VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks are looking for some much needed momentum as they fight to come back from a 2-0 opening-round playoff series deficit to the Los Angeles Kings.
The Canucks went back to practice Saturday, still searching for solutions after dropping their second-straight 4-2 decision to the Kings a night earlier. For the first time in Vancouver’s 42 years of NHL existence, the Canucks have lost two consecutive contests when starting a playoff series at home.
Coach Alain Vigneault’s crew is hoping to avoid a major upset. Vancouver finished first overall for the second consecutive season while the Kings squeaked into the eighth and final playoff position in the Western Conference. The series shifts to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Sunday and Game 4 on Tuesday, and there are no guarantees the Canucks will have another game before their zany, towel-waving fans at Rogers Arena.
The first-place-overall finish, and the home-ice advantage that goes with it, will be all for nothing unless the Canucks can conquer the Kings at least once in the unfriendly confines of the Staples Center, which is known for soft ice and bad bounces.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the ideal situation,” said Vigneault after a subdued workout in which much of the usual banter among players was missing. “And, I’m not going to give you a rundown of all the teams that have come back in the past (from a 2-0 series deficit), and dah de dah de dah, because that’s probably me standing up here and trying to be real positive.
“The reality is, we’re down by two, and we’ve gotta win (Sunday).”
The do-or-almost-die situation stems mainly from Vancouver’s struggles on special teams, to which Vigneault devoted practice before the club departed for California. The Canucks surrendered two short-handed goals Friday to Kings captain Dustin Brown on Friday, and also let him score on the power play.
Brown’s two shorties in a single game tied an NHL playoff record that 12 players now share. In addition, the Kings have gone 3-for-12 on the power play, good for a 25 per cent success rate.
Factoring in the two short-handed goals against, the Canucks are actually running a deficit in the man-advantage department. They have been blanked on their 10 power-play chances over the two games—five in each. Altogether, only two of L.A.’s eight goals have come at even strength. The other was an empty-netter by Brown.
Now, it remains to be seen whether the Canucks can handle the pressure of overcoming a post-season deficit that they have never witnessed.
“Obviously, our guys put expectations on themselves that are pretty high,” said Vigneault. “But I feel that this group has been through so much in the past. With that experience, in my mind, composure should not be an issue. It definitely is not an issue five on five. They seem to be doing the right things on the ice. But it seems to be an issue on the power play.”
Vancouver has clearly missed Daniel Sedin. His twin brother Henrik has not been able to find much chemistry with others used in Daniel’s place on the power play.
However, the Canucks can not expect Daniel Sedin, recuperating from a concussion suffered in Chicago on March 21, to return anytime soon. He did not skate Saturday and did not make the trip to L.A.
Despite the difficulty of the situation, the Canucks expressed confidence in their ability to come back. Goaltender Roberto Luongo pointed to the example of the Boston Bruins, who dropped their first two opening-round games to Montreal last spring before ousting the Habs.
“It’s not something to be panicked about obviously,” said Luongo.
The veteran goaltender is not worried about having to try to rally on foreign ice, either. He is looking forward to playing under the bright lights of Hollywood.
“I like arenas that are well-lit for some reason,” said Luongo. “That may sound cliche. But for me, that’s something that I enjoy. When we played there a few years ago in the playoffs, it was a pretty good atmosphere in the building, so it’s a fun building.”
Luongo has allowed seven goals on 64 shots for a 3.59 goals-against average.
Vigneault has refused to blame Luongo for his club’s losses, contending his performance was not a determing factor Friday and actually prevented the Canucks from getting blown out in Game 1. But a goaltending change is one way to shift momentum, and the coach declined to say who would start Sunday.
Backup Cory Schneider, who was called upon at times in the 2010-11 playoffs, said he is ready in case he gets the call again.
“I’m feeling pretty comfortable,” said Schneider, who went 20-8-1 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .937 save percentage in the regular season. “I’ve played so many (regular-season) games this year (33). And having a taste of (the playoffs) last year, you know what to expect.”
Luongo is 32-29 in post-season play during his career, while Schneider has no decisions from the five playoff games in which he appeared last spring. But Vigneault said Sunday’s contest is not about a few leaders. Everybody is in it together, and no one can be “a weak link in the chain.”
Defenceman Kevin Bieksa said the club has put the first two losses behind it. But he does not consider Boston’s first-round win over Montreal last year to be a source of inspiration.
“Maybe some people do, but I don’t really care about what happened in the past, especially with a team that’s not us,” said Bieksa. “For us, it’s 2-0. It’s not insurmountable. We win the next game, and we’re right back in the series. That’s all we really think about. We don’t need any extra motivation.”
He said the Canucks are in a good frame of mind and understand they are at a critical juncture in the series.
“We know we can come back,” Bieksa said.
Accordingly, the Kings are wary of suffering a letdown at home as they attempt to win another playoff series for the first time since 2001.
Vancouver and L.A. split four regular-season games, with three being decided by one goal. But centre Anze Kopitar warned that the series is not over yet.
Kings defenceman Drew Doughty said they must now use home ice to their advantage after excelling in difficult surroundings in Rogers Arena.
“The fans are going to be loud, and the crowd is going to be on our side this time,” he said. “But at the same time, we can’t take what we have so far for granted.”