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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 4:18 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Similarities between Kings, Blues are hard to ignore

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Judging by how most observers project the Western Conference Semifinals between the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues to unfold, they might as well go straight to overtime.

The similarities are a big talking point leading up to the start of the series: two low-scoring teams that are designed by defense and goaltending to grind opponents down.

"Mirror image," Kings forward Dustin Penner said. "What were we, one and two in goals against [average] this year? The games are always close -- low-scoring, big forwards, tough team, great goaltending. For both teams you don't know who you're talking about."

Yes, St. Louis was first in the League with 1.89 GAA in the regular season to L.A.'s 2.07. The Kings won three of four regular season meetings, but the teams split the final two games, each by 1-0 scores.

Brian Elliott had a 0.71 GAA in two appearances against L.A. Jonathan Quick had a 0.33 GAA with 94 saves on 95 shots against the Blues. The Kings enter the series on a scoreless stretch of 130 minutes, 49 seconds against St. Louis, while the Blues have gone 96:22 without scoring against L.A. 

L.A. regards St. Louis as a much more physical, hard-nosed team. The teams combined for 86 hits in the March 22 game, a 1-0 shootout win by Los Angeles.

"They all play a heavy game and they all forecheck and hit and they're all hard on you," Kings forward Trevor Lewis said. "I think we've got to bring that to our game and push them back."

Kings coach Darryl Sutter said that the teams are similar statistically, but he again brought out the underdog card when asked if the Blues were a mirror image of the Kings.

"We didn't have as many wins as they did," Sutter said. "They won 30 games at home."

The Kings' quarterfinal victory against top-seeded Vancouver threw all conventional thinking out the window. So did the elimination of typical Western powers the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks.
L.A. was also the team that pulled out two shorthanded goals in one game against Vancouver and outscored it, 7-5, overall in even-strength play.

"Everybody's asking me about how low-scoring it's going to be," Quick said. "But I think I'm sure if you looked back at postseason history and teams that matched up like this, I'm sure there's been quite a few games that have gone the other way, and games that people didn't really expect, 3-4, 4-5 games. When you get out there you can expect anything. You got to be ready for anything. It's all about who comes and competes the hardest."

Penner on the second line: Penner skated on the second line with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in practice Tuesday, while Dwight King was dropped to the third line with Lewis and Jarret Stoll.

That's a significant change for a Sutter team that has used the same lines since the acquisition of Jeff Carter in February.

"We got to continue to move around," Sutter said. "We're lucky we've got guys that can play everywhere, so it's not like our left wing hasn't excelled five-on-five. We're trying to find stuff that works."

Kyle Clifford skated at the end of practice, an encouraging sign for the fourth-line winger who is trying to recover from a probable concussion.

Lewis a hero, too: While Stoll joined Adam Deadmarsh and Mike Krushelnyski as players to score series-clinching overtime goals in Kings history, Lewis made the play happen when he got the puck away from Dan Hamhuis.

A typical Sutter third-line grinder, Lewis has become a valuable role player and even contributed a goal in the Vancouver series. He said he received some attention after his play.

"I had a few more text messages after the game than normal and talked to a lot of people that I hadn't talked to in a while about it, so it was pretty cool," Lewis said.
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Posted On Saturday, 04.21.2012 / 5:21 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Carter happy for rest, hopes play keeps improving

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Sitting around for three days is probably not the ideal routine in a Stanley Cup Playoff series unless a team needs to get healthy.

For Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter, the time is beneficial for healing his ankle and detrimental in that he’s coming off a good game and would have like to get back to playing sooner.

“I would have rather have played every other day,” Carter said Saturday before the Kings left for Vancouver for Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals on Sunday.

“But it can be good for us, I guess. We got some guys that are a little banged up – bumps and bruises or whatnot – so the extra couple days will definitely help in that way.”

A talking point at the beginning of the series, Carter and linemate Mike Richards each have no points with a minus-3 rating over the past three games.

Carter missed the last five regular season games with a bone bruise in his ankle and returned in time for the start of the series. He said the injury didn’t affect his performance.

“It’s been getting better every game, I think, so it’s not a big issue,” Carter said.

Kings coach Darryl Sutter was typically blunt when asked about what he’s seen from Carter lately.

“I think he’s playing through an injury and I think his last game was his best game,” Sutter said. “What are his strengths? His speed and puck skills. When you’re not playing quite 100 percent it does make a difference.”

Carter had a game-high seven shots on goal and four hits in Game 4. He looked as active and visible as he has in the series, and if he shows his scoring capability he will be the factor that Los Angeles wished for when they acquired him before the trade deadline.

