Western Conference Quarterfinals
Kings vs. Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena, 7:30 p.m.
Five storylines to track:
1. Reset button – The best aspect of the playoffs is it allows teams a fresh start, a clean slate or a good old-fashioned mulligan. That’s particularly beneficial for the Kings. They came into this season looking like a Pacific Division contender, but then spun their wheels through most of November, December and January before completely gagging in their final two regular season games against the Sharks. That also caused them to miss out on just their second division championship in franchise history. Those shortcomings would be quickly forgotten with a series win against the top-seeded Canucks, and no better time to begin erasing the past than Game 1.
2. Quick fix – Make no mistake, the Kings would be heading into the offseason with their fishing poles and golf clubs if not for goalie Jonathan Quick. He kept them earning points during the middle months of the season, when the Kings struggled just to put up more than a goal or two. But this is the time of year he has struggled, owning a 4-8 postseason record with a 3.32 goals-against average. In four of those losses, he has allowed five or more goals. Quick needs to be dominant from the start against the Canucks, or the thoughts of, “Here we go again,” could fill a few heads.
3. Key figures – The Kings don’t have the depth to match up with the Canucks, so they need their best players to be at their best. The two biggest wild cards will be Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner. Carter missed the final five regular-season games with a foot injury, but deemed himself ready to go for the opener. He’ll return to the second line with Mike Richards and Dwight King, and won’t face as tough a match up as the top line. Penner has been missing in action ever since he came to the Kings in February 2011, but still has the skill set and a proven track record as a goal scorer to make a difference in this series. It’s just a matter of whether he wants to or not.
4. Marked men – The two players that Vancouver will most likely attempt to exploit are defensemen Slava Voynov and Alec Martinez. Both are still very young and new to the playoff atmosphere, and neither is particularly big or strong. Expect the Canucks to try to wear them down, beginning with the physical side and then moving on to their mental game. Voynov could be especially vulnerable, as this is his first playoff experience and he missed a practice last week after getting “banged up” against Edmonton, according to coach Darryl Sutter.
5. Will he, or won’t he? – One of the biggest stories heading into NHL playoffs is whether Vancouver’s leading goal scorer, Daniel Sedin, will play in Game 1. Sedin missed the final nine games with concussion symptoms. He practiced in full Monday, but only skated after practice Tuesday. The Kings have been preparing as if Sedin will play, but won’t miss him if he doesn’t. Sedin forms a dangerous tandem with his twin brother, Henrik. Without him, the Canucks will still be very tough to beat, but it gives the Kings a lot better chance.