The other Western Conference Quarterfinal starting tonight has the #1 seed Vancouver Canucks hosting the #8 Los Angeles Kings, in a matchup which could prove tougher than a typical 1-vs.-8 series. While Vancouver finished with the best record in the NHL this season, they'll skate without one of their core players, while the Kings have adjusted well after mid-season changes salvaged what could have been a lost season.
Despite all the moaning and complaining up there in B.C., the Canucks have captured their second consecutive Presidents Trophy and are the favorites to represent the West in the Stanley Cup Final. They have the top offense, and the #3 defense in the West, and since they've accomplished so much in the last few years only a Cup championship will satisfy the fans in Vancouver.
They will, however, have to get rolling without their leading goal-scorer (and reigning Ted Lindsay Award winner) Daniel Sedin, as he continues recovering from a concussion. He has been ruled out for Game One tonight:
#22 / Left Wing / Vancouver Canucks
Sep 26, 1980
|2011 - Daniel Sedin||72||30||37||67||+14||40||10||0||6||229||13.1|
It sounds like they're feeling pretty confident about this matchup in Vancouver. Too confident, perhaps?
When is a King not a King? Well much like our buddy Prince John up above, the Canucks are starting their quest for the Cup against some pretenders to the throne. The defending Western Conference Champions are set to face the Kings for the 2nd time in 3 years. That last matchup was LA's first appearance in the post-season in 8 years, and while some say the team's improving, it's just as easy to say they're spinning their wheels. This is a team that finished a spot lower, and with three less points than last year's squad that bowed out to the San Jose Sharks in 6 games. They had a chance to win the Pacific Division down the stretch, locking up 3rd place and home ice in the first round. And they lost two huge games to the Sharks in the last weekend of the season. Those combined with a shootout loss to Minnesota earlier in the week are why they're in Vancouver tonight and not at home against Chicago. Clutch games to help determine an opponent they match better against and they come up short. Remind me again why they're going to knock off the Canucks?
--- Kent Basky, Nucks Misconduct
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings have gone on quite the roller coaster ride this season. Hailed in September as a pre-season favorite, they stumbled through the first half of the season and got head coach Terry Murray fired. The team retooled under new bench boss Darryl Sutter and made one of the biggest moves at the Trade Deadline, shipping defenseman Jack Johnson to Columbus in exchange for Jeff Carter. Since that time, they've been one of the hotter teams in the league, and could well prove to be an especially dangerous #8 seed.
The one consistent performer in L.A. has been goaltender Jonathan Quick, who is drawing Vezina Trophy consideration for his campaign:
#32 / Goalie / Los Angeles Kings
Jan 21, 1986
|2011 - Jonathan Quick||69||4099||35||21||13||133||1.95||1863||1730||.929||10|
For more on this series, check out the SB Nation Story Stream.
And now, the OTF predictions...
This edition of the Canucks is battle tested, and might be the only team in the West with the center depth to match LA's Kopitar/Richards/Stoll with Sedin/Kesler/Malhotra/
The Kings like to put a lot of shots on net, especially after getting Jeff Carter at the trade deadline, so it'll be up to Luongo to stop the barrage. Remember, last year he almost lost it for them in the first round... Vancouver in 7.
The Kings are the West's version of the Caps -- not a great season relative to expectations. Quick and Bernier have been good, but not great, and Vancouver has too good a mix of skill and speed for the big, clunky Kings to contend. I really hope this series goes to seven games, because if the Preds have to face the Canucks in the second round, I'd really rather Vancouver be physically worn down. Vancouver in 5.
This will prove to be a stern test for a Vancouver team with Stanley Cup aspirations, as Jonathan Quick could give them fits and steal a game or two. In the end, however, Vancouver's versatility carries the day. Vancouver in 6.