“It was probably the best that I’ve felt in this series,” Carter said. “I was skating and getting on pucks. When you’re doing that, you’re creating chances, so it was a step in the right direction.”

Carter had six goals in 16 regular season games since he came to L.A. in a Feb.23 trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who got Jack Johnson and a first round draft pick in return. Outside of a two-goal game against the Anaheim Ducks on March 3, he really hasn’t had a signature game or goal of real significance.

Carter has also been quiet in recent playoffs. He is on a six-game point-less streak, dating to last postseason with Philadelphia.

Richards was also encouraged by Game 5 and knows what his former Philadelphia teammate is capable of doing.

“I talked to him after [Game 4],” Richards said. “He said he felt good. He’s said he it was the best he felt in a long time. Hopefully we can improve on it and get opportunities and chances and shots. He’s got a good enough a shot where the goalie can make the save once in a while but eventually it’s going to go in.”

Mitchell on Vancouver:
Defenseman Willie Mitchell is a knowledgeable source on how to defend the Canucks and he has served as a sort of analyst during the series.

Mitchell played four seasons with Vancouver and against them in the Northwest Division when he was with the Minnesota Wild. He had a detailed take on defending a “new” Canucks team with Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

“Everyone has their own way or own belief of how you play them,” Mitchell said. “Personally, I think you deny them the puck, so that means when other players on their team have the puck, you make sure they don’t get it. So [it’s] meeting them before the puck gets there. If they get the puck, it’s not about eliminating time and space, in my opinion, because if you’re too aggressive against them there’s going to be ice open up in the middle of the ice, and that’s where it always goes.

“They make those blind passes and they just know. Their whole game is about creating 2-on-1s, just bringing the guy into you … so it’s a fine line – being aggressive when they don’t have it, and if they happen to get possession, sometimes you got to sit because they’re not Steven Stamkos. They don’t have that world class shot. But they are world-class playmakers.”

Sutter kept beating the drum that Game 4 was his team’s best game of the series and he reiterated that they’re still the underdog even though they have a 3-1 series lead.

He sounded as if he needed a lot more from his team.

“I liked our five-on-five play [in Game 4] but we’re not going to beat the Vancouver Canucks unless everybody plays to their (level) because of the skill set that they have,” Sutter said. “If we have three or four guys that don’t try to play to their skill set then we’re not going to beat them.”

Clifford remains out:
Kyle Clifford (upper body) did not skate for a third consecutive game, which all but rules him out from returning anytime soon.

Clifford was hit by Byron Bitz on Game 1. It is called an upper-body injury but the team is taking the same protocol they would for a concussion.
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Posted On Friday, 04.20.2012 / 4:19 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Kings' Clifford still day-to-day

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Kyle Clifford did not skate Friday but Kings coach Darryl Sutter said he the forward did not have a setback in his recovery from what is believed to be a concussion he sustained from a hit by Byron Bitz in Game 1.

"It becomes day-to-day," Sutter said. "That's protocol, right? That's what he's allowed to do."

Also, Scott Parse practiced with the team for the first time since he had hip surgery in December. He wore a green no-contact jersey. Asked if he’s ahead of schedule, Parse said, "I'm just happy how I feel. There's no schedule."
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Posted On Friday, 04.20.2012 / 4:17 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Kings need power play to get hot again

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Vancouver's inefficient power play was the talk of this first-round playoff series, but the Kings are in a 1 for 15 slump over the past three games. That comes after they went 8-for-17 over the last two regular-season games and Game 1 of this Western Conference Quarterfinal series.

The Kings did have eight shots on goal on its first two power plays of Game 4. It had three total power plays, and that's about what Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter expects.

"We're going to get fewer," Sutter said. "That's obvious, I think. There would have to be something changed for us to get more power plays, so we have to get as many quality chances as you can. I think our power play was better in the last game, but you do have to score on them. One thing that's not going to change in the playoffs is goaltending, special teams and performance of the top players."
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Posted On Friday, 04.20.2012 / 4:13 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Kings clinging to underdog mindset

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Although his team has a 3-1 series lead, Kings coach Darryl Sutter is keeping his underdog mindset.

Sutter said owning three wins in their Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Canucks is "the only advantage we have right now. If somebody said at the end of the series we beat them three times [then it doesn't matter]. There's five series of the eight that are 3-1. How many of them are cast as an underdog 3-1? That’s what it's about.

