Los Angeles Kings head coach Darryl Sutter is a delightfully old-school fellow which, among other qualities, allows him to cut to the heart of the matter when he wants to.
The Sutter-led Calgary Flames unexpectedly knocked out the first-place Vancouver Canucks in the opening round of the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs – and now his Kings are on the brink of doing the same in 2012.
But, according to Sutter, “they don’t give you nuthin’ for winning three.” And that droll observation nicely sums up a best-of-seven series the Kings lead 3-0, but which potentially faces a new wrinkle.
Injured Canucks forward Daniel Sedin [concussion]is joining the team in time for Tuesday afternoon’s practice and if all goes well, he might be a candidate to play in Wednesday’s pivotal fourth game.
“A player with this type of injury, you have to be healthy and ready to go,” coach Alain Vigneault cautioned. “That’s a decision that he and the doctors will make together.”
Sedin’s return is not a sure thing. Nor is it certain what he might contribute, after nearly a month on the sidelines, if he does play.
Vancouver finds itself in a hole, not because of its goaltending issues or its perceived lack of toughness or even because defenceman Alexander Edler is struggling to meet his considerable potential.
The Canucks are behind because they cannot score, and they cannot score largely because their most-talented goal-scorer – Daniel Sedin – isn’t playing. This has a spillover effect on Henrik Sedin, a playmaker extraordinaire, who isn’t having the same luck setting up his current linemates as he does when his twin brother is patrolling the wing.
The Kings are Vancouver’s match defensively, even with all hands on deck. (That’s what happens when you boast a Vézina Trophy candidate in goal (Jonathan Quick) and a high-end defenceman (Drew Doughty) with the proven ability to raise his game in pressure situations.)
On paper, Vancouver’s primary edge was it has more difference makers up front; and if every game was going down to the wire, that should tilt the balance slightly in its favour.
So far, it’s gone the opposite way. Los Angeles is producing all the key offensive plays with the game on the line (Mike Richards in the first game, and Dustin Brown in the last two).
Daniel Sedin led the Canucks in power-play scoring in each of the past two seasons. Thus far, the Canucks are 0-for-14 with the man advantage. Can anyone connect the dots?
But that’s the reality of the 2012 NHL playoffs – a.k.a. The Concussion Games – where good health is as important as systems and momentum and all the other factors analysts love to dwell on.
At the 2012 trade deadline, the Canucks determined they needed to tweak the roster to add toughness and defence. The cost of adding Zack Kassian and his considerable potential was centre Cody Hodgson, who was providing decent offence in a supporting role.
Vigneault used to refer to the second power play as “Cody’s group” with Henrik Sedin anchoring the No. 1 unit. With Daniel Sedin out and the Canucks wondering where the next goal was coming from, perhaps Hodgson would have made a difference.
Of course, the ethic of professional hockey is such that injuries are never permitted to be an excuse or used as an explanation.
The Canucks took a maintenance day Monday at their beachfront hotel, with only handful of players meeting the press in the early afternoon. One of them was Samme Pahlsson, who thought Daniel Sedin’s return could provide a boost, but shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a cure-all either.
“He’s our leading scorer and we want him out there, but we should be able to score some goals without him too,” Pahlsson said.
So the Canucks seized on history and team captain Henrik Sedin made a defensible point after last Sunday’s loss: That one year ago, in an opening-round playoff series, Vancouver allowed the Chicago Blackhawks to overcome a 3-0 deficit and ultimately needed an overtime goal in Game 7 to advance.
In the age of NHL parity, the historical long odds – only three teams in history have ever come all the way back from being down 3-0 – may not mean as much as it once did. It happened as recently as 2010, when the Philadelphia Flyers rallied to eliminate the Boston Bruins.
Vigneault did not soft-sell the odds.
“I don’t think our guys are discouraged, but, obviously, we’re faced with a huge challenge,” he said.
“I thought the last two games, we’ve executed well, but it’s a results-driven business and we’re not scoring. Our goaltenders, both of them, have given us a chance in all three games to win but you need to score goals – and we’re not doing that right now.”