SANTA MONICA, Calif. – After missing 12 games with an apparent concussion, Daniel Sedin will be with his Vancouver Canucks at their next practice.
Vancouver’s top goal-scorer is showing up in Los Angeles just in time to witness either a stirring comeback or a shocking fall.
“It’ll be great to have him back, even if it’s just in practice,” goalie Cory Schneider said Tuesday outside the Canucks’ seaside hotel. “In a series where goals are hard to come by, a 30-goal scorer would be huge.”
The Canucks don’t know if Sedin can play in Game 4 on Wednesday night, but they certainly could use the Swedish twin’s scoring skills after they managed just four goals during three losses in five days.
The eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings have pushed the NHL’s best regular-season team to the brink of elimination with a remarkable stretch of tenacious play accented by a few lucky bounces, including the rebound that went right to captain Dustin Brown for the only goal in Game 3.
The Kings attribute their incredible playoff start to chemistry that takes months to build and days to unravel. The Canucks can relate: Sedin and his brother, Henrik, form one of the NHL’s most potent scoring tandems, and Daniel’s absence forces many small changes that can add up to a big mess.
“Obviously right now, because Danny’s not there, we’ve got quite a few guys playing out of roles, out of their best possible position to help out this team,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. “That’s nothing new. You go through that in the regular season, but with the level of competition that we’re up against and the situation we’re faced with, for him to be back in our lineup would obviously be a big boost. But we don’t know, so we’ll see how everything goes.”
Henrik Sedin clearly isn’t at his best without his brother alongside. The playmaking specialist managed just one shot and lost 13 of his 18 faceoffs in Game 3, and Brown flattened him with a shoulder hit in the second period, briefly sending him to the locker room.
“We knew it was going to be like this,” Sedin said. “I mean, we weren’t hoping to be down 3-0, but we are. It’s about how you respond, and if we can play on Wednesday the way we played (in Game 3), if we can get a bounce and get to their guy a little bit and win one game, it’s going to go quick.”
The Canucks spent Monday trying not to ponder their predicament. Although three of the last six Presidents’ Trophy winners have lost their first-round playoff series, Vancouver is one game away from becoming the first team in the expansion era to fail to win even one post-season game after finishing with the NHL’s best regular-season record.
Vancouver is in a serious playoff slump, losing seven of eight post-season games. The Canucks have scored just 12 goals in their last 10 post-season games encompassing last season’s Stanley Cup finals and the current round.
Meanwhile, saying the Kings are in an unfamiliar situation is a generational understatement: In their 44 years of existence, they had never held a 3-0 lead in a playoff series. Los Angeles has won just one playoff round since 1993, none since 2001.
“The first time we played Vancouver (in 2010), there were a bunch of us who had never even played in one playoff game,” Kings defenceman Drew Doughty said. “We’ve improved our confidence and our experience. We keep digging in, and that’s why we’re winning.”
Although none of the Kings’ homegrown players has even played in a potential series-clinching game, several acquisitions have ample playoff experience, including Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and coach Darryl Sutter. But while the well-tested Canucks have lacked big-game poise, Los Angeles has rallied behind its relatively inexperienced captain.
“I haven’t had the opportunity to play in a lot of big games, but I’ve felt great over the last quarter of the year,” said Brown, who has four goals in three games. “Hockey is a funny game. It’s ups and downs, confidence. It’s just getting into a rhythm when you’re feeling good. I’ve been just really focusing on keeping my game a little more simple than I did early in the season. When you do that, good things start to happen.”
Everything is simple for both teams heading into Game 4: Either the Canucks will head home for a depressingly early summer, or they’ll force the Kings to make another trip to Canada.
Yet the Canucks have already reminded themselves about their firsthand knowledge of the fragility of a 3-0 series lead. They were up three games on Chicago in the first round last season, but lost three straight before a nail-biting victory in Game 7.
“That’s a good example,” Vancouver defenceman Keith Ballard said. “(The Blackhawks) were one Roberto Luongo save away from winning that thing. We look at that from last year. We were a great team, and we know we can produce something like that this year.”