OK, gang, here we are on the afternoon of Game 2 between the Kings and the Vancouver Canucks and the view here is that there are three keys to a Kings victory, which would tie the series up at 1-1, with Games 3 and 4 set for Staples on Monday and Wednesday night:
1. Jonathan Quick. The goaltender is still the key for the Kings--just as he was going into Game 1, just as he will be for as long as the Kings last in the post-season. But the difference now is that the cloud of doubt that was hanging over his head--fairly or not--prior to Game 1 has disappeared. You know the reason why: Quick came into his first ever playoff game and series winless in eight starts, while allowing some soft goals and suffering some concentration lapses during that stretch.
But on Thursday night, while his team frequently struggled in 5-on-5 situations and spent way too much time in their defensive zone while being outshot 17-6 in the first period and 13-2 in the third, Quick was sensational, making 41 saves, keeping them in the game and doing what he had for much of the season prior to the Olympic break--giving his team a chance to win.
With that stellar performance under his belt--even thought it was a loss--his confidence should be soaring going into tonight's game, as will the spirits of his teammates. No more doubts by anyone. In that one game Quick proved that he can go mano a mano with Roberto Luongo, his world class counterpart in the Vancouver net. And if, after everything he went through in those waning weeks of the regular season, Quick is heating up at just the right time, it could mean his team could go a long way in the post-season.
2. And speaking of Luongo, or "Bobby Lu," as he is known to Canucks faithful, the only way the Kings have a prayer of winning this series is by doing everything they can short of mugging to make his life as miserable as possible. That means the Kings big bodies, Michal Handzus and Fredrik Modin, must continue to get in Luongo's way, shield his vision and inhibit his lateral movement as much as possible.
And if they can also repeat their offensive prowess from Game 1, what a bonus that would be! Remember, Handzus set up Jarret Stoll's first goal with a wonderful pass and Modin scored on a deadly one-timer on the Kings second goal of the game.
And when we talk about making life miserable for a goalie, it goes without saying that Ryan Smyth has to be a factor too. No one is better at the kind of warfare that goes on in or around the trench that is the crease and the net.
As coach Terry Murray has pointed out on umpteen occasions this season--most recently a week ago today after someone named Devan Dubnyk stoned his team with 52 saves, if an NHL goalie can see the pucks coming at him, he's going to stop them. No disrespect to Dubnyk, but Luongo is in a different stratosphere, and the Kings know that they need to increase the intensity of the traffic around the Canucks goalie for any chance of success. If Luongo starts allowing a bad goal or two, great. But the Kings can't count on that.
3. And finally, there are Henrik and Daniel, the Sedin twins. As expected, they were terrific in Game 1. Henrik, the winner of the Art Ross Trophy this season as the league's point scoring champion (112) had two assists on Thursday night, including that seeing-eye pass from behind the Kings net on Mikael Samuelsson’s winner. Daniel also had an assist and was set up on a breathtaking passing play for a goal by his brother.
Before Game 1 the Kings talked about the importance of not allowing the Sedins and their linemate Alex Burrows get any kind of speed generated out of the cycle. That means they have to close in on them even quicker than they tried to do in the first game. The Kings forecheckers have to be that much more tenacious, ideally trying to tie up the line before they can move the puck out of their own end. And once they inevitably enter the Kings zone, it's a hurry up and wait game: Get on them quickly but don't over-commit, because as soon as you do, one of them will find the open man for a quality scoring chance.