So, first off: Daniel Sedin, the Vancouver Canucks star scorer, will not play Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series. Team coach Alain Vigneault confirmed it Wednesday morning in Vancouver after a team game-day skate.
Concussed on March 21, Sedin practised Monday for the first time with his teammates. Later on Monday, he had a recurrence of concussion symptoms, a headache, according to a Swedish report based on an interview with Sedin’s father, but Daniel skated again Tuesday, though after the main practice. He didn’t skate Wednesday.
Los Angeles has better luck. Jeff Carter, added at the trade deadline, but lost for the last five games to ankle injury, will play. “I’m good to go,” Carter said after the Kings’ game-day skate. Carter was the key spark to transform L.A. into a scoring force from a hapless bunch that barely could pot goals on an empty net.
With Sedin out, the Canucks are missing a man who scored 71 goals in the past two regular seasons (and nine in last spring’s 25 playoffs games). But with Sedin out recently, the Canucks won eight of nine down the stretch. Still, against L.A., goal scoring will likely be at a premium, so every man matters.
Former Canuck and current King Willie Mitchell suggested that Sedin’s absence could be a spark for Vancouver. (Indeed, after Chicago’s Duncan Keith elbowed Sedin’s head on March 21, the Canucks seemed to be jarred from a long slumber, and charged powerfully down the stretch.)
Mitchell evoked the picture of a “wounded dog,” one that is “much more dangerous.”
“It will motivate them,” Mitchell said of the missing Sedin.
Come the puck drop at about 7:40 p.m. PT, it will be intriguing to watch how hard the Kings come out, driving after the Canucks. On New Year’s Eve, the King invoked their inner Bruins and beat (and beat up) Vancouver 4-1. Of the teams’ four games this season, Dec. 31 was the only one decided by something other than one goal. The Kings did it by playing particularly physical - and the Canucks couldn’t convert on the power play.
Now, with the Canucks in a three-month power-play slump, and the ferocity of the playoffs at hand, and given what happened against Boston last June, the tenor of the first 10 minutes will be especially telling.
Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin is ready for thuggery.
“We’re not going to back down, we’ve got a physical team,” said Sedin. “We’ve been questioned all year long. We’ve shown we’re capable of playing in those games. I don’t see that being a factor.”
Playing hard is L.A.’s primary plan, said Kings defenceman Drew Doughty.
“I’m sure it’s going to be pretty physical. I know, us, that’s one of our main goals: right off the bat, we want to be the most physical team out there, the hardest working team. We’re going to make sure that they know that we have a good chance at winning this series.”
Scoring on L.A.’s Jonathan Quick, a likely Vezina candidate, will be difficult. During the game-day skate, among various drills, centre Ryan Kesler stood in front of an empty net, deflecting shots from the blueline by defenceman Aaron Rome.
“He’s pretty quick, not playing on words there,” said Kesler after the skate of Quick. “He’s agile, quick. He’s tough to beat. We’re going to have to get screens, get tips, jam the net, do anything possible.”
Let us leave the last word to Darryl Sutter, the Kings coach. He was particularly mum at a 10-minute press conference on Wednesday, revelations along the lines of, “It’s exciting to be in the playoffs.” We all know how Sutter helped turn the Kings around. Questions were asked about the composition of the Kings compared with the 2004 Flames, the underdog squad he helped lead to the Stanley Cup Final. Sutter also briefly mentioned his last game coaching in the NHL before his Kings job, a Game 7, first round, in 2006, when the favoured Flames choked, losing a 3-2 series lead when they went down against Anaheim in Game 7, in Calgary, 3-0.