If fan whipping boy Roberto Luongo plays poorly against the offensively-challenged Kings, calls for backup netminder Cory Schneider will ring from the rafters in Vancouver. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
By Stu Hackel
If you’re looking for Stanley Cup predictions, you’ve come to the wrong place. As we’ve previously written, predictions are a waste of time. However, we’re willing to take some stabs at what is each playoff team about. What do they have to do to win? What must they avoid to prevent things from going south?
So here are the keys to the first round match-ups in the Western Conference. You can find the Eastern Conference here.
VANCOUVER CANUCKS (1) vs. LOS ANGELES KINGS (8)
Canucks – Who they are and how they win: They shook off a late season malaise to finish 8-1-1 in their last 10 — much of the time without Daniel Sedin – while playing dominant hockey down the stretch and capturing the Presidents’ Trophy. A superskilled team with a some bite, Vancouver has the best offense in the conference and, potentially, a strong power play. The Canucks have refined their roster this season a bit, adding depth with a solid offensive performer in David Booth, a proven shutdown center in Sami Pahlsson, and some menace in Zack Kassian. The defense corps excels at moving the puck forward, and the only question in goal is which guy, Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider, will finish the series.
What could go wrong: If Luongo plays poorly, Schneider remains an unknown when it comes to carrying a team in the playoffs. The power play struggled in the second half and if Daniel Sedin’s concussion symptoms keep him sidelined for an extended period (he was ruled out for Game 1), that probably won’t help its improvement. Even if Sedin returns, the Canucks, who haven’t always gotten secondary scoring, will need it if the defensively proficient Kings can shut down their top line. And superior physicality could allow the Kings to win more battles along the boards, in the corners and in the slot. L.A.’s stiffling defense has the potential to frustrate the Canucks into taking penalties. If things go wrong and the Vancouver fan base turns on the team, that could be a significant negative. And Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick is good enough to steal this series.