Western Conference Quarterfinals
Kings vs. Vancouver Canucks at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.
(Kings lead the best-of-seven series, 2-0)
Five storylines to track:
1. Two down, two to go – The Kings haven’t been in this situation in a loooooong time. They went to Vancouver for the opening two games of this series and brought back more than most expected; two decisive victories. They haven’t led a series, 2-0, since 1968. Calling this the biggest set of back-to-back home playoff games in 20 years might be a stretch, as they were in a similar position the last two seasons, but a lot of pent-up misery will be erased if the Kings can finish off the Canucks. It’s important for the players to realize they haven’t won anything yet. And if they don’t, you can bet coach Darryl Sutter will give them plenty of reminders.
2. Passing the test – Almost from the first drop of the puck in this series, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty has been a marked man. The Canucks have taken open-ice runs at him, roughed him up along the boards and tried to entice him into retaliation penalties. Except for a big hit he took on the opening shift of the series, he has dodged every effort by the Canucks to get him off his game. As the clear leader in on-ice time, both in the regular season and the playoffs, it’s important for Doughty to stay out of the penalty box and away from the trainer’s room, and let his natural abilities do the rest. He’s doing an admirable job so far.
3. Unexpected contributions – The third line of Dustin Penner, Jarret Stoll and Trevor Lewis has been another pleasant surprise. The trio has accounted for three goals in the series, including both game winners. Just how remarkable is that? They combined for three goals the final two months of the regular season and one game winner the entire year. If the Kings can continue to get offense from the third line, it will surely take some of the pressure off the top six forwards and dump even more on the Canucks.
4. Similar situation – The news out of Vancouver isn’t getting any better for Daniel Sedin. The team’s leading goal scorer has missed the last 11 games because of a concussion and didn’t fly to L.A. with his team Saturday. He has already been ruled out for Game 3, and it doesn't seem likely he'll make the trip for Game 4 either. The Kings can relate. They lost their leading point scorer last season, Anze Kopitar, to a broken ankle with seven games remaining in the regular season. His absence from the playoffs possibly made the difference in the six-game loss to the Sharks. If Vancouver fans are looking to make excuses, they won’t find any listeners in L.A.
5. Clifford still out – The Kings will also be without a forward due to injury, only their missing piece isn't the sniper that Sedin is, but rather fourth-line left wing Kyle Clifford. He suffered an upper-body injury when he was slammed into the glass by Vancouver right wing Byron Bitz during Game 1, earning Bitz a two-game suspension. Sutter made the interesting choice before Game 2 of replacing Clifford in the lineup with a finesse player, rookie Andrei Loktionov, rather than another bruiser in Kevin Westgarth. Loktionov was limited to six shifts, but did manage a takeaway and a blocked shot. He gives the Kings another element of speed, something they’ve been better at through the first two games. If he can avoid getting bumped off the puck in the three zones, Loktionov should continue to fill in nicely for Clifford.