"We are the big underdogs. That's based on what they've accomplished."
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Posted On Friday, 04.20.2012 / 4:11 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Sutter knows stopping Sedins is key for Kings

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter faced Vancouver three times in the regular season, but he talked Friday as if he's preparing for a whole new team in Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

The addition of Daniel Sedin to Vancouver's lineup has changed the look of the series. Henrik Sedin's game is based on finding brother Daniel for scoring opportunities, and Vancouver essentially got two new players back when Daniel returned for Game 4.

"We got to handle the Sedins better," Sutter said. "They're going to play a lot. As a group, we have to handle them better. It's pretty clear how good a players they are, and they have great instincts when they're together.

"It makes such a difference when they're together. It's clear one impacts the other. It makes sense when you look at it. Their whole career and their whole life is pretty much playing together."

Sutter is not a big matchup coach. In Game 4 he used his top three lines against the Sedin-Sedin-David Booth line, with centers Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll taking turns on the ice against them.

"I don't think he minds who plays against them," Stoll said of Sutter. "He doesn't have a hard matchup kind of a mindset. I'm sure whoever is playing well and doing their thing. The key is winning faceoffs against those guys and making them chase the puck to start their shift. And play the game. Make them play in their zone. Make them play hard minutes.

"They're really good players so they should be different. But we got to be different, too. We got to be better."
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.18.2012 / 3:52 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Booth could join Sedins on Canucks' top line

LOS ANGELES -- David Booth practiced on a line with Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin on Tuesday and if that holds for Game 4 it would be the first time Booth has played with the twins.

The Canucks have tried Booth with Ryan Kesler and it hasn’t really worked because both have to play with the puck. Booth was looking forward to the new combination.

"They're the best two in the League in my opinion, and I think a lot of people say the same thing," Booth said. "It's definitely exciting for me."

The projected lineups for each team:

CANUCKS
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - David Booth
Alexandre Burrows - Ryan Kesler - Mason Raymond
Chris Higgins - Samuel Pahlsson - Jannik Hansen
Maxim Lapierre - Manny Malhotra - Zack Kassian

Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Kevin Bieksa - Dan Hamhuis
Keith Ballard - Chistopher Tanev

Cory Schneider
Roberto Luongo

KINGS
Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Dwight King - Mike Richards - Jeff Carter
Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis
Brad Richardson - Colin Fraser - Jordan Nolan

Rob Scuderi - Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Matt Greene - Alec Martinez

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.17.2012 / 3:50 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Kings bracing for possible return of Daniel Sedin

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Teams usually say things don't change much when the opposition gets another player back. But the Los Angeles Kings fully acknowledged the possible addition of Daniel Sedin to the Vancouver Canucks.

"He was an Art Ross [Trophy winner] for scoring," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "Wouldn't that make a significant change if we could put a player like that back in our lineup? It's going to be significant to theirs, too."

Sedin was expected to join Vancouver for practice Tuesday afternoon and it was not yet known if he would play in Game 4 on Wednesday. He has been out for almost a month since he was concussed by Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Sedin's absence is a large reason why Vancouver is facing a 3-0 series deficit in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. Brother Henrik Sedin's game is based a lot on finding Daniel, and Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said that has forced other forwards to play out of their roles.

"It's not easy (to adjust)," Sutter said. "I don't know if you counter it, but you certainly make yourself aware and make sure the players are very aware of it and how much better they are together than apart."

Not only was Daniel Sedin the NHL's leading scorer last season, he has a particularly damaging history against the Kings. He had four goals and six assists in a six-game quarterfinals win against L.A. in 2010 and has 33 points in 40 regular season games against the Kings.

"They're tricky to play against," Rob Scuderi said. "No doubt about it. They put the puck in space so well with each other that you have to respect. We don't want to change anything, but it doesn't change the fact that they are hard to play against."

Scuderi and Willie Mitchell have been outstanding in forcing Vancouver to take shots from the perimeter. The Canucks had 41 shots in Game 3 but goalie Jonathan Quick didn't face much from between the circles or slot.
Scuderi said it's difficult defending both Sedins because they can't take away both at the same time.

"You can't do it because then you'd be cheating on your defensive system," he said. "Most likely, you'd be playing man-to-man. I haven't heard any team that's played straight up man-to-man for a while.

"I think the biggest thing is they play the puck with space, not necessarily to each other. They have an uncanny knack for knowing where each other is going to go, and go in space, and they certainly use it to their advantage. They create a lot of space for themselves."

Richardson cleared:
Brad Richardson was cleared to play and skated with the fourth line. Richardson underwent emergency appendectomy surgery last Monday.

