It may pain them to do so, but when it comes to inspiration after losing the first two playoff games on home ice, the Vancouver Canucks need look no further than the team that bullied them into submission to win the Stanley Cup in June, the Boston Bruins.
That’s right, Vancouver’s new rival can now be looked upon as a role model, a team that recovered from the same hole the Canucks now find themselves in their Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Los Angeles Kings -- and the Bruins went on to hoist the Cup after falling behind two-zip to Montreal.
Boston also dropped the first two in the Final in Vancouver before winning four of the last five. Of course they also proved to be a better team than the Canucks in that Final.
Maybe that explains why players looked elsewhere for inspiration.
“We are not going to do everything the same way as last year, cruise to the Stanley Cup Final,” defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. “We are going to make it interesting. Last year we were up three against Chicago and then we let them come back. This year we will spot them a couple and see what happens.”
Vancouver nearly blew that 3-0 lead over the Blackhawks in the first round before needing overtime in Game 7 to advance, eventually to the Final.
Coach Alain Vigneault wasn’t interested in history, however.
“I’m not going to give you a rundown of all the teams that have come back in the past and da-de-da because that would be standing up here and trying to be real positive,” he said. “Reality is we’re down by two and we got to win [Game 3 on Sunday]. That's it. All the other stuff doesn't matter.”
Maybe that’s because a lot of that other stuff doesn’t bode well for a Canucks team facing at least five good reasons it will be tough to secure four more wins:
1) THE NHL’s WORST BEST POWER PLAY: There will be no shortage of talk about the ongoing absence of leading goal scorer Daniel Sedin, who did not travel with the team to Los Angeles on Saturday. But the reality is Vancouver’s power play problems started long before Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith concussed the Canucks’ leading goal scorer and last year’s NHL scoring champion Sedin with an elbow on March 21. On top of the League by a wide margin through early January, the Canucks slump started almost immediately after going 4-for-11 to win the Cup rematch in Boston on Jan. 7. They finished fourth in the NHL, but are just 10-for-130 since, a 12.3 per cent success rate that ranks well below the worst power play in the League.
In addition to being 0-for-10 through two games against Los Angeles, they gave up two shorthanded goals to the Kings in Game 2. Despite not having Daniel Sedin the last nine games of the regular season, the Canucks were still experimenting with new combinations at practice Saturday, and a lack of cohesion that cost them the night before.
“We can’t expect to score every time but we’ve got to gain some momentum for us and we did the opposite,” Captain Henrik Sedin said.
2) TOUGH TO PUSH AND BE PATIENT: Vancouver’s lack of scoring against the Kings extends beyond the power play, and even this series. Since Darryl Sutter took over as the coach in Los Angeles mid-season, the Canucks are just 1-3-1 and have only managed to score eight goals in those five games. Further complicating things is the Kings’ stifling style, which can punish impatience if you try to force things, and create odd-man rushes the other way.
“They're a very stingy team, they don’t give up a lot so it's very important to stick to our game plan and not try to overdo things and when the opportunities arise make sure we try to capitalize,” forward Manny Malhotra said.
It may be easier to say than do, especially if they fall behind in Game 3.
3) KINGS BETTER THAN AN EIGHT SEED: For all the focus on the Kings’ above-mentioned defensive play, the discussion about their offense has been largely misdirected. It centered largely on finishing 29th in goals this season, and not on averaging more than three a game after acquiring Jeff Carter in a pre-deadline blockbuster. That’s more than half a goal better per game than the Canucks over that same stretch, and despite stereotypes the Kings sit back and defend, they have become much more aggressive under Sutter, with a lot more puck possession and a forecheck that is causing the Canucks defense fits.
"I'm sure people aren't going to be expecting us to score goals but I know in here we all think differently," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said.
4) TWO NOT BETTER THAN NO.1 IN GOAL: Vigneault wouldn’t confirm it until he told the goaltenders themselves, but there is growing speculation the Canucks could change things up between the pipes, with impressive second-year backup Cory Schneider taking over for Roberto Luongo in Game 3. Schneider finished second in the NHL with a .937 save percentage, and despite the fact Luongo has actually been very good the first two games, especially Game 1, there is a sense the Canucks may not want to try that change before it is too late.
“We haven't given him a lot of help on a lot of these goals and kind of hanging him out to dry on a few of them,” Schneider said of Luongo. “It's not my decision. Maybe give the team a new look, shake up the team.”
It won’t matter if neither goalie can best Kings’ crease counterpart Jonathan Quick, who made 46 saves in Game 2 and is coming off a Vezina Trophy-worthy regular season.
“Give him credit, he was real good,” Vigneault said.
5) ROAD RECORD WON’T MEAN MUCH IN L.A.: Vancouver had the best road record in the Western Conference at 24-12-5 in the regular season, and finished second only to Philadelphia in the entire NHL. The Kings were just ninth in the West and 19th in the League at home at 22-14-5. But with Game 3 just hours after the Lakers play at Staples Center on Sunday, the ice could be soft, and the speed advantage the Canucks forwards were supposed to enjoy in this series – and it has been evident at times -- will be largely negated.