Trailing in the series? That’s not the surprise.
The LA Kings were a preseason pick of many to win the Pacific Division and make noise in the Stanley Cup playoffs. So, the fact the Kings are leading the series shouldn’t be a huge shock to anyone’s system.
They’re a good team with a strong work ethic and they’ve been in playoff mode for months now. When the match-up was revealed, the Canucks knew they were going to be in for a battle. But no one in the hockey world could have forseen this – the Canucks on the verge of elimination just a week after the quest for the Cup began.
But that’s the reality facing the Canucks. And so the long, slow climb out of the 0-3 hole begins. The upside of the situation – and let’s be honest, there are few at this point – is the focus is narrowed to one game.
Nothing else matters.
Whatever else is going on around the hockey team is irrelevant. And that should allow all of the players to take stock of the situation and realize that each of them can do their job a little better.
Obviously it has to start with a goal. The Canucks need to find a way to get a puck past Jonathan Quick. They’ve sent lots of shots his way – 89 in the past two games. But it’s clear that simply getting the puck on net isn’t enough. It’s not a terrible strategy to throw pucks at the net. But the Canucks need to find a way to get some bodies there, too to make life tougher for the LA netminder.
Look at the four goals the Canucks have scored in the series so far: Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen and Samuel Pahlsson all banged or tipped pucks home from in front of the net and Alex Edler snapped one from well out, but with bodies blocking the view of the LA netminder. There is a common thread there. Get the puck to the net, but don’t send it on a solo mission. Support it with the cavalry. Redefine Los Angeles traffic and make the front of the net look to like a freeway during rush hour.
The Canucks have outshot the Kings 89-46 in the past two contests – a staggering 69-29 while five on five. So without question the shots have been there, but very clearly the goals have not. Alex Burrows & Mason Raymond (15 apiece) and Kevin Bieksa (13) are among the top eight shooters in these Stanley Cup playoffs. But that trio – Burrows with the series opener – has produced just one goal.
With their backs to the wall and facing a long off-season without a victory in Game 4, the Canucks have to learn from these first three games. They’ve been right there – tied or down just a goal -- in all three of them into the middle stages of the third period. They simply need someone, anyone to rise to the occasion and step into the scoring spotlight.
Ryan Kesler, David Booth, Chris Higgins, Mason Raymond, Henrik Sedin – possibly even Daniel Sedin. That’s 138 regular season goals from that group, not to mention a defense that chipped in with another 39. There are goals in those sticks.
But Wednesday night is not another night to throw pucks on goal and simply hope they find their way to the back of the net. Now is the time for guys like Kesler and Booth and Higgins and Burrows and Hansen to use brute force to fight their way to the front of the net, to take Kings defensemen with them if necessary and to win the battles needed when loose pucks are present.
It’s not a lot of fun to get hacked and whacked and there is certainly a price to pay for standing one’s ground in front of the goaltender. But whether it’s taking a stick to the leg or getting hit by the puck, the reward is the rare commodity that has eluded the Canucks in this series: goals.
An NHL sheet of ice is 200 feet by 85 feet, but the two prime pieces of real estate are the areas in and around the goal nets. Statistics show that’s where the bulk of scoring plays come from and that’s been the case for the Canucks in this series so far. Get there (and stay there) and good things can, and likely will, happen.
The Staples Center belongs to the Los Angeles Kings, but the Canucks have to find a way to own those key scoring areas on Wednesday night. If they do that, there’s every reason to believe this series will be extended and that there will be a Game 5 at Rogers Arena on Sunday.