Los Angeles Hockey: Canucks
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He also established career highs for power-play points, game winners and shots on goal, helping the Kings qualify for the playoffs for a third consecutive season.
Which accomplishment will stand out the most 10 years from now?
“To be honest with you, I’m not going to remember anything about the regular season when I’m done playing hockey,” he said.
Mitchell, who turned 35 on Monday, doesn’t expect his memory to fade once he’s finished with his career. He just knows how his mind works.
Mitchell plays professional hockey for the opportunity to compete in the postseason, a destination that becomes more appreciated the older he gets. As the Kings prepare to take on the St. Louis Blues in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, it’s no surprise Mitchell is playing some of the best hockey of his career, just not the best hockey.
Not yet, anyway.
Mitchell scored the first power-play goal of his career in Game 1 of the opening-round series against the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks, helping the Kings to a 4-2 victory and a series lead they never relinquished.
He then helped finish off the Canucks by blocking a career-high eight shots in Game 5, leading the Kings to their first playoff series win in 11 years.
Those are the moments he’ll cherish when his career is over.
“Maybe, as you get older, [the playoffs] just become so much more important to you, especially if you haven’t won [a Stanley Cup],” he said after practice Tuesday. “I haven’t won, and you look at it and feel like your window’s closing a little bit.”
That why 2003 remains so crystal clear.
EL SEGUNDO -- Call it the been-there-done-that line.
In his first practice since the Kings clinched the opening-round playoff series Sunday in Vancouver, coach Darryl Sutter stuck with the forward lines that got him there.
That meant rookie Dwight King was still playing left wing on the third line with center Jarret Stoll, who scored the overtime winner in Game 5 against the Canucks, and right wing Trevor Lewis, who forced the turnover that set the series-clinching play in motion.
It also meant Dustin Penner was still playing left wing on the second line with center Mike Richards and his other wingmate, Jeff Carter.
The trio combined for just two goals in the series against the Canucks, compared to four for the unlikely combination of Stoll, Lewis and Brad Richardson, but their postseason experience and scoring potential is unmatched among the other Western Conference playoff teams.
Penner, Richards and Carter have appeared in a combined 165 playoff games, winning 91. They have one Stanley Cup title between them, two other finals appearance and 38 playoff goals.
“What Richey brings and what Carts brings and what I bring, it’s all something that has the blueprints for success,” Penner said after practice Tuesday at Toyota Sports Center. “It’s just a matter of putting the pen to paper.”
The other angle to the move is Sutter's decision to ride the hot hand of Stoll, Lewis and King, who was taken off the second line in Game 5 to help drum up some offense. The Kings had scored only two goals between the start of Game 3 and the beginning of the third period in Game 5.
Richardson tied the score, 1-1, early in third third period of Game 5 to get the game into overtime. That's when Lewis poked the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Dan Hamhuis about four minutes in, allowing Stoll and King to break losse on a 2-on-1. Stoll hit the back of the net with a wrist shot and the Kings won their first playoff series in 11 years, advancing to play the St. Louis Blues in the second round.
“We’re lucky that we have guys that can play everywhere,” Sutter said. “We’ll keep trying to find stuff that works, like we did in Vancouver.”
On another note, fourth-line winger Kyle Clifford skated after practice, but doesn't appear close to returning. He banged his head on the glass after a hard hit by Byron Bitz in Game 1 in Vancouver and hasn’t played since. Sutter didn’t have an update on his condition. Andrei Loktionov replaced Clifford in the lineup for Games 2 and 3, and Richardson then replaced Loktionov after missing the first three games following an emergency appendectomy.
At least to everyone inside the L.A. locker room.
Sure, the Kings knocked off the President’s Trophy winners, the team with the best record in the NHL during the regular season, and they did it with relative ease.
But with the talent they had on the roster, the Kings were long overdue due for a hot streak.
They basically endured five months of June gloom before realizing they needed to win more than they lost just to qualify for the playoffs for a third straight year, and likely save the jobs of general manage Dean Lombardi and his personal choice to coach the team out of its winter doldrums, Darryl Sutter.
