The Vancouver Canucks begin their chance at redemption for coughing up the Stanley Cup Finals last spring to the Boston Bruins as the Canucks, Presidentsí Trophy winners for the second year in a row, host the eighth-seeded L.A. Kings in Game 1 of their Western Conference quarterfinals on Wednesday night.
There are two key injuries that could shape this series. Kings forward Jeff Carter, who missed the last five games of the regular season with a deep bone bruise in his ankle, said heís making progress with his strength and movement and will be ready for Game 1. Acquired in a trade deadline deal in late February to boost an offense that ranked last in the NHL at the time, Carter had six goals and three assists in 16 games with the Kings before the injury. The Kings went 11-5-0 with him in the lineup, helping secure a playoff berth for the third consecutive season.
Meanwhile, Canucks star Daniel Sedin missed the final nine game of the regular season with a concussion but he also says he will be ready sometime during this series.
The Canucks will need all the firepower they can get against the Kings, having scored just seven goals in four games during the regular season against Jonathan Quick, a likely Vezina candidate. (Roberto Luongo delivered much the same against the Kings, eight goals in four games, including a shutout).
After an initial Cup-runner-up hangover, the Canucks regrouped and closed with an 8-1-1 surge. If Luongo falters, as he did in last yearís Finals, they can confidently go to backup Cory Schneider. The biggest question mark going into the playoffs is what will happen on the second line, centered by Ryan Kesler. Linemates David Booth and Mason Raymond have struggled, with Booth ending a 10-game goal drought on the final day of the season, and Raymond finding himself a healthy scratch once.
The Kings, the NHLís second-lowest scoring team at 2.29 goals per game, need Quick to continue his Vezina Trophy-caliber feats: he posted a league-best 10 shutouts, ranked second in goals-against average (1.95), and sixth in save percentage (.929).
Players like Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, and Carter must bring their game to another level to get this Kingsí team into the second round. Statistically speaking, Richards hasnít been the same since his concussion in December. But he probably is the teamís most important two-way player because of his penchant for shorthanded goals, penalty killing and faceoff prowess. The Kings scored 54 goals in their 18 games through March and April, good for an average of three goals per game, which would rank them among the league leaders had they done that all year long.
Over the past nine years only four No. 8 seeds have been able to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs: the 2001-02 Montreal Canadiens, the 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers, the 2008-09 San Jose Sharks, and the 2009-10 Canadiens.
The two teams split their season series, winning two games apiece, the Canucks winning the last encounter 1-0 at Rogers Arena on March 26. And there is some fairly recent history between the two teams as Vancouver dispatched a young Los Angeles team in six games two years ago.
series line: Canucks -225
Game 1 line: Canucks -170
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