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Los Angeles Kings Have A Real Chance To Win Playoff Series Against Vancouver Canucks

Center Anze Kopitar (left) and forward Jeff Carter (right) must be at
their very best if the Los Angeles Kings expect to advance past the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Photo: David Sheehan

EL SEGUNDO, CA — As they have been in each of the two previous seasons, the Los Angeles Kings are heavy underdogs in their first round playoff series, this time, against the Vancouver Canucks, starting tonight at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The Canucks earned the best record in the National Hockey League, winning the President’s Trophy for the second consecutive season, while the Kings brought up the rear among Western Conference playoff teams as the eighth seed.

“We know what we’re up against,” said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. “Say what you want, the Vancouver Canucks have won more games in the last year and a half, counting playoffs, than any team in the National Hockey League. That’s a task in itself.”

“They’re good players, and they have a good team,” said Kings center Anze Kopitar. “They won the President’s Trophy again, and we’re going to have to be ready for them.”

If having the best record in the NHL this season wasn’t enough, something else many of the pundits have pointed to is the fact that the Canucks ended the season ranked fifth in the league in goals scored, while the Kings ranked 29th in the thirty-team NHL.

Based on that alone, one could easily conclude that the Kings do not even belong on the same sheet of ice with the mighty Canucks.

But those offensive rankings do not tell the whole story. To be sure, the Kings were an offensive embarrassment for much of the season, but they have been a different team since the arrival of forward Jeff Carter, who was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets on February 24.

Indeed, since he joined the team, the Kings scored 3.00 goals per game, and their power play clicked at a 22.4 percent rating. If those numbers reflected their season averages, they would rank third in goals scored, and first with the man advantage.

That bit of good news should give the Kings a faint glimmer of hope. But when you add to their dramatic improvement in the offensive zone to the fact that they have maintained their strong defensive play, and their soild penalty-killing, that faint glimmer grows into a real, fighting chance to win the series.

As one might expect, to a man, the Kings were all expressing confidence over the last couple of days, as they did the last two seasons at this time of year. But there is a difference this year—a stronger sense of confidence in their dressing room.

In fact, that confidence resulted in a tiny bit of cockiness from right wing and team captain Dustin Brown.

“These are the same people [the pundits who are making the Canucks a heavy favorite] who picked us to finish first in the conference this year, so it’s neither here nor there for us,” Brown smirked.

Center Jarret Stoll, who played in the Stanley Cup Finals with the Edmonton Oilers in 2005-06, agreed.

“That’s not going to bother us,” he said. “It’s a new season now. Everything is even. We’re just looking forward to Game 1, and playing the right way for sixty minutes, and maybe more.”

“There’s a lot of people who don’t give us a chance,” Brown noted. “But the only important thing for us is that we believe that we have a good chance. If that was the consensus in here, then I’d be concerned.”

“People can say whatever they want,” Brown added. “I don’t think it has an effect on anyone in this room. We all know what we need to do to get ready, and that’s our main priority now.”

One point of concern is that the Kings not only lost their final two games of the regular season, in a home-and-home series with the San Jose Sharks, but they did so by blowing two-goal leads, and by coming out flat in the third period of each game.

But the Kings do not seem to be worried.

“This team has been pretty good at holding leads going into the third, and we blew two, back-to-back, and I don’t think we had played poorly in either game,” said Brown. “We just weren’t sharp in those games, and maybe that’s a lack of focus.”

“Everyone talks about those last two games, but it really doesn’t matter now,” added Brown. “It’s the playoffs now. We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to get ready.”

“Now that it’s over, you always say, ‘look to your next game,’ and you can truthfully say that now. It’s like the last 82 games are irrelevant now. Everyone hits the reset button, and it’s just about getting ready to go again. It’s a new season now.”

An encouraging sign from those two games was that the Kings got off to strong starts, something that must continue against the Canucks if the Kings expect to advance.

“Game 1—getting off to a good start—it’s such a fine line now, with all the teams so close, you’ve got to make sure you’re ready to go,” said Stoll. “Our four-line waves—when we’re playing well, you could see it against San Jose, in both first periods—it’s not going to be like that all the time, but just those waves of forecheck, pressure, aggressiveness, getting on pucks, winning battles, and getting pucks to the net. All of a sudden, you look up, and you have 18 shots. That’s how we’ve got to play.”

Maintaining the balance between offense and defense that they developed recently will be a huge factor.

“At the end of the day, [solid defensive play is] why we’ve been successful the last three years,” said Brown. “It’s because we’ve been so good defensively. Now we’re playing one of the better offensive teams—they’ve got to be in the top five. If we’re not on our game defensively, they’re going to pick us apart.”