In mid-March, they finally managed a winning streak of more than four games, a six-game stretch in which they beat playoff-bound teams such as the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators, San Jose Sharks and the St. Louis Blues, their opponent in the next round.
Even when the Kings lost their final two regular-season games to the Sharks to miss out on just their second Pacific Division title in the franchise’s 44-year history, there was no panic in the locker room, just a sense of preparation for the task at hand.
Most experts picked Vancouver to win the series, but a look beyond the won-loss records suggested the Kings were a legitimate threat all along.
The Kings have five Stanley Cup winners on their roster, and four others who have been to the finals. They have a Vezina Trophy-caliber goalie in Jonathan Quick and a Norris Trophy nominated defenseman in Drew Doughty.
They had all the pieces to take it to the Canucks and every reason to succeed.
Vancouver, meanwhile, was missing its leading goal scorer from the regular season, Daniel Sedin, for the first three games due to a concussion. His absence also seemed to silence his twin brother, Henrik, who didn't show up until Daniel returned for Game 4.
They managed to win that game and avoid becoming the first President’s Trophy winner to get swept in the opening round, but then the series went back on the road, a place the Kings are surprisingly more comfortable than at home. They won their fifth straight road playoff game and seventh in the last nine games to eliminate the Canucks and get past the opening round for the first time since 2001.
The series will likely go down as one of the great upsets in hockey history but in reality, the Kings were really just heating up.
Don't expect the temperature to drop anytime soon.
Kings 2, Vancouver Canucks 1 (OT)
(Kings win series, 4-1)
Eight keys to the game
THE FACTS: Down by a goal to start the third period and with the momentum of the series tilting heavily toward Vancouver, the Kings rallied to tie the score Sunday night at Rogers Arena, then won their first playoff series in 11 years on an overtime goal by Jarret Stoll. The Kings will meet the St. Louis Blues in the second round.
THE STAT: The Kings won their fifth consecutive playoff game on the road, including all three in this series, extending their franchise record. It’s the first time they’ve clinched a playoff series on the road since 1993. They also became the 10th No. 8 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed since the playoff format was realigned in the 1993-94 season, and sixth time a President’s Trophy winner was eliminated in the first round.
TURNING POINT: Just more than four minutes into overtime, Trevor Lewis poked the puck away from Vancouver defenseman Dan Hamhuis near the Canucks' blue line and Hamhuis tumbled to the ice. As Stoll scooped in the puck and raced off on a 2-on-1, the Vancouver crowd groaned with displeasure, as they thought Hamhuis was tripped. With rookie Dwight King on his right and Canucks defenseman Sami Salo left alone to defend the play, Stoll chose to shoot the puck from the left faceoff circle, beating goalie Cory Schneider in the top left corner for the biggest goal of his career.HOT: In the days leading up to Game 5, Kings coach Darryl Sutter challenged goalie Jonathan Quick to be as good as Schneider, who had allowed just two goals in both Games 3 and 4 after taking over for Roberto Luongo. Quick met the challenge head on, stopping 26 shots. His best save might have come on a breakaway by Daniel Sedin late in the second period, one that left the door open for the Kings to come back.
NOT: Vancouver forward Ryan Kesler entered the playoffs as the team's third-leading goal scorer during the regular season, but also riding a 12-game goal-less streak. He proved that the slump was still alive and well, going all five playoff games without hitting the back of the net.
GOOD MOVE: Sutter juggled his scoring lines to start the second period, moving Dustin Penner up with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and dropping King back to the third line with Stoll and Lewis. The move obviously worked, not so much for the Richards line, but it got the third line moving again. The third line ended up scoring four goals in the series, while the second line had one.
BAD MOVE: The Kings went on the power play twice in the first five minutes of the game and managed just three shots on goal, while Vancouver blocked four others. Then it was L.A.’s turn to visit the penalty box, as Drew Doughty was penalized for holding and Brad Richardson took a seat for roughing Chris Tanev. On the second man-advantage, the Kings failed on two chances to clear the puck, allowing Sedinto walk the puck out from the right-wing boards. Sedin faked a shot and got Quick to bite, then centered the puck to his twin brother, Henrik, who scored into the open side of the net for a 1-0 lead, Vancouver’s third power-play goal in the past two games. Doughty and Richardson redeemed themselves, however, teaming up on the tying goal in the third period.
