VANCOUVER, B.C. – All season long the Vancouver Canucks have managed to outscore their mistakes.
If goaltender Roberto Luongo had a bad night, if the defence was limping with injuries, the Canucks fixed the problem by scoring goals.
Having that firepower is a great security blanket. But the Canucks know they will be flirting with disaster if they don’t tighten up on defence when they open their first-round NHL playoff series Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings (CBC, 10 p.m. ET).
“In the playoffs you don’t want to be down two or three goals going into the third period,” NHL scoring champion Henrik Sedin said Wednesday. “The team is going to be extremely focused on playing defence.
“In the regular season you get away with it a little because maybe the focus isn’t 100 per cent on defence in the third. In the playoffs, it will be.”
The Canucks were good at dodging bullets during the regular season. They led the league by battling back for 11 wins after trailing games following two periods.
“We do tend to make mistakes and give up goals that aren’t considered good goals,” said centre Kyle Wellwood. “We know there are guys in this room who can step up their game and score any time.
“It’s nice we can come back in the third.”
Luongo said you must play a different game in the playoffs.
“It’s a bit tighter and the intensity is higher,” said Luongo, who backstopped Canada to a gold medal during the Olympics. “There are not as many high-scoring games.
“Sometimes we might need a goal in the third. We are confident of our ability to put the puck in the net and be able to do that.”
Game two of the best-of-seven series will be Saturday.
The Canucks won the Northwest Division title this season for the third time in four years with a 49-28-5 record for 103 points. The Kings returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2002 with a 46-27-9 record for 101 points.
The Canucks led the Western Conference with 272 goals scored, and were second in the NHL only to the Washington Capitals’ 318. Six Vancouver players scored 25 or more goals.
Henrik Sedin became the first Canuck to win the scoring race with 112 points (29 goals, 83 assists). Twin brother Daniel had 85 points and 29 goals despite missing 18 games with a broken foot. Linemate Alex Burrows led the team with a career-high 35 goals.
It’s no secret to beat Vancouver, you have to stop the Sedins and Burrows. But like many things, that’s easier said than done.
“They are a real solid line,” said Canuck coach Alain Vigneault. “They have played against top lines all year long, they have played against top-checking lines all year long. And they’ve done their thing.
“Whoever they play against tomorrow, I expect them to do their thing.”
The Canucks will face the Kings without top shutdown defenceman Willie Mitchell. The veteran has been out since January with a concussion and isn’t expected to return to the playoffs.
Aaron Rome will also miss the opening game with an injury.
Vancouver still has a solid defence led by Sami Salo and Christian Ehrhoff.
Luongo has had an up-and-down season. He finished with a 40-22-4 record, 1.67 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.
He also was guilty of giving up some soft goals and was pulled from seven games this season.
Luongo admitted to some mental fatigue after the Olympics. He was 9-5-2 in 16 starts after the Games, and allowed three or more goals in eight of the last 10 games he played.
That was then, the playoffs are now, Luongo said.
“I feel good,” he said. “I’m excited to play.”
The Kings were not scheduled to practice in Vancouver until Thursday’s pre-game skate.
None of the Los Angeles goaltenders have any playoff experience.
Jonathan Quick carried the load most of the season, playing 72 games. He finished with a 39-24-7 record, 2.54 GAA and .907 save percentage, but was winless in his last eight games, raising concerns about fatigue.
“You can never doubt yourself,” Quick told The Los Angeles Times. “You always have to be confident in yourself and what you can do and what your team can do.”
Kings coach Terry Murray said there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with Quick’s game.
“Technically, he’s fine,” Murray told The Times. “He’s on top of the crease. He’s doing the right thing, absorbing pucks.
“And with a few days off, I think it just gives him time to kick back a little bit and reflect a little bit and get back on track.”
Burrows said Vancouver will be quick to pressure Quick.
“One of the things we will have to do is get to him, bring pucks to the net, bring some bodies,” said Burrows. “We will create traffic and rebounds, jam the puck against him.
“We will do all the things that puts pressure on goalies.”
The young Kings were led by Anze Kopitar, who had 34 goals and 81 points.
Vancouver had a 3-1 record in games against L.A. this year, but the Kings pasted the Canucks 8-3 in their last meeting.
The Canucks know the danger a young, hungry team can present. Last season Vancouver was from the second round of the playoffs in six games by the Chicago Blackhawks.
It’s a memory Henrik Sedin won’t forget.
“Chicago … just kept coming,” he said. “They never thought they were out of it.
“I think a lot of times with a young team they keep playing the same way. They keep coming at you. It doesn’t matter if they are down three goals in the seventh game.”