Western Conference Quarterfinals
Kings vs. Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena, 7 p.m.
(Kings lead the best-of-seven series, 1-0)
Five storylines to track:
1. One is done – The Kings needed that one. Not just to grab a 1-0 series lead, or steal home-ice advantage from the top-seeded Canucks. They needed to win Game 1 because they had outplayed Vancouver in every facet of the game except the scoreboard. Dustin Penner, of all players, gave the Kings a reason to exhale when he scored with about 3 ½ minutes remaining to give the Kings a 3-2 lead. Dustin Brown, the longest-tenured member of the team, cemented the victory with an empty-net goal in the final minute. The Kings deserved the victory and they got it, putting themselves in position to drop the Canucks in a deep hole even before the series heads to L.A.
2. History lesson – For the third straight year, the Kings have swiped away home-ice advantage in the opening two games. They were up 2-games-to-1 against the Canucks two years ago and held a one-goal lead with 13 minutes remaining in Game 4, but folded like a cheap deck chair under a 400-pound man. Last season, they evened the series, 1-1, in San Jose and owned a 4-0 lead in Game 3 at Staples Center before giving the game away in one of the great collapses in franchise history. As happy as some seemed to win Game 1, from the team’s Twitter keeper to Joe Fan, the Kings haven’t accomplished anything yet. As long as the players and coaches realize that, everything should be fine.
3. Decisions, decisions – The Kings lost one of their designated bruisers in Wednesday’s victory. Kyle Clifford was taken out by a violent hit from Byron Bitz, a similar fourth-line forward who earned a two-game suspension for his efforts. Clifford has already been ruled out for Game 2 because of an upper-body injury, leaving coach Darryl Sutter with an interesting decision. His two options are about as different a bear and a gazelle. Kevin Westgarth, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound enforcer for the Kings, has sat out the last 25 games as a healthy scratch, but would certainly come in handy as an on-ice security guard. Andrei Loktionov possesses much better speed and offensive skill than Westgarth or Clifford, but wouldn’t survive on the fourth line. If he opts for Loktionov, Sutter would have to do some serious re-juggling up front, something he hasn’t had to deal with in the last month.
4. Money’s worth – When the Kings traded for Mike Richards last summer, they were confident the acquisition would give them two All-Star quality centers to lead them deep in the playoffs. Everything was proceeding according to plan, until Richards went down because of a concussion Dec. 1. He missed eight games and wasn’t the same for long stretches after his return. In his first playoff game with the Kings, however, he was the player the organization envisioned, scoring a goal and assisting on two others. It was his takeaway and ensuing playmaking abilities that lead to Penner’s game winner, a play that could define this series if the Kings go on to win.
5. Prime-time pair – The best defense pair on the ice the last month hasn’t been the highest-paid player on the Kings, Drew Doughty, or his Stanley Cup-winning partner, Rob Scuderi. Rather, it has been the team’s oldest player, Willie Mitchell, and one of the youngest, rookie Slava Voyov. Mitchell has not only continued his stellar penalty-killing duties, helping keep the Canucks scoreless on their five power plays in Game 1, but he has suddenly become an offensive machine. He has five points in the last three games, including a career-high three assists against San Jose last week and a power-play goal Wednesday against the Canucks, giving him points in three straight games for the first time since October 2002.