NOTABLE: The Kings ended up with 19 blocked shots, including eight for Willie Mitchell and five for Doughty, who also set up the tying goal on a nifty pass to Richardson. Stoll also led the way with a team-high seven hits. The Kings have never won a playoff game against the St. Louis Blues, getting swept in 1969 and 1998. … Schneider was 0-10 in overtime playoff games in his AHL career.
UP NEXT: Game 1 at St. Louis Blues, TBA.
Kings vs. the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena, 5 p.m.
Game 5 (Kings lead the series, 3-1)
Five storylines to track:
1. Deep breaths -- It’s certainly not panic time. No, the hyperventilating will occur tonight if the Kings don’t wrap up this series with a win. The Kings earned the first two victories of the series in Vancouver, got outplayed but stole a win in Game 3, and in Game 4, they delivered the better performance, but the bounces finally went Vancouver’s way. Even when the Kings were up 3-0 in the series, getting that elusive fourth victory has been viewed as an enormous barrier. Right now, that brick wall looks to be about 10 feet tall.
2. Physical edge -- The Kings delivered 50 hits in Game 4, the most in their past 15 playoff games dating to the 2009-10 season. Only one was placed on Daniel Sedin, who was making his first appearance after missing the previous 12 games with a concussion. In the locker room afterward, the Kings talked about making life harder on Sedin in Game 5, and they maintained that attitude in the days that followed. Don’t expect the Kings to make a Raffi Torres-like run at Sedin; that’s not their style, but they'll likely give him a bump every chance they get.
3. Three-day delay -- In an unusual scheduling quirk brought about by limited arena availability, the Kings and Canucks had to wait three days between Games 4 and 5. That probably benefited Vancouver more than it did the Kings. Most importantly, it gave Sedin an extra couple of days to get back in shape after sitting for four weeks. Hopefully, the Kings used the extra time to study their power play, which has come up empty on its last 13 man-advantage situations, nearly matching Vancouver’s 0-for-14 start to the series. If the Kings can’t at least stay even with Vancouver in the special teams battles, they have little chance of closing the series tonight.
4. MVP time -- Kings coach Darryl Sutter continues to lay down the challenges for goalie Jonathan Quick, the team's most valuable player during the regular season. He said Friday that for the Kings to be successful, they needed Quick to be as good as Vancouver goalie Cory Schneider, who has started the last two games in place of Roberto Luongo and held the Kings to two goals. Quick has been fabulous in the series, highlighted by his 1-0 shutout in Game 3, but the Canucks scored on two long-range shots in Game 4. If Quick is truly a Vezina Trophy-caliber goalie, he might need to step up and win this series by himself.
5. Line changes -- The Canucks made some adjustments to their scoring lines the last couple of days, putting Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler and Maxim Lapierre on the second line, and dropping Jannik Hansen to the third line and Mason Raymond to the fourth. The move should spread out their offense and make them tougher to defend. Raymond is not a typical fourth liner, producing 10 goals and 10 assists in 52 regular-season games.
The Kings last played Wednesday night in Game 4, losing to the Vancouver Canucks, 3-1, at Staples Center. They lead the best-of-seven series three-games-to-one and can finish off the top-seeded Canucks with a victory Sunday in Game 5 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. The puck is scheduled to drop at 5 p.m.
“We only have to win one game so I think it would be nice to get right back at it,” Carter said after practice Friday.
This latest hiatus comes on the heels of a two-day wait between Games 3 and 4 in L.A. Typically, NHL playoff games are contested every other day.
Why the long breaks?
Blame the Lakers, Clippers and the band Coldplay.
The Lakers and Clippers had home games on Monday and Tuesday of this week, and Coldplay is playing at Rogers Arena on Saturday night, forcing Game 5 to be played Sunday.
“What can you do,” said Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi. “It’s building availability.”
That doesn’t mean Scuderi likes the setup.
“You’re in the rhythm of playing, you just want to stay in that rhythm,” he said. “I’d rather just get right back at it.”
