EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Although Mike Richards and a couple of his Los Angeles teammates might have information that could help the Vancouver Canucks out of a daunting playoff deficit, don’t expect them to give it up.
Just two years ago, Richards led Philadelphia out of the same 0-3 series hole now threatening to swallow up the NHL’s best regular-season team. Simon Gagne scored an overtime winner in Game 4 and the series-winning goal in Game 7 for the Flyers, while Jeff Carter watched his teammates closely from the press box with a broken foot.
They’re all suiting up now for the Kings, who put the Canucks in this dire predicament heading into Game 4 on Wednesday night at Staples Center.
Richards, the former Flyers captain, wasn’t sharing any insight Tuesday on what it takes to pull off a feat only accomplished by three teams in NHL history.
“I don’t remember that far back,” Richards claimed with a grin, before acknowledging: “I can’t let you know that mindset.”
Carter also said he can’t remember how the Flyers accomplished their feat, and Gagne hasn’t played in 2012 due to a concussion. The Kings can’t waste time reminiscing when they’re preparing for an unlikely chance to close out the franchise’s first playoff series victory since 2001.
“It’s important to understand the desperation they’re going to have, so we bring the same energy and enthusiasm,” Richards said. “We shouldn’t change our style of play, but we have to bring it to an even higher level if possible.”
The top-seeded Canucks are still hoping Daniel Sedin can help them out of this jam.
Vancouver’s leading goal-scorer joined his teammates in practice Tuesday for the first time since missing the last 12 games with a concussion. Coach Alain Vigneault and Sedin won’t decide whether he’s playing until game time, and Vigneault also hasn’t yet named his starting goalie after replacing veteran Roberto Luongo with Cory Schneider for Vancouver’s 1-0 loss in Game 3.
“No matter who starts, we have to be ready off the puck-drop to play our best game of the year,” Luongo said.
Never mind the series: Vancouver must win Wednesday just to avoid becoming the first team in the post-expansion era to get swept out of the first round after finishing atop the regular-season standings.
Teams with a 3-0 lead have won the series 164 of 167 times, but the daunting statistics have budged a bit in the past two years. Philadelphia’s historic rally included a comeback from a three-goal deficit in Game 7, and both Chicago and Detroit rallied from 3-0 series deficits last year to force a seventh game before losing the series.
The Blackhawks’ loss was in the first round to the Canucks, who have cited that series as evidence it can be done. Yet nobody in a blue-and-green jersey will acknowledge honestly thinking beyond winning Game 4 and forcing the Kings to find their passports for another trip to Canada.
“We had a great day off (Monday), and we know where we are and what we have to do,” Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin said. “If we get one win, we can bring it back to Vancouver and see what happens.”
Daniel Sedin’s potential return alongside his brother could be huge for the Canucks, whose free-flowing style depends heavily on superior skill and teamwork.
The Canucks’ problems are clear: Kings captain Dustin Brown has matched the entire Vancouver roster by scoring four goals in the series, and Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick has stopped 111 of the Canucks’ 115 shots—far too many from harmless positions outside the Kings’ sturdy defence.
“We’re doing all the things we need to do on defence consistently,” Quick said. “If we stick to our game and keep it simple, that’s how you compete with a team with that much talent.”
Vancouver hasn’t even been able to capitalize on its usually impressive power play, going 0 for 14 in the first three games. Much of that ineptitude must be related to Daniel Sedin, who had 10 goals and 15 assists on the power play in the regular season, but key defenceman Alex Edler also has played poorly in the series.
There’s more: Ryan Kesler hasn’t scored a goal in 15 games, David Booth has one goal in 14 games, and playmaker Henrik Sedin has one goal in 24 games.
“Pucks haven’t been going in lately, and it’s been hard to score,” said Booth, who hasn’t scored in the first three playoff games of his career. “It’s intense, though. It’s been really exciting, so much fun to play (in the post-season).”
While the Canucks hope Daniel Sedin returns, the Kings also could get some depth reinforcements. Brad Richardson, a back-line forward who hasn’t played since undergoing an appendectomy eight days earlier, was cleared to play Tuesday.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter will put no undue pressure on his team to finish off the series in four games. Los Angeles has been impressive in the playoffs after a disappointing finish to the regular season, but Sutter realizes the differences between those efforts are minor and often ephemeral.
“I know the series is 3-0, but it honestly just as easy could have been the other way,” Sutter said.