Was it the matchup you expected? Was it the matchup you wanted?
The Vancouver Canucks claimed their second consecutive President’s Trophy on Saturday night, a feat that few teams in recent memory can lay claim to. They also found out who their first round playoff opponent will be: the Los Angeles Kings.
A quick and dirty look at what to expect when the puck drops on Wednesday night:
Regular Season History: 3-2 win (November 16th), 4-1 loss (December 31st), 3-2 shootout loss (January 17th), 1-0 win (March 26th).
Aside from that one bizarre game on New Year’s Eve, you can expect a lot of 2-1 and 3-2 games in the next two weeks. The Vancouver Canucks have played defensively stingy as of late and the Los Angeles Kings have played the same way all season long.
Los Angeles this year: The Kings were supposed to be contenders from the get-go, but their early struggles in October cost Terry Murray his job. For a team that had problems scoring goals, their decision to hire Darryl Sutter only made even more heads turn. Sutter, a defensive specialist, has ushered in an era where goals are hard to come by against the Kings, and Jonathan Quick has reigned supreme. In fact, had it not been for Quick and his ten shutouts, the Los Angeles Kings would flat out not qualified for the postseason. He’s been their most valuable player, bar none.
Vancouver this year: It’s a remarkable story that the Vancouver Canucks, who for stretches throughout the season looked unorganized and disinterested, still managed to steal the President’s Trophy out from underneath St. Louis and New York’s noses. They did it with both Sedins coming in at less than a point-per-game, Ryan Kesler on a mended hip, and a constant distraction with a ‘goalie controversy’ in net. Going into the postseason, the powerplay is a concern — the Canucks started 2012 with the best powerplay in the league and sagged to sixth by the time the regular season ended.
The Canucks will win if: They find some cracks in Jonathan Quick’s armour. The Kings live and die by how he plays. Much like the Nashville series of 2011, the Canucks will be going up against a team with a couple deadly forwards, a pretty strong blueline, and an elite-level goaltender. But the Canucks proved that great goaltending can only go so far. If the Canucks depth at forward makes a return, this series will be relatively short.
The Canucks will lose if: Ryan Kesler doesn’t show up and Daniel Sedin suffers a setback. Those two players are two of the team’s top three forwards, and if Kesler can’t find an extra gear, there is no second line. The powerplay must also find a way to come alive; it’s been stagnant over the last two months and in a series which has all the makings of a defensive war, the powerplay becomes that much more important.
X-Factors: For Los Angeles, Dustin Penner and Drew Doughty have underachieved all season and will need to provide secondary scoring for a team that finished 29th in league scoring. For Vancouver, David Booth and Mason Raymond both need to make contributions on the scoresheet.