Kyle Clifford did not participate in Friday’s practice at Toyota Sports Center, nor did he skate on his own afterward. Clifford was injured in Game 1 when his head slammed into the glass following a hit by Vancouver winger Byron Bitz.
Clifford wobbled off the ice and hasn’t played since. Bitz was suspended for Games 2 and 3, both won by the Kings to take a 3-0 series lead, and was a healthy scratch in Game 4, won by the Canucks on Wednesday at Staples Center to push the series to a fifth game.
Clifford’s red non-contact jersey hung above his locker Friday, indicating there was a plan for him to skate at some point, but Kings coach Darryl Sutter said Clifford did not have a setback in his recovery, rather continues to follow “protocol.”
They entered the Western Conference quarterfinal with a three-games-to-none series lead on the Vancouver Canucks, needing just one more victory to become the first team to sweep the President’s Trophy winner in the first round.
They were on a roll, playing on their home ice and facing a desperate team whose leading goal scorer, Daniel Sedin, was attempting to return from a four-week absence due to a concussion. Instead of treating Sedin like a wounded seal in a sea of sharks, they gave him room to work, room to escape and enough slack to help the Canucks dodge an embarrassing elimination.
Sedin was on the ice for all three goals in the 3-1 victory by the Canucks, assisting on the third, scored by his twin brother, Henrik.
“If you give them time and space, they’re going to make plays,” Kings center Anze Kopitar said of the Sedins. “They made us pay.”
It’s not that the Kings ditched their physical game. They registered 50 hits, more than they had in any of their previous 15 playoff games, but only one was put on Daniel Sedin.
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said the Kings let him off easy.
“We gave him too much room out there, especially with a guy who hasn't played for a while and just got back,” he said. “We needed to take the body on him a little more and play him a little harder and we didn’t do that tonight. That’s why he was successful.”
Following the game, Kings coach Darryl Sutter was asked if the Kings were too soft on the Sedins. Daniel finished with 19 minutes 33 seconds of ice time, nine seconds less than his brother.
“Well they’re tough guys to be aggressive against,” he said. “They’re pretty smart guys. If you can manage to do it in a time and space fashion then, without taking a penalty, we’ll probably have a chance.”
After going 0-for-14 on the power play in the first three games of the series, the Canucks went 2-for-3 in Game 4. No doubt, Daniel Sedin's presence helped get the unit untracked.
“So patient with the puck and he breaks it down as good as anybody in the league,” said Vancouver right wing Alex Burrows. “Especially with Hanky [Henrik Sedin] there, they’re able to move the puck to open areas and find lanes and find seams and that’s why they’re unbelievable together.”
Now that the questions are gone regarding Daniel Sedin’s readiness for the remainder of the series, the Kings have three days until Game 5 to figure out a game plan. They've won four straight playoff games on the road and a fifth will clinch their first playoff series since 2001.
“It’s a series again,” Doughty said. “We’re going into their barn and we’ll be fired up for that game. We’ve got to make sure we come out with our best.”
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Sutter said. “You don’t get anything for winning three games.”
Now, Sutter is generally viewed as a curmudgeon and his scowl on the bench is legendary in every city he has coached and played in during his 19 years in the NHL, but he has been around the game long enough to know that series leads, no matter how big or small, can quickly turn into series losses if you think it’s over before it is.
Following the Canucks’ 3-1 win over the Kings in Game 4, this series is far from over with two of the next three games slated for Vancouver and the Canucks now playing with Daniel Sedin, who returned to the ice Wednesday for the first time in nearly four weeks after dealing with a concussion.
“We have nothing to lose,” Sedin said. “It’s pretty easy to play hockey when you have nothing to lose. You see that every year in the NHL. Teams you thought were out start winning. You can just relax and have fun, and we did that tonight. It’s tough in the playoffs to do that, but we’re in a position now where L.A. has all the pressure and we just have to go out and play hockey.”
That odd philosophical change in the series took place the moment the Kings, the No. 8 seed, took a 3-0 series lead on the No. 1 seed Canucks, who finished with the best record in the NHL and were on the brink of being the first Presidents’ Cup trophy winners to be swept in the first round.
