Playing on the road could be advantage for Kings against Vancouver
Greetings from Vancouver, where Olympic souvenirs are on sale for half price and tickets for Thursday night’s Stanley Cup playoff series opener between the Canucks and Kings at GM Place were plentiful through ticket brokers at mid-afternoon. Apparently the Kings aren’t providing an especially attractive matchup, according to brokers interviewed on a local radio station.
Ticket demand could spike, though, if the Kings happen to follow the pattern of the first night’s playoff games and win the opener and damage the Canucks’ playoff hopes.
Visiting teams won three of the first four games Wednesday: Philadelphia won at New Jersey, Ottawa won at Pittsburgh and No. 8 Colorado upset No. 1 San Jose, with only No. 4 Phoenix holding serve against No. 5 Detroit.
The Kings took those results as a positive sign, which is entirely reasonable, given that the Kings this season tied San Jose for the NHL’s second-best road record at 24-14-3.
“Everyone always says let’s start with one and hopefully get two when you start on the road, and that’s our mind-set right now,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “For the home team it’s a big advantage. We’re just trying to get one. But when you see that last night, it definitely reaffirms the fact that anything can happen once you get into the playoffs.”
Coach Terry Murray agreed that while the third-seeded Canucks will have the home-ice advantage, the sixth-seeded Kings have demonstrated they’re not afraid to play in hostile arenas.
“Anything can happen. There’s always going to be upsets in the first round, historically, and I don’t think it’s going to change this year,” he said after the Kings’ game-day skate.
“We’re a pretty good hockey club on the road. Our regular season has been very good and we were one of the top teams point-wise, and we just have to bring that kind of understanding that we’re capable of playing in any building in the league and capable of winning. That’s the important part of it too, approach from the emotional and mental side of the game.”
The Canucks are well aware of the surprises from the first few playoff games, and they’re determined not to join the list of victims. On their side is their regular-season home record of 30-8-3, second-best behind Washington.
“Obviously some road teams won last night and that happens in playoffs. Just because you have home ice doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to win,” defenseman Shane O’Brien said.
“If anything it does put a little more pressure on us at home and they may be coming in here with [the idea] ‘We just want to get a split,’ or whatever, so we’re just going to take care of business one shift at a time, one period at a time and hopefully we can take care of home ice and go from there.”
O’Brien also said he expects the Canucks’ playoff experience to stand them in good stead. Though the Kings have four Cup winners (Scuderi in 2009 with Pittsburgh, Sean O’Donnell in 2007 with the Ducks, Justin Williams in 2006 with Carolina and Fredrik Modin in 2004 with Tampa Bay), they have 13 players on their roster who have never appeared in an NHL playoff game.
Nine of those 13 are expected to be in uniform Thursday night. That group comprises starting goaltender Jonathan Quick, backup Erik Ersberg, defensemen Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty and forwards Anze Kopitar, Wayne Simmonds, Dustin Brown, Alexander Frolov and Raitis Ivanans. The other four are Peter Harrold, Davis Drewiske, Rich Clune and Scott Parse.
“Because a lot of guys have been in this situation, we know what to expect and we should be well prepared,” O’Brien said. “I’m sure their coaching staff has prepared them as well as they could and it’s definitely a different game, a different speed out there, and we’re just going to play north south and push the pace and hopefully get a good start.”
Said Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo: “We saw last night that experience doesn’t matter. It’s whoever wants it more. It’s a battle of inches and anything could happen. We just have to make sure we’re ready to face any type of situation.”
In depth they trust
While the Kings and Canucks had similar defensive numbers this season, with the Kings allowing 219 goals and the Canucks allowing 222, Vancouver had a larger edge offensively, 272-241. The Canucks had six players who scored 20 goals or more: Alex Burrows (35), Mikael Samuelsson (30), twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin (29 each), center Ryan Kesler (25) and winger Mason Raymond (25). The Kings had four: Kopitar (34), Brown (24), Ryan Smyth (22) and Michal Handzus (20).
So while the Sedins got most of the attention — and rightfully so, given Henrik’s league-leading 112 points — they have considerable depth that prevents the Kings from focusing all their checking efforts on just the Sedins.
“It helps a lot for sure,” Samuelsson said. “We have more than one line here, and we’re just going to go out and prove it too.”
Luongo agreed. “It’s tougher for the other teams to match up because obviously they can cover the twins’ line if they want, but we got other weapons on our squad that, as we’ve seen, can put pucks in the net,” he said.
“As long as everyone is chipping in and contributing, that’s what makes us dangerous in the end.”
Drew Doughty fan club meets here
Doughty made a great impression here while leading Canada to the Olympic gold medal, and he was probably the most popular interviewee after the morning skate.
Luongo, his Olympic teammate, was asked what he had expected about Doughty before the Games and what he came to think of the 20-year-old defenseman.
“A very young guy, didn’t know what to expect but I thought he was one of our best defensemen the whole tourney,” Luongo said. “For a young age he’s really poised and I think he opened the eyes of a lot of people.”
Canucks Coach Alain Vigneault joined the chorus. Asked how valuable playoff experience would be in this series, he cited Doughty as an example that talent can sometimes trump experience.
“The best example I can give you is Doughty is a 20-year-old kid that was probably the best defenseman for Team Canada this year,” Vigneault said.
“I’m very confident that the experiences our guys have learned through in my time here that they’ll be ready for this opportunity.”