The last time the Vancouver Canucks were up against a Darryl Sutter-coached team in the playoffs, they saw their season end in the first round of 2004 when Calgary Flames forward Martin Gelinas scored 85 seconds into overtime in the seventh and deciding game.
Facing the Flames proved to be a nightmare matchup for the Canucks eight years ago, and we get a sense that Sutter's Los Angeles Kings will be no pushover in the first round this spring, even though the Kings required 81 games to lock up a playoff spot.
A couple pro scouts we enlisted to discuss the Canucks-Kings matchup see similarities between not only this Los Angeles team and the 2003-04 Flames, but also with the Stanley Cup-champion Boston Bruins. Of course, we know how dominant the Bruins were in their four victories over the Canucks 10 months ago.
"You have to start in goal when you're talking about the Kings," one of the scouts said. "Jonathan Quick is a lot like Tim Thomas in the sense that he has an unorthodox style. He's tough to prepare for. He doesn't have tendencies in the way you can pick out tendencies with more technical goalies."
The 26-year-old Quick led the league in shutouts with 10 this season. He was fifth in wins at 35, fifth in save percentage at .929 and second in goals against at 1.95.
Kings tough to score on
Plenty has been made about the Kings' lack of offensive punch. They were the only one of the 16 playoff teams to score fewer than 200 goals, finishing with 196. But the Kings prevent goals. They were second behind the St. Louis Blues in goals against, and the Canucks weren't exactly an offensive juggernaut late in the season.
"I know the Canucks won a lot of close, low-scoring games in the second half, but their offence simply was not been as powerful as last year," said another scout. "Their three big players, [Henrik and Daniel Sedin] and [Ryan] Kesler, were not as prolific.
"When they lost to the Bruins in the final last year, a lot of fingers were pointed at [Roberto] Luongo. But the bottom line was they scored eight goals in seven games. This was the league's top offensive team, but they couldn't score when it mattered most.
"They have to be better offensively when confronted by a top defensive team. They have to score early and build some confidence. Otherwise, the frustration will build during the series against the Kings."
Daniel Sedin ready to return?
Since the Feb. 27 trade deadline, the Canucks have averaged only 2.1 goals per game (23rd in the NHL) and even though they finished the regular season with eight wins in nine outings without a concussed Daniel Sedin, Vancouver scored just 2.5 goals per game while playing eight of the nine games against non-playoff teams.
It appears that Daniel Sedin will be ready to play this week. He practiced on Monday and took a regular turn with his linemates Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows.
"This line has to lead Vancouver offensively," said one of scouts. "But will Mike Richards get under the Sedins' skin like other top defensive forwards have in the past?
"This Kings team is strong down the middle with [Anze] Kopitar, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll. They're all good face-off men. They start with the puck, and I've been real impressed with Kopitar this year. He's a heck of a competitor.
"San Jose would have been a better matchup. But the Canucks can prove that they learned a lesson from the final last year when they face a good defensive team in a bruising and physical series."
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