Sutter stressed to his team before Wednesday night's game the difference between a close-out game and the first three games of the series, in which the Kings’ toughness, aggressiveness and carefree attitude propelled them to three straight wins over Vancouver. If the Kings’ players had sneaked a peek at the closing moments of the playoff game before them on television, they would have seen how different it really is. On the brink of being swept, the Pittsburgh Penguins demolished the Philadelphia Flyers 10-3 in a game that was so lopsided “#mercyrule” was trending on Twitter.
Game 4 (Kings lead the series, 3-0)
After the 2nd period:
VancouverCanucks 2, Kings 1
The good: Although they lost the lead in the second period, the Kings are still playing a solid all-around game. They out-shot the Canucks, 18-9, in the period and have a 31-16 advantage overall. Jarret Stoll is 8-0 in the faceoff circle to help the Kings to a 21-18 advantage on the drop. The Kings are also the more physical team, owning a 37-21 advantage on hits. Jeff Carter, Matt Greene and Stoll have four apiece.
The bad: The first extended rough stretch of the series hit the Kings and goalie Jonathan Quick during the middle period. The Canucks scored two goals 4 ½ minutes apart to take their first lead since the opening period of Game 1. The Canucks finally cashed in on their power play to get their first goal. Colin Fraser went to the penalty box for tripping Keith Ballard in L.A.’s offensive zone and, 34 seconds later, Alexander Edler sent a low wrist-shot from the point that beat Kings goalie Jonathan Quick with 15:53 remaining in the period. Ryan Kesler may have blinded Quick with a screen. Daniel Sedin, in his first game back after missing the last 12 with a concussion, was originally credited with an assist on the goal, but it was later awarded to Kesler. They made it 2-1 on a goal by another defensemen from about the same spot as Edler’s. The play was set in motion when Mike Richards turned the puck over in the neutral zone. The puck made its way to Kevin Bieksa, who let go of a shot from just inside the blue line. The puck appeared to deflect off Richards and change directions, beating Quick as Sedin distracted him on the doorstep.
The in between: Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell had a team-high three blocked shots, but also leads the team with three giveaways. Carter has five shots on goal but is still looking for his first goal of the series. The Kings managed eight shots on goal on their two power plays late in the second period, but still haven’t got one past Vancouver goalie Cory Schneider.
Game 4 (Kings lead the series, 3-0)
After the 1st period:
Kings 1, Vancouver Canucks 0
The good: The Canucks brought out Daniel Sedin, the Kings brought out the kitchen sink. They dominated the opening period almost from the opening drop, getting chance after chance before Anze Kopitar finally put one past Vancouver goalie Cory Schneider with seven minutes remaining in the opening period. The Kings were stuck in their end for a bit, but Justin Williams managed to slide the puck up the wall and out of their zone. Kopitar picked it up in the neutral zone and evaded a check from Mason Raymond at the blue line, leaving him with a 2-on-1. He elected to shoot the puck from the right faceoff circle and beat Schneider up high over his glove for his first goal of the series and third playoff goal of his career. Williams earned an assist for the fourth consecutive game. The Kings finished with a 13-7 advantage in shots on goal, and probably an 8-1 advantage in Grade A scoring chances. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick has posted four consecutive shutout periods. His best save came with just over four minutes remaining when he stuffed Dan Hamhuis from about 13 feet out. The Kings are also getting solid shifts out of their fourth line of Colin Fraser, Brad Richardson and Jordan Nolan.
The bad: The Kings could easily be up by two or three goals. Dwight King had a couple cracks at a juicy rebound about six minutes into the game but couldn’t get it over the pads of Schneider. Dustin Brown was alone in front of the net but couldn’t get the good part of the blade on a centering pass from Williams. Alec Martinez and Trevor Lewis also had excellent chances but couldn’t light the lamp. Expect the Canucks to feel somewhat fortunate it’s only 1-0 and come out with a better effort in this elimination game.
The in between: Sedin, the team’s leading goal scorer who missed the previous 12 games with a concussion, came out on the ice on game’s third shift. He delivered a hit on Willie Mitchell about 7 ½ minutes into the game, his first contact since taking an elbow from Duncan Keith of Chicago on March 21. He took two shots, but both were off target.