“The flip side of that is we’ve got to find ways to score goals,” added Brown. “We’re capable of winning games, 2-1, or 1-0. It’s going to be really hard to win a game against the Vancouver Canucks if we’re giving up four or five goals. We’re not the type of team that can trade chance for chance. They’re a highly-skilled team. It’s important for us to make it really hard on their top players.”

“They’re a fast team, they move the puck well from the back end to up front,” Stoll noted. “We’re going to have to disrupt their creativity with good checking, and good defensive play. [We need] to take those turnovers and turn them into something.”

Discipline against the fourth-ranked power play in the NHL will be a key.

“There’s not much room for error out there,” Stoll emphasized. “They’re a quick team, a very fast team. We have to be disciplined. We can’t take unnecessary trips to the penalty box against a team like that. Special teams is going to be key.”

Not getting ahead of themselves would be a welcomed change as well.

“It’s important for this team to take it one game at a time,” Brown stressed. “Last year, we’re up 4-0 [in Game 3 against the Sharks on April 19, 2011 at Staples Center, a 6-5 overtime loss], and guys start thinking about the next game, and [suddenly, the series is tied], 2-2, so it’s important for us, both individually, and as a group, to focus on each game. Right now, it’s a one-game series, and that’s Wednesday.”

Actually, the focus must be shift-to shift.

“You have to focus [on playing one shift at a time],” said Kopitar. “If you get caught looking ahead, you can get burned pretty quick, so you just have to focus on the next shift, on the next play that you’re going to make, and go from there.”

Added post-season experience is also an asset for the Kings now.

“There’s more experience [now],” Stoll explained. “You’ve got a lot of guys in this room who’ve played in playoff games, and have been past the first or second rounds, so that helps. It’s one of those things where you look around the room, and guys have been to the Finals, or have won championships and Olympic medals.”

“We’re a little more prepared, we’re a little more mature,” said Kopitar. Even though I didn’t play last year [after suffering a broken ankle late in the season], just watching everything, and talking to the guys, you learn a few things.”

Adversity the Kings faced this season, including the firing of head coach Terry Murray, player personnel moves, and a long stretch of some really terrible hockey, may prove useful.

It’s a been a struggle this year, for a lot of different reasons,” said Stoll. “We’ve been through a lot of adversity to get to where we are, but we’re a better team because of it. We’ve seen that in [games over the last few weeks]. We’ve played well. We’ve got to carry that over, and just have that creative, offensive mentality of being aggressive, getting to the net, shooting pucks, and having fun in their zone.”

“We’ve gone through some good times, some bad times, some changes—pretty much everything you can go through, and we’re still standing here,” Kopitar noted. “It made us stronger, and it’s going to help us going forward.”

The struggles of seasons past could also help the Kings going forward.

“Part of getting to the next level is losing,” Brown explained. “We lost in the regular season for two or three years before we finally figured out what it took. I think it’s no different in the playoffs, [except] that everything is more magnified. You learn a lot quicker. What you learn in the playoffs in six or seven games takes a couple of years [worth of regular season games].”

“We’ve had two years in a row now where we’ve had [the chance] to give ourselves a better opportunity to have the upper hand, but we let it slip by,” Brown elaborated. “It’s important for us to give ourselves an opportunity to get that upper hand. We have some different personnel in here. Guys have been through it, and understand what happened in the last couple of years here. That’s our focus. We’ve had the experience of the last couple of years, but now, it’s important to apply that this year, and bring attention to every little thing, every detail, that we’ve learned over the last couple of years.”

On top of all that, the Kings’ best players must be just that.

“It all comes down to your best players being the best players,” Kopitar stressed. “They have some top-end guys over there, and we’re going to have to match them, if not outplay them.”

Fortunately for the Kings, their line of Brown, Kopitar and Justin Williams has played well since Carter’s arrival.

“Kopi, Brownie and myself are feeling pretty good about ourselves,” said Williams. “We’re going to have to have a big impact on the series if we’re going to win.”

“For our line, we just want to keep playing the way we’ve been playing,” said Kopitar. “You want to control the puck, you want to make plays. At the same time, you want to be responsible, because any given line can score at any time. It doesn’t matter who we play. Whatever the case may be, we have to play our game, and focus on [ourselves].”

The Kings will need more, not just from Kopitar’s line, but from everyone.

“If you look at the course of a year, a lot of things can change, [in terms of] player personnel,” said Brown. “Down the stretch, our best players have been a lot better than they were in the previous sixty games or so, and that’s across the board, with the exception of [goaltender Jonathan] Quick—he’s been pretty good [over the entire season]. I think everyone else has elevated their game, and that’s a good thing, because you want to be playing your best hockey right now.”

“[The Canucks are] the best team in the league,” Sutter noted. “We’re going to have to have some guys play above and beyond what they’ve played during the regular season. There’s always guys who step up during playoffs. We emphasize the top players always, as coaches, having to play at a [high] level. That’s expectations, the pressure of being a top player. That’s when a lot of it is defined. But there are always [other] guys who do.”