"To be honest, I just kind of started (feeling well) the last three or four days," Richardson said. "When I came out I started doing some workouts again and getting on the ice, but for the first three or four days you feel [lousy] because of the anesthesia and you're really sore. As soon as you kind of get over that hump, three or four days, you feel really good. Today I felt the best, and I hope I feel even better tomorrow."

Richardson's return is timely because Kyle Clifford remains out with an upper-body injury. Andrei Loktionov, who filled in for Game 3, took a puck in the foot in the third period of that game and wore a non-contact jersey Tuesday.

Richards knows it can be done:
Mike Richards was part of a Philadelphia Flyers team that became the third team in NHL history to erase a 3-0 series deficit, in 2010 against the Boston Bruins.

Naturally, he knows that it's quite possible for Vancouver to pull it off. He wasn't eager to talk about it, though.

"I'm not going to go over that (2010) series," Richards said. "The situation that we're in, we'll take a step forward is something that I think we have to embrace. Even though they're going to come out hard we have to be ready for what they got, but we have to be ready to bring our game, too."

The Canucks actually have a solid history of erasing 3-1 series deficits, having done it in 1992 against the Winnipeg Jets, 1994 against the Calgary Flames and 2003 against the St. Louis Blues. This is the first time in Kings history they've had a 3-0 lead.

Pressed again how much he appreciates that it's possible, Richards said, "I have to appreciate the position that we're in right now, and not the position they're in."
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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 5:26 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Sedin to practice with Canucks on Tuesday

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Help could be coming for the Vancouver Canucks.

Leading scorer Daniel Sedin will join the team for a full practice Tuesday, the team announced. Sedin hasn't played since he sustained a concussion after being elbowed in the head by Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks on March 21.

Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said Monday that he did not know if Sedin will be available for Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against Los Angeles on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC). Vancouver is down 3-0 in the series.

"That won't be my decision," Vigneault said. "That's a medical decision. He's been skating now for a quite a few days. They feel that he's progressed real well and he's cleared to practice with the team. We'll have a better indication here in the next couple days."

Vancouver sorely misses Sedin, the NHL's leading scorer last season. It has scored four goals in three losses against L.A. and gone 0-for-14 on the power play. Vigneault is using Jannik Hansen in Sedin's place beside brother Henrik Sedin, but the offense hasn't materialized.

Daniel Sedin was thought to be returning for the start of the series. He skated with the team last week, but was believed to have had a setback. Vigneault wasn't certain Sedin would be available but acknowledged what it would mean.

"Obviously in the situation that we're faced with, for him to be back in our lineup would be a big boost," Vigneault said. "But we don't know so we'll see how it goes in the next little while here."

Vancouver players were upbeat at the news on a sunny off-day at their swanky hotel.

"If he happens to play and he's in the lineup, I assume that he's going to be relied on," Keith Ballard said. "He's going to be put in situations. He's probably going to play a good amount. We will rely on him if he's in the lineup."

Goalie Cory Schneider got a first-hand look at how his team has struggled in a 1-0 loss in Game 3 Sunday.

"Goals are hard to come by," Schneider said. "Getting a 30-goal guy and last year's Art Ross [Trophy] winner definitely couldn't hurt. We're still feeling good. We're not relying on a savior to come in and help us. But to get a player that caliber back would be a big boost for us."

Vigneault did not say whether Schneider would return in net for Game 4.
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Posted On Sunday, 04.15.2012 / 5:24 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Kings unfazed by goalie change

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – The Los Angeles Kings predictably didn’t have much reaction to the fact that they will see Corey Schneider in net Sunday night.

Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault announced Sunday afternoon that he is putting Schneider in for Roberto Luongo, whO played the first two games.

The announcement came fater the Kings morning skate on Sunday.

The Kings said it won’t matter much given that both goalies are fully capable. It likely makes for some more video preparation because Schneider has never played against L.A.

“Now that people are talking about him possibly going in, I’m sure we’ll watch some (film),” Drew Doughty said. “But … any goalie in this League is pretty similar. If you’re not getting traffic in front of him, if he’s seeing every shot on net, he’s going to see it. It’s pretty much the same mindset whether Schneider’s in or Luongo’s in.”

Schneider had the NHL’s second-best save percentage in the regular season (.937). But Luongo hasn’t done much to warrant getting pulled, a sentiment shared by at least one Kings player.

“That would be surprising to me [if they changed goalies],” Willie Mitchell said. “It would be really surprising. To be honest with you, I thought [Luongo’s] been their best player over the first two games of the series.”
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