LOS ANGELES -- Recent results would indicate Staples Center has been far from an intimidating place for the Los Angeles Kings’ opponents in the postseason.
After winning the first two games of their playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks, the Kings had surprisingly won four straight playoff games on the road, dating back to last season, for the first time in franchise history. The true test for this team, however, was always going to be at home, where they had lost their previous five postseason games at Staples Center.
Those dreary numbers fed into every negative stereotype about Los Angeles not being a good hockey town.
Maybe the Kings’ 1-0 win over the Canucks on Sunday to a take a 3-0 series lead will go a long way in changing that perception and establishing Los Angeles as a hockey town on the rise. After all, in the past it had been nothing more than a city that had given opponents home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
The Kings hadn’t just been dreadful at home in the postseason the past two seasons; they allowed the Canucks and San Jose Sharks to clinch their past two playoff series over them in Los Angeles. They held leads in both of those games but lost them and both series in six.
If this year, this series, was going to be different, a lot of things had to change, primarily the results. But the atmosphere at Staples Center was never one of them.
Anyone who has been to a Kings playoff game at Staples Center will tell you it's where stereotypes about West Coast hockey go to die. It is unlike any other sports event in Los Angeles. Whereas fans arrive two minutes into the game when the Los Angeles Lakers play, they arrive two hours before the game to see the Kings.
Three hours before the Kings played the Canucks on Sunday afternoon, the L.A. Live plaza across the street from Staples Center was filled with fans playing street hockey, drinking in makeshift beer gardens and dancing in the closed off Chick Hearn Court, the street that separates the two.
Inside Staples Center, most of the 18,352 fans wore black and waved white rally towels as pyrotechnics and rock music welcomed the Kings to the ice in a scene straight out of an episode of WWE Monday Night Raw. By comparison, Lakers games seem like an afternoon at the library.
The fans cheered every Jonathan Quick save, jeered every Canucks dive and absolutely lost it when Kings captain Dustin Brown scored what would be the game-winning goal with in the third period to give the Kings their first-ever 3-0 series lead. A second straight home win on Wednesday would give the Kings their first-ever playoff sweep and first playoff series win since 2001.
Before Sunday’s game against Vancouver, the Kings didn’t shy away from the topic of their difficulty winning at home during the playoffs. In fact it was the central theme of many conversations in the locker room.
Leading-scorer Corey Perry skated off the ice at the start of practice Tuesday at Honda Center, apparently stricken by a lower-body injury that went rather unnoticed until Perry was suddenly gone. Ducks coach Randy Carlyle referred to the injury as a "body ailment" before settling on the intentionally vague NHL classification of lower-body injury.
"I didn’t see anything," Carlyle said. "He didn’t hit anybody. I didn’t see him fall down."
Perry is sixth in the league in both goals (31) and points (68) heading into Tuesday’s games. The Ducks are 11th in the Western Conference, but just one point behind eighth-place Dallas.
News isn’t getting any better for the team's other All-Star, goalkeeper Jonas Hiller, who has missed the last four games and eight of the last nine with a still undiagnosed ailment that’s causing him to feel sluggish and "behind the play."
Doctors have ruled out positional vertigo, he said.
"I don’t feel it in everyday life but on the ice it still doesn’t feel right," Hiller said. "Especially after the intensity gets higher, and the longer practice takes the worse I feel."
Hiller, who practiced with the team for about 45 minutes Tuesday, said the condition often arises after repeatedly turning his head, such as when he follows the puck behind the net.
"That kind of upsets my whole system," he said. "Then, I always feel behind the play because I’m always trying to catch up, and it just seems impossible to be right on time and it always seems to take me a second to realize what’s going on....it’s a weird feeling but definitely not a good feeling, especially for a goaltender."
After missing three games with a sore groin, second-line center Saku Koivu skated for about 30 minutes before practice, Carlyle said, and is close to returning but no date has been set.
With three of the West’s top eight teams coming in over the next five days, the Red Wings, Stars and Canucks, the Ducks need all the healthy bodies they can find.