Meanwhile, Carter participated in his second full practice with the team on April 10, returning from a deep bone bruise in his ankle.

“It felt better today,” Carter said on April 9, following his first practice in a couple of weeks. “I think it takes a little bit to warm up, but once I get going, it’s been feeling pretty good. The first couple strides are a little sore, but once I get moving I’m all right. I feel like I’m getting better and I feel like I can contribute.”

Carter said he felt even better after the April 10 practice, and is a virtual lock to be in the lineup tonight.

“It’s getting better,” he said. “Every day, it seems like it’s starting to get a little better. There’s more strength, and there’s more movement.”

Playoff gamesmanship or not, Sutter was rather coy about Carter’s status.

“He’s still got a ways to go,” Sutter said after his team’s April 9 practice. “We just have to evaluate him a day at a time. We’ll just see how it goes tomorrow. If this was the regular season, he would be on [injured reserve], right?”

“He looked fine…better today than he was yesterday,” Sutter said the next day. “Honest answer, right?”

While Sutter remained a bit mysterious regarding Carter’s status, as mentioned earlier, it would be a total shock if he was not in the lineup tonight at Vancouver, especially with forward Brad Richardson undergoing an emergency appendectomy on April 9.

“We lost Brad Richardson to an appendectomy last night, so we’re running a little short, so that kind of fast forwards a lot of what we have to do,” said Sutter.

Replacing Richardson in the lineup is center Andrei Loktionov, who was recalled from the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate. He will join the team in Vancouver.

So…after all that…can the Kings really win their first round series against the mighty Canucks?

If Carter returns, and is effective, if the Kings return to the level of play they were at prior to Carter’s ankle injury, and if Quick is at his best, the Kings have a real opportunity.

For the Canucks, which Roberto Luongo, who is either hot or cold, will show up in goal? Will talented forward Daniel Sedin, who is recovering from a concussion, return to the lineup in this series, let alone Game 1? Even if he does, how effective will he be?

Questions, questions…even without Daniel Sedin, the Canucks are a major powerhouse, and would likely continue to be favored in this series. But if the Kings play their game, and play it well, if they are firing on all cylinders, they have a much better chance to advance past the Canucks than most would probably give them credit for.

“Everyone knows what’s at stake, and what we need to do to be successful,” said Kopitar. “A lot of that is preparation and details.”

“It’s going to be a really big challenge,” said Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell. “They’re a good team, a very deep team. They won the President’s Trophy twice in a row, and not just on luck. But we look forward to it. You want to play against the best, and they’re definitely one of the best.”

Frozen Royalty’s prediction: Kings win the series in six games.

Raw Audio Interviews

(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)

Dustin Brown (7:32)

Jeff Carter (2:38)

Anze Kopitar (04/09/12; 2:23)

Willie Mitchell (04/09/12; 0:49)

Jarret Stoll (4:26)

Darryl Sutter (6:20)

Anze Kopitar (04/10/12; 7:23)

Justin Williams (7:23)

Willie Mitchell (04/10/12; 7:33)


Tickets for the Kings’ upcoming home playoff games against the Vancouver Canucks (April 15, 2012, 7:30 PM – Canucks vs. Kings: Game 3; April 18, 2012, 7:00 PM – Canucks vs. Kings: Game 4; April 24, 2012, TBA – Canucks vs. Kings: Game 6 {if necessary}), are (or will be) available from Barry’s Tickets, an official partner of the Los Angeles Kings. Use the code, “Royalty010” to get a 10 percent discount on their “Best Value” tickets.


Creative Commons License Frozen Royalty by Gann Matsuda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Frozen Royalty – Licensing and Copyright Information.

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5 Responses to Los Angeles Kings Have A Real Chance To Win Playoff Series Against Vancouver Canucks

  1. Dave Dunseith says:

    Why wouldn’t they…they are matched up just fine. Everyone applauding Vancouver for Pres Trophy…they came out of the WEAKEST division in hockey. 1 playoff team…so if any team played Edm Cal Minny and Avs 6 times like they did…of course the stats are padded!!

  2. Stefan Medrano says:

    I don’t think they’ll beat Vancouver, but if the Sedin’s go AWOL (as they are wont to do) then LA has a real chance to win

  3. Roger says:

    The dmen will have to watch when they pinch because Vancouver is a very good countering team, and don’t take any dumb penalties.

  4. AJ says:

    Great piece! Anything is possible in the post season as us long time fans are aware. Would be nice to see what this team could do if they make it past the first round.

  5. Pingback: Frozen Royalty: Kings Have A Real Chance To Win Playoff Series Against Canucks @ LA Kings Hockey Club Podcast

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