VANCOUVER – Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault thought he had an answer to stopping the Los Angeles Kings when he pitted centre Ryan Kesler against Anze Kopitar in the first game of their quarter-final series.
He may be rethinking that plan for Game 2.
“I’m not sure I like that matchup,” Vigneault said Thursday, drawing chuckles. “I’m going to think about that again.”
It’s just one of many angles that Vigneault will explore in a series that has no shortage of them—on or off the ice—as the Kings try to build on their 1-0 series lead in Friday’s second game.
The Canucks are seeking many solutions following an upset 4-2 loss to the Kings in Game 1 on Wednesday. Vancouver finished first overall in the NHL while the Kings placed eighth in the Western Conference after only securing a playoff berth with three games to go.
“We need to have an answer for (Anze) Kopitar’s line,” Vigneault said. “They were real effective (Wednesday) night, generated numerous amounts of chances. We need to have an answer for (Dustin) Penner, who was a powerful force down in our own end. And we need to have an answer for (Mike) Richards, who played one of the best games I’ve seen him play since he’s been in L.A. Not just offensively, but physically also. … We’re going to have to come up with some answers.”
After struggling to score most of the season, the Kings are starting to roll offensivly. Richards emerged as a catalyst in Game 1, producing a goal and two assists after he struggled much of the season. He went 26 games without a goal during the regular season and saw his production fall 22 points to 44 from 66 in 2010-11.
With three more wins necessary before the Kings can claim the series, Richards downplayed the effort Thursday. But he still expressed faith in his abilities despite his difficult season.
“I’ve never lost confidence in myself,” Richards said.
It remains to be seen how much swagger the Canucks can regain, pending any distracting off-ice incidents.
Canucks winger Byron Bitz was suspended two games for hitting Kings winger Kyle Clifford head-first into the glass in the second period Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Kings apologized for a tweet on the team’s Twitter site that mocked the Canucks perceived lack of popularity outside B.C.
In other words, the best-of-seven series has not gone according to the conventional script that says the Canucks should win on the basis of their regular-season record and recent post-season history with the Kings.
Still, Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo downplayed the significance of the Kings’ opening win.
“It’s one game,” he said. “It’s a four-out-of-seven. It’s not who wins the first game. We’re a team that knows how to respond to different situations.”
Two springs ago, the Canucks prevailed in six games over a Los Angeles squad that has since made several changes, including the installation of new coach Darryl Sutter behind the bench in mid-season.
It’s evident that some of the animosity from the previous series has carried over. But both clubs are vowing to be more disciplined in Game 2. Los Angeles scored on two of seven power plays, while the Canucks were denied on all five of theirs.
Vancouver defencemen Sami Salo said staying out of the penalty box and scoring more in man-advantage situations will be the two key themes for his squad.
Sutter, meanwhile, wants to see the Kings get off to a better start. Even though his club dominated the first period in Game 1, Vancouver scored the game’s first goal with just over four minutes gone.
“The challenges are the same as Game 1,” said Kings defenceman Drew Doughty. “It was tough coming here in Game 1 with the crowd going so nuts right off the start like that and with them getting an early goal. But we never gave up. We kept pushing.
“And I’m expecting the same thing in Game 2.”
Notes_Vancouver winger Daniel Sedin remains out with a concussion. … Kings winger Clifford will not play due to what Sutter called an upper-body injury.