Everyone has heard of a trap game, but could this be a trap series for the Vancouver Canucks?
Vancouver is favored in their first round series against the Los Angeles Kings by just about all the experts, and for good reason—they fell one game short of drinking from the cup last year.
On paper, they are just as good as—or possibly better—than they were last year. Their roster is just as strong if not stronger than last year. They have one of the best Power Play units in the NHL, one of the best penalty killing units in the NHL, one of—if not the—best goalie tandems in the NHL. They repeated as Presidents Trophy-winners, meaning they'd have home-ice throughout.
As a Canadian team, they have a large portion of their home country's population rooting for them. They have been red-hot lately without their leading goal scorer and their streak included a 1-0 shutout of the Kings on their home ice.
The Kings, on the other hand, almost backed their way into the playoffs, failing to close out San Jose on a home and home that could have won them their first division title in 20 years.
The Kings were almost unbeatable when entering the third period with a lead. That stat went out the window recently. They weren’t scoring goals early on and were struggling to win. Lately, the Kings have been scoring goals but still struggling to win (See the Minnesota game and most recently the San Jose Games). On paper the Kings just don’t seem to have enough to match up with the Canucks.
The beauty of sport, especially Hockey, is that the game is not played on paper. This game is played on Ice, by men who seem to be able to win by willing themselves too.
In 1980, a team overcame incredible odds to upset a giant, much like the fable of David and Goliath. In 1982 there was a game played where a certain Kings radio announcer scored a goal that will never be forgotten. I just compared the Kings vs. Canucks to the Miracle on ice and the Miracle on Manchester. I don’t believe this series has the significance of either really. But it does prove that big upsets are possible.
In 1980, the Russians took the Americans lightly. In 1982, the Oilers took the Kings lightly especially after they got a big lead.
The Kings are one of the youngest teams in the league. They are also extremely talented. Young teams don’t usually understand how to win. I’m of the mindset that young teams are naive; they are cocky (see Drew Doughty), confident and believe they are capable of anything. Anything in this case means winning this series.
In the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Flyers were down to the Boston Bruins 3-0, one game from a sweep. They were written off as dead. The Bruins were looking toward to the next round, as were their fans. The Flyers made an improbable come back and won that series.
Who was the Captain of the Flyers? That would be Mike Richards, center for the Los Angeles Kings. Who was his winger? Jeff Carter, winger for the Los Angeles Kings. Who was the goalie that year for the Flyers? I don’t remember. I know this though: It wasn’t anyone with the skill of Jonathan Quick.
A seven-game series in the Stanley Cup playoffs is a war. In a war, there are many small battles. It’s impossible for a team to win all of the small battles. It’s not about winning all of the small battles; it’s about managing the damage the small battles cause.
If the Kings can keep the damage to a minimum and play their game, they will win the war. What the Kings can’t do is get off of their game plan; they can’t run and gun with the Canucks. As good as their defense and goaltending is, they can’t do it all themselves. They will need to keep the games low scoring. They will need to win the corner battles. They will need to not take stupid penalties and they will need to score power-play goals when the opportunities arise.
At the beginning of the season, on paper, the Kings were supposed to win the West and be a strong contender for the cup. They barely got into the playoffs; so much for that paper. The Kings need to ignore the standings; they need to forget about all the stats, they need to forget about their history.
The Canucks are Goliath. I hope they look at their own stats and believe their own hype. I hope they start wondering who they will play in the second round before the first round has even started. If they do that, they might miss that group of young kids wearing black and white who are holding hockey sticks instead of sling shots.