#3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 Los Angeles Kings
Storyline: Blossoming faster than expected, the dark horse L.A. Kings look to continue impressing the NHL, but they’ll have to pass the Northwest Test and defeat another sleeper pick, the Vancouver Canucks.
Offense: One long standing superstition in the NHL was that one Sedin twin without the other simply wasn’t good.
This season, Henrik Sedin blew the superstition out of the water with a career season—83 assists and 112 points—while his twin brother Daniel missed 19 games. When Daniel returned, the two were more magic than they ever had been before. Though the Canucks offense is usually simplified to just the Sedins, they have shown to be much more than that in the last 82 games.
Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows are bonafide stars, and a happily healthy Mikael Samuelsson puts home the garbage goals better than anyone in the West. Stalking the top studs is Pavol Demitra, whose Olympic performance may just be the beginning of a beautiful resurgence.
The Kings were another team that benefited from widespread scoring this year, captained by the NHL’s only Slovenian, Anze Kopitar. A career year for Kopitar and a comeback season for Ryan Smyth were integral pieces of the puzzle for the Kings’ best finish in years.
Behind them comes a long line of players that experienced many starts and stops over the course of the year, including Dustin Brown, Jarret Stoll, and constant trade bait Alexander Frolov. L.A.’s scorers are great, perhaps better than Vancouver’s, if they aren’t so streaky. Advantage: Push.
Defense: Still unable to get the respect they deserve, the Canucks played better consistent defense than any other team in their division this year.
With Mattias Ohlund finally out of the picture, players like Alex Edler and Christian Ehrhoff shine like never before in Western Canada. Edler in particular stepped in as a forceful, stand-up defender willing to smash anyone entering his offensive zone. Vancouver even managed to get the job done by cycling through more than 10 defensemen during a season full of minor injuries.
Blame a quick evolution on the other end if you want to know what the Kings are bringing to the table. Drew Doughty defiantly became L.A.’s go-to defender early on in the season and kept it going down the stretch. Jack Johnson enters the series with a target on his back as one of Vancouver’s Most Wanted already, and when you’re as vicious as he is, you deserve it.
Then of course, there’s Rob Scuderi, Pittsburgh Cup Hero circa 2009. But he might not have it in him to play Superman once again. Advantage: Vancouver.
Goaltending: Canucks fans have waited patiently for Roberto Luongo to bring home the hardware with his massive potential.
Don’t forget, he’s technically the captain of the team, and after a 40-win, injury-free season (and yes, a gold medal), Luongo needs to strike while the iron is hot. As of late, Luongo has played a complacent game that may just be smoke and mirrors since the Canucks could not move up or down in the standings.
Jonathan Quick, meanwhile, earned 39 wins in 72 games of work, more than was expected or demanded of him coming into the year. With other goalies looking to take the franchise to the next level (Jonathan Bernier has often been pegged as “the one”), Quick held up incredibly well and showed the kind of endurance several of these first-time goalies don’t have for playoff contention.
Still, Quick’s lack of experience categorizes him in the “wait and see” category for the time being. Advantage: Vancouver.
Key Players: What a shock: Henrik Sedin had five points in four games against the Kings this year, continuing to keep the spotlight all to himself in Vancouver. While L.A. lit up Vancouver last week, only Dustin Brown has a point a game against the Canucks.
History: Los Angeles holds the series record 2-1 over Vancouver in nearly 40 years of competition, but the Canucks won the season series 3-1.
Outcome: A fun series will get a lot of TV time and could be incredible if we get overtime, but the experience factor will keep one team down for now. Canucks in seven.