#6 Los Angeles Kings
(46-27-9, 101 pts)
#3 Vancouver Canucks
(49-28-5, 103 pts)
Los Angeles Kings
How They Got Here: Pop quiz, hot shot! What team had the best road record in the Western Conference this year? San Jose is only partially right. It’s not Chicago. Not Phoenix either. It was the LA Kings, who tied the Sharks, going 24-14-3 on enemy ice. That was the real difference make for Los Angeles, which will be making its first postseason appearance since 2002 starting on Thursday.
Player To Watch: What a breakout year this was for C Anze Kopitar! Even though the LA star had scored at least 20 goals and tallied at least 60 points in his L/4 years, this was the real difference making year for him. Kopitar scored 34 goals and 47 assists, both of which were career highs.
Goalie Outlook: Many probably don’t remember G Jonathan Quick being on the US Olympic Hockey team, but he was the man that was going to take the place for Ryan Miller had he struggled or gotten injured. Quick had a 2.54 GAA this year, winning 39 games against 31 losses.
Key To Victory: Kopitar has to prove that he is really a superstar in this league. As squads have proven in the past, one star can carry a team through a postseason, and Kopitar will have to do just that to take a rather average team through the playoffs.
How They Got Here: The Canucks reached the playoffs on the backs of an offense that scored 3.3 goals per game, the second highest mark in the NHL. Parlay that with one of the best goalies in the game, and there’s a reason that many think, in spite of the fact that Vancouver is the #3 seed and had the fourth best record in the West this year, could be the squad to watch out for in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Player To Watch: Every year it feels like we talk about the Sedin brothers as the difference makers for the Canucks. This year is no exception, as C Henrik Sedin and his brother Daniel are the two top scorers on this team in terms of points. Henrik led the NHL in points with 112 thanks to a whopping 83 assists, while Daniel was tied for third on the team in goals with 29.
Goalie Outlook: Be prepared to hear a lot of “Looooooooo” coming from the Vancouver faithful. That’s for G Roberto Luongo, who at times has carried this club through tough playoff series’ by himself. It was a bit of down year for the Canadian national player, as he’ll tell you that a 2.57 GAA isn’t good enough. However, he did win 40 games in the regular season and does have a gold medal around his neck from the Olympics, so obviously, Luongo is still a force to be reckoned with.
Key To Victory: The Canucks have had a knack of just not quite putting enough little things together to win playoff series. Normally speaking they’re close, but in the end, one crazy puck bounce or one failed execution has been their undoing. Vancouver badly just needs to tighten up its play to survive in these playoffs.
The Final Word: For our money, this is the best series in the entire playoffs. There’s star power all over the ice, and nothing less than a seven game set is expected from our end. We’ll take the strong offensive team to survive in what should be can’t-miss hockey.
Canucks in 7