan Bernier steal the spotlight in the way that his 3 regular season games suggest he can?
Bet against the Kings because: There are no easy draws in the Western Conference and the Vancouver Canucks are no exception. Their offense this season was second only to the Washington Capitals, boasting six 25+ goal-scorers. They have Canada’s 1a Goaltender. Oh, and don’t forget the Canucks will have home-ice advantage.
Bet on the Kings because: The Kings losing record against the Canucks is not as troubling as it seems, with one loss coming in the shootout and their win coming in dramatic fashion. The Canucks were not the hottest team down the stretch and if the Kings can get to Luongo and reignite the “can he succeed in the playoffs” question-mark, the Kings can take Vancouver by surprise. Most importantly, the Kings proved during their extended mid-season win streak that they can win games by effort and desire, and not talent alone. If the Kings tap into that version of themselves, they pose a serious threat to the Canucks.
I’m not one to make predictions, so I’ll leave you with this fun-fact; no one has beaten the Kings in regulation in their last 7 games (4-0-3 in that stretch). So here’s to a long and exciting series!
Let’s go Kings!
About the Author
Written by Eric Cooney
Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney