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Round 2
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Stanley Cup Final
POSTED ON Friday, 04.13.2012 / 6:04 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Canucks will let their play speak for them

VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks are pledging to let their play do the talking the rest of the Western Conference Quarterfinals after admitting their mouths got too involved during a Game 1 loss to Los Angeles.

Vancouver engaged in a lot of post-whistle activity in the series opener on Wednesday night, spending so much time trying to get the Kings off their game that it took away from theirs instead. It was uncharacteristic of a team that preached discipline and a whistle-to-whistle focus all season -- and looked more like the one that lost track of both en route to a loss in the Stanley Cup Final against Boston last year.

"We need to stay away from it," Ryan Kesler said. "We haven't been doing it as much all year and with the excitement of playoffs we got caught up a little too much in it. We need to stick to our game plan, which is whistle to whistle."

Kesler was in the middle of a lot of it with Game 1 hero Mike Richards, who had a goal and two assists in the 4-2 win. While Kesler's two assists represented his first multi-point game since Dec. 26, the focus after was more on his post-whistle antics, the snow shower on Kings goalie Jonathan Quick that started a run of three straight penalties, and a couple of apparent embellishments.

Coach Alain Vigneault hinted while talking with reporters on Thursday that it would be discussed before Game 2. It sounded Friday morning like Kesler got the message.

"When the excitement of playoffs is here, and the real season starts you're going to try get any advantage," Kesler said, "But we got caught up in it."

The Canucks also got caught up trying to be a bit too physical, which led to some of the Kings' eight power plays -- and two power-play goals. But Vigneault and Kesler both warned they couldn't back off too much.

"We're going to keep hitting," Kesler said. "We can't play soft. We can't play timid. We'll kill penalties like that. It's the other ones we have to stay away from."

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POSTED ON Friday, 04.13.2012 / 5:42 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Keith Ballard set for return

VANCOUVER -- With all the attention on leading scorer Daniel Sedin's attempts to return from a concussion, Canucks defenseman Keith Ballard has been able to fly slightly under the radar in his own recovery from a head injury.

Not anymore.

"I guess you get thrown in the fire and see how you do," Ballard said after taking the morning skate on Friday in preparation to play Game 2 against the Kings.

It's a big ask of Ballard, who hasn't played in more than two months since coming out of the lineup Feb. 7. He was shut down completely for several weeks during that time after experiencing dizziness and headaches -- and sometimes sleeping 16 to 18 hours a day. But he's been skating since mid-March, rejoined the team later in the month and feels he's as ready as he can be to return.

"I know it's going to be fast, it's going to be intense and I'm ready for that," Ballard said. "From my perspective I've done everything I could physically and mentally to prepare so I go from there. My legs feel great. My skating feels great. It's just a matter of putting it all together. It's not psyching yourself up, the building and the atmosphere and what's at stake gets you emotionally ready. It's the mental part that is a huge part of hit, getting your mindset right."

Ballard has battled the mental side since coming to the Canucks two summers ago. He never became the top-pair defenseman Vancouver touted when they traded Michael Grabner and a first-round pick to Florida as part of a five-player package to acquire him on the eve of the 2010 NHL Draft. But he remains a great skater, and after struggling to recover from offseason hip surgery and another concussion last season was playing well before getting hurt in February.

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault hopes his ability to skate the puck out his own end pays off against a Kings forecheck that pinned them in the Vancouver zone several times.

"Skate and move the puck, make smart decisions and a bit of a physical side, that's the strength of my game so that's what I gave to do," Ballard said. "If I play to my capabilities, I definitely think I can make a positive impact."

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POSTED ON Friday, 04.13.2012 / 4:57 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Canucks' Ebbett eager to offer versalitity, stay healthy

Vancouver Canucks forward Andrew Ebbett couldn't help but cringe a little when he watched Washington star Alexander Ovechkin collide with Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg while watching the playoffs on television Thursday night.

It was eerily similar to his impact with the sturdy Bruins blueliner on Jan. 7, a ferocious hit that broke Ebbett’s collarbone badly in two places.

So seeing a similarly explosive collision on the eve of making his own playoff debut brought back memories for Ebbett, who will replace the suspended Byron Bitz for Game 2 against the Los Angeles Kings on Friday night.

“It definitely reminded me of the hit for sure, just seeing the impact these two had,” Ebbett said. “It brings back memories from when he hit me.”

Ebbett still has a four-inch plate and nine screws in his shoulder and a jagged scar across the front of his collarbone from two fractures the surgeon in Boston called the worst he’d seen. So the fact he’s back for the playoffs after working to return for the final four games of the regular season, means that much more.

“I had doubts the first two weeks when I was in bed and on the couch but once I got here and in the gym and talking to doctors and trainer we knew this was our goal and it's nice to achieve it,” Ebbett said.

Ebbett will take the place of Bitz, who received a two-game suspension for driving Kyle Clifford face first into the boards in Game 1, on the fourth line. But the versatile Ebbett could also see some second unit power-play time, and with five goals in just 18 games this season, adds another scoring touch.

More than anything, he’s just happy to be back after a regular season that also included missing more than a month after breaking his foot while blocking a shot against the Kings on Nov. 10, a game in which he also scored.

“It's been a long year, it’s been a little frustrating at times, but those three months of working the gym and rehabbing, this is what I’ve been working for to get back to here,” he said. “I’m going to play as well as I can to hopefully stay in.”

And stay healthy for a change.

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POSTED ON Friday, 04.13.2012 / 4:00 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Sutter still wants more from Kings' Penner

Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter didn't sound overly impressed with Dustin Penner, who scored the winner late in Game 1 against the Canucks on Wednesday.

So the chances of Penner being back up on the second line with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to start Game 2 of Western Conference Quarterfinals on Friday night may be slim. Penner’s promotion had more to do with a rotation that started when forward Kyle Clifford was knocked out of the game, so don’t be surprised if rookie Dwight King is there with Penner back on the third line.

Sutter made it clear he needs more from the big, enigmatic Penner.

“He can be a whole lot better for all three periods,” Sutter said of Penner, who only scored seven goals in the regular season. “We’re talking about him because he scored one goal. If it’s just about scoring I don’t think we’re going to beat this team 5-4 or 6-5. You have to be very good 200 feet, everywhere on the ice.”

Sutter did confirm forward Andrei Loktionov, who was called up from the American Hockey League when Brad Richardson needed an appendectomy Monday, would go in for Clifford. Clifford didn't play after having his head driven into the boards by Byron Bitz in Game 1. Bitz was given a two-game suspension Thursday.

“He’s pretty familiar with everything he needs to do," Sutter said of Loktionov, who played 39 games with the Kings this season, but will be making his NHL playoff debut. "He's pretty familiar with the players. The players are pretty familiar with him. He's pretty familiar with the system. He gives us some versatility.”

With the Canucks making changes in their lineup – Andrew Ebbett in for Bitz and defenseman Keith Ballard returning after missing two months with a concussion – and talking about needing to improve their discipline, their battle level and their power play, Sutter was asked what the Kings need to adjust.
 
Los Angeles outshot Vancouver 39-26 in Game 1, including a decisive 29-14 edge through 40 minutes, so maybe there’s not much to change.
 
“They don’t give up many opportunities five-on-five so you gotta to finish,” Sutter said. “I don't think you coach that. If you are creating your opportunities, you worked for your opportunities so the next part is reward your work.”

Here are the rest of the expected lines for the Kings in Game 2:

Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Dwight King - Mike Richards - Jeff Carter
Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis
Andrei Loktionov - Colin Fraser - Jordan Nolan
 
Rob Scuderi - Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Matt Greene - Alec Martinez
 
Jonathan Quick is back in goal, with Jonathan Bernier backing up.
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POSTED ON Friday, 04.13.2012 / 2:54 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Canucks make changes for Game 2, but D. Sedin unlikely

Daniel Sedin skated on his own an hour before the rest of the Canucks, but there was no update on his condition or possible return from a concussion for Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals series against Los Angeles on Wednesday night.

It seems unlikely that the Canucks get their leading goal scorer back, but they will have one player return from a concussion as they try an even the best-of-seven first round series against the Kings.

Keith Ballard, out since Feb. 7, will make his playoff debut in the hopes his ability to skate the puck out of trouble helps negate a Kings’ forecheck that had Vancouver pinned in its own end for prolonged periods. Aaron Rome appears to be the odd-man out on the back end based on the morning skate, with the Canucks expected to go back to the top-four pairings from last playoffs.

The Canucks will also use versatile forward Andrew Ebbett in place of Byron Bitz, who was suspended two games for the hit that knocked Los Angeles forward Kyle Clifford face first into the boards and out for at least Game 2, if not longer.

Ebbett, who will play on the fourth line at even strength, has also worked on the second unit power play and could help after the Canucks went 0-for-5 with the man advantage in s 4-2 loss Wednesday to the Kings.

Coach Alain Vigneault didn’t confirm it after the morning skate, but there’s also a good chance he switches up his top-six forward mix, dropping the ineffective Mason Raymond out of Daniel Sedin’s spot alongside Henrik Sedin and Alexandre Burrows. Maxim Lapierre, who is normally an agitating fourth-line center, had three goals and five points in four games on the top line, but started the playoffs on a struggling second unit with Ryan Kesler and David Booth.

Here is the projected lineup for the Canucks in Game 2:
 
Maxim LapierreHenrik SedinAlexandre Burrows
Mason RaymondRyan KeslerDavid Booth
Chris HigginsSamuel PahlssonJannik Hansen
Manny MalhotraAndrew EbbettZack Kassian
 
Dan HamhuisKevin Bieksa
Alexander EdlerSami Salo
Keith Ballard – Chris Tanev
 
Roberto Luongo is back in goal, with Cory Schneider backing up.
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POSTED ON Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 8:39 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Kings apologize for post-game tweet

The Los Angeles Kings were all a-Twitter on Thursday.

Unfortunately it had less to do with their Game 1 victory in Vancouver the night before, and more to do with a line that went out on the popular social media network afterwards.

Sent from the team's official Twitter account, @LAKings, shortly after the 4-2 win, it read: "To Everyone in Canada outside of BC, you're welcome," a reference to the Canucks perceived status as one of hockey's most hated teams.

The Kings quickly apologized Thursday morning.

"We encourage our digital team to be creative, interactive and to apply a sense of humor whenever possible," Mike Altieri, the Kings vice president of communications and broadcasting, said in a statement. "To anyone who found it offensive, we sincerely apologize."

Vancouver players dismissed it, saying they are used to the wearing the black hat ever since last year's run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final cast them in the villain's role -- even in Canada.

"You laugh about it a bit, but we're used to it," backup goalie Cory Schneider said. "Everyone's kinda doing that stuff to us, so it doesn't really bother us a whole lot. We have bigger, more important things to worry about than what their team is putting on Twitter."

Los Angeles players and coach Darryl Sutter also dismissed it for the most part, stressing that it didn't come from anyone in the locker room.

"It's irrelevant to the guys in the room," captain Dustin Brown said. "As players we're all smart enough to know bulletin board material at this time of the year is not a good idea and as players we all understand that. Maybe someone who is control of the Twitter feed needs to understand that as well."

As for perceptions of the Canucks, Brown said it should be considered a compliment.

"When you've been the best team the last two years, you automatically get the role of the most hated team," Brown said. "I mean you look at other sports, you look at the Yankees who have dominated baseball on and off, they are probably the most hated team in baseball. That goes with the territory of being the best."

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POSTED ON Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 8:31 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Bitz accepts responsibility for suspension

VANCOUVER -- Canucks forward Byron Bitz accepted responsibility for the dangerous hit that knocked both him and Los Angeles Kings forward Kyle Clifford out of Game 1 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series on Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-5 Canucks forward will have more time to think about after Brendan Shanahan, the NHL's Vice President of Player Safety, announced late Thursday that Bitz was suspended for two games for the dangerous hit.

"I don't feel very good about it," Bitz said before a phone hearing with Shanahan.

Clifford had his back to Bitz, who was skating along the goal line before planting his shoulder into the Kings' forward, driving his face hard into the boards. Bitz received a five-minute major for boarding, during which the Kings scored a goal, and a game misconduct. Clifford returned the bench during the ensuing power play but never got back on the ice and didn't return for the third period.

"I had no intention of targeting the head or injuring anybody," said Bitz, who has not been disciplined before. "That's not the way I play. It was an unfortunate play. The referees made the call and it cost our team a goal. It's my fault."

Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter said Clifford wouldn't play Game 2 on Friday.

"You guys know the old standard, 'upper-body injury,' and he's out," Sutter said.

"I don't want to not tell the truth. I'll just leave it at that"

As for who might take Clifford's place in the lineup with Brad Richardson already out after an appendectomy Monday, Sutter only joked he was, "talking to Bernie Nichols about it, but he doesn't know if he's quite game ready."

The candidates include big wing Kevin Westgarth and smaller center Andrei Loktionov, a top prospect who was sent down to the AHL in February because there was no room behind Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jarret Stoll and Colin Fraser.

"I have to be ready," Loktionov, a Russian, said in choppy English of possibly playing his first playoff game. "It's so much quickly than in season, everyone try to hit you. I have to keep my head up and keep move my feet. It's different."

The Canucks also have options to replace Bitz, including Dale Weise, who plays a similar physical role, and Andrew Ebbett, an undersized center who can also help on the second unit of a power play that was 0-for-5 in Game 1.

"I'd be kidding if I'd say we don't need the power play," coach Alain Vigneault said. "You need that as a weapon to make sure the other team stays honest on the ice and obviously our power play needs to be better. We have the personnel for it to be good. Right now they need to execute better."

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POSTED ON Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 7:44 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Richards steps up as leader for Kings

VANCOUVER -- How good was Mike Richards in his first playoff game for the Los Angeles Kings?

Forget scoring his team's first goal on a 5-on-3 power play, pouncing on a turnover to set up the go-ahead goal with 3:14 left or adding a third point by assisting on an empty-netter in the dying seconds of L.A.'s 4-2 Game 1 victory in Vancouver on Wednesday.

The true measure of Richards’ effectiveness came when Canucks coach Alain Vigneault was asked about his matchup with his own second-line center Ryan Kesler, who also happens to be the reigning Selke Trophy winner.
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POSTED ON Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 5:17 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Daniel Sedin doesn't skate again for Canucks

Vancouver forward Daniel Sedin was not on the ice Thursday.

He wasn’t alone.

It was an optional practice for both the Kings and Canucks after Los Angeles, with most of the top players taking the day off leading into Game 2 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series Friday night.

Still, with Sedin not skating for a second straight day it seems highly unlikely he will return to help Vancouver try and even the series after losing the opener 4-2 on Wednesday night. Out since March 21 with a concussion, there was optimism when Sedin practiced with the team Monday. But it faded when he skated with a small group after practice Tuesday, and stayed off the ice the next two.

Sedin, who won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s top scorer last season, led the Canucks with 30 goals and was second in points with 67 despite missing the final nine games of the regular season after an elbow from Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith, who was suspended five games for the hit.

As for an optional skate after losing an opener for first time in eight playoff series, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said areas of concern – and they had several, most notably an ineffective power play – would be address in meetings.

“Just felt it was the right thing to do to make sure our guys are ready for tomorrow,” Vigneault said of the off day for most. “We’re working on a lot of things right now, so you don’t need to worry about that.”
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POSTED ON Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 5:24 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Kings understand they must deal with frustrations

VANCOUVER -- Los Angeles center Anze Kopitar is preparing to be frustrated by the Canucks.

So is defenseman Drew Doughty, but the similarities end there.

Kopitar, the Kings' leading scorer, is expecting to see a lot of Samuel Pahlsson in the first round of the playoffs. He knows Vancouver's new checking center well from his time with rival Anaheim, where Pahlsson won a Stanley Cup in 2007 and established a reputation as one of the game's top shutdown pivots.

"He's a hard-working guy, all over the ice and one of the top guys shutting down," Kopitar said. "It's going to be tough to play against him, obviously."

It could very well be the key matchup between a Kings team that has relied heavily on its top line of late, and a Canucks team that altered its identity slightly by refocusing on the defensive end after acquiring Pahlsson at the deadline.

In addition to matching up against the opposition's best forwards, Pahlsson combined with Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen to provide steady offense, with eight goals and seven assists since they were reunited for the last 10 games of the regular season.

Coach Alain Vigneault called it his best line since then. It's the only one he hasn't tinkered with since top goal scorer Daniel Sedin was concussed on March 21.

"Our best line at both ends of the rink," Vigneault said. "They've generated and created and been on the score sheet, and defensively they have been reliable."

For all that Pahlsson does in that mix, talking is not among them. Unlike a lot of antagonizing checkers in the NHL, the quiet Swede lets his play do the talking.

"No, I haven't heard too much of him chirping on the ice," Kopitar said. "But he's certainly a guy that is in your face all the time, and he's one of the best shutdown guys in the League, and I am going to have to prepare myself for that."

Besides, the Canucks have plenty of other guys to do the chirping, something Doughty found out in their playoff meeting two years ago.

"There was a few times I got into it with [Alexandre] Burrows and took a few dumb penalties that took me off the ice," Doughty said. "I definitely learned from that."

His teammates and coaches at the time made sure of it. Doughty doesn't need another reminder as he tries to avenge that six-game loss in the first round.

"It's tough at times, but I can always get back at them during the play, make a big hit or a big stop or whatever it may be," he said. "That's what really matters."

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Playing for my favorite team growing up, I've probably scored that goal a million times in my driveway. It feels good to actually do it in real life.

— Dale Weise, who grew up a Canadiens fan, on scoring the overtime winner in Montreal's 5-4 victory against Tampa Bay in Game 1