Print and Go Back ESPN.com: BlogsColumns [Print without images]

Saturday, April 24, 2010
Kings show they're still not there yet

By Arash Markazi
ESPNLosAngeles.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Shane O'Brien, the Vancouver Canucks' fun-loving yet irritating defenseman, may be a "clown," as Los Angeles Kings coach Terry Murray labeled him Friday night, but at least he was a happy clown after the Canucks' 7-2 thrashing of the Kings to take a 3-2 lead in their Western Conference first-round playoff series.

The same could not be said for the Kings, who dusted themselves off following the rout and quickly packed their belongings, leaving only a handful of players behind to answer for the embarrassing loss that now puts the Kings on the brink of elimination.

O'Brien elicited the wrath of Murray after the game when he showboated around the ice, raising his hands and encouraging the fans to cheer as he left the rink following a fight with Wayne Simmonds. Seven seconds later, Canucks center Rick Rypien got into it with Rich Clune and looked as if he may have hurt the Kings' left wing when he took him down.

"You don't need to rub it in at the end of the fight," Murray said of O'Brien. "Skating around with your hands in the air, acting like the clown that he is."

When O'Brien was relayed Murray's comments he simply smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "I was just excited after the fight and the crowd was going," he said. "He can think what he wants to think. Simmonds asked me to go and we've been in each others' face all series and after you play hard against someone you can't turn them down."

At the very least O'Brien's post-fight celebration added more fuel to an already smoldering rivalry that has been especially physical since Game 1.

"You got O'Brien celebrating after a fight," said Kings captain Dustin Brown, shaking his head. "I don't know if that's the type of message you want to send to us. That's something we'll remember."

Jonathan Quick
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick sits at the bottom of a pile around the net. Quick was pulled after giving up four goals Friday though he later returned.

While the Kings may remember O'Brien's act and certainly plan to retaliate Sunday in Los Angeles, it won't matter when it comes to deciding the series. The fate of the series was probably decided when Canucks coach Alain Vigneault decided to pair red-hot Mikael Samuelsson, who now has seven goals in the series, on the top line with fellow Swedes Henrik and Daniel Sedin during Game 4. Since then the Canucks have outscored the Kings 11-3 over the last four periods.

When the Kings' run in this season's Stanley Cup playoffs inevitably comes to an end either Sunday in Los Angeles or Tuesday in Vancouver, they will have been done in by their dependency on a litany of unsustainable "ifs" only a youthful bunch with little to no playoff experience could have thought was realistic.

If we can continue scoring on every single power play we'll be fine.

If we can continue to hold the Sedin twins in check we'll be OK.

If we fall behind in the third period, it's not a problem because we've always found a way to come back, even on the road.

On the surface each one of those statements may be true and at one point or another in this series may have resulted in a Kings win, but to expect all of them to continue was as improbable as telling the Sedin twins and their glowing red beards apart off the ice.

It's not happening. You might get lucky once or twice but championship hockey teams don't depend on as many "ifs" to win playoff games as the Kings have this postseason.

What were the odds of the Kings continuing their streak of scoring on six consecutive power plays, which netted Los Angeles victories in Games 2 and 3?

What were the odds of the Kings holding the Sedin twins scoreless as they did during their overtime win in Game 2?

What were the odds of the Kings continuing to come from behind and winning as they did in Game 2 and 3?

It's not impossible, but if you're banking your postseason success on those odds you're probably also the type to plan your next vacation on winning the lottery.

The Kings are in the process of building a championship contender, but they are far from the finished product general manager Dean Lombardi has been piecing together. When they get there the only "if" that will remain is the "if" all true contenders have: If we play our game, we'll win and it won't matter what the opponent does.

That's far from where the power-play reliant, comeback-happy Kings are. The only hope they have to win games in this series is to prevent the Canucks from playing the style of hockey that made them the second highest scoring team in the league and propelled Henrik Sedin to the Art Ross Trophy as the league's top scorer.

The Kings were able to prevent the Canucks from playing their game earlier in the series but over the past four periods, the Kings have seen what Vancouver can do at its high-scoring best and they're getting run off the ice in the process.

What the Canucks essentially did to the Kings during their 7-2 shellacking was play the role of overzealous bouncer teaching the upstart youngster a lesson by taking him behind the woodshed and giving him a beating he won't soon forget. The message was simple: You may have had your fun, but it's all over now; come back when you're a little older kid.

Murray, who has changed his lineup after nearly every game, wasn't buying the loss was anything more than a one-game setback. Despite pulling goalie Jonathan Quick and putting him back in after he had given up 10 goals over the last two games, Murray said his team and Quick, who had lost nine straight games before winning Game 2, will bounce back Sunday.

"There's always the ebb and flow of playoff victories and losses," Murray said. "It's going to be a test. We have to respond the right way and there's no question they're coming in hungry now looking to end the series. We're looking to continue it and we'll be ready to play. We'll be ready to compete."

The Kings may be ready to compete for their playoff lives but they're certainly not ready to compete for the Stanley Cup yet. Their time might not be too far away, but Friday's embarrassing effort was an indication of how much the Kings' kids, who let a "clown" get in their heads, have to grow.

Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.