Western Conference Quarter Final Game 1 Preview

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The time has come.

Today is the day you woke up glazed in the icky type of stress sweat unique to oft-tortured fans who root for perpetually cursed franchises, with the words "this year," on your lips. It’s the day you shave – for what you hope is the final time in several months. It’s the day you rush to the BCL to pick up a twenty-four pack, just to get you through the first period. From here on in, the hockey doesn’t just matter – it seems like it’s life or death. The hits are bigger, the goal celebrations become desperate, and the intensity turns up so many notches it embarrasses Subway Jared’s belt.

Yes, today marks the return of playoff hockey.

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On Wednesday, April 11th 2012 at 7:30 the puck will drop and the Canucks will host the Los Angeles Kings in the first game of what should be a tightly contested first round series. The Canucks will almost certainly be without their leading scorer, a huge blow, though they’ve proven they can win without him. For the Canucks it marks the first big-step towards ultimate redemption and immortality. Can the team win one more game than they won last season, or will Canucks fans wake up a year from now, yet again dripping wet and mumbling hopeful, incoherent nonsense: "this is it, this is finally the year"? We’ll find out over the next few months…

Click past the jump for the underlying numbers, key performers and more detailed game information.

Broadcast Info

Game Time: 7:30 PM PT

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Radio: Team 1040

The Setup

You know it’s the postseason when the manufactured hatred for the Canucks is being dialed up Nationwide. The Sportsnet stations in Calgary and Toronto are railing hard against the Canucks. Close to home though, the excitement of watching the best team in hockey play in mid-April and beyond is percolating, and will reach a boiling point in a few short hours.

The Canucks will have to begin the series without their best winger, as Vigneault has confirmed that Daniel will not play tonight. The Canucks, though, are no stranger to playing without Brother Daniel and were quite successful to close out the season in spite of his absence.  After that fateful game in Chicago, the Canucks went 8-1-0 and vaulted to the top of the league and a second consecutive Presidents Trophy. So there isn’t any real need to panic, especially if the likes of Higgins, Burrows, Lapierre and Booth provide the scoring punch they managed to down the stretch.

Of course, it would sure help if Ryan Kesler got on his horse and stampeded his way to the net in this series. There is no denying that Kesler has had an off year, plummeting to 4-year lows in goals, assists, points, penalty minutes, and shooting percentage (though that last one was expected, and is reasonable). Maybe he has been conserving energy. Or maybe he hasn’t really recovered from hip labrum surgery last summer…

Whatever the reason, Game 1 will tell us a lot about the state of Kesler’s game. With the addition of Samme Pahlsson, Kesler’s second line has been freed up again to provide much needed offense. The fate of the Canucks may rest on the ability of Kesler and his line to exploit bad line match-ups and get this team going.

As for the Kings, this is not the same team that the Canucks knocked out in 2010. Hell, this isn’t even the same team that started this year. A new coach has got this team playing some incredibly regimented hockey, and a newly added forward has sparked the team with some much needed offensive punch. Better yet, they jettisoned a problematic defenceman in a clear case of addition by subtraction and are now virtually impossible to score on. All that being said, in their only meeting since the trade deadline, the Canucks out-Kinged the Kings with a 1-0 shutout victory. The Canucks and Kings are both prepared and well-suited to win low-scoring games.

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I hope Canucks fans are ready to bear down and stay up for some late, late hockey, because there promises to be some lengthy overtime games between the Canucks and Kings. Let’s just hope that it’s EXCITING late hockey (and that the Canucks win, of course). 

Game Notes

Roberto Luongo starts for the Canucks… and Daniel Sedin does not. Most likely we’ll see Raymond bump into Daniel’s spot, Lapierre replace Raymond on the second line, while Zack Kassian and Byron Bitz skate with Manny Malhotra on the team’s fourth forward line.

For the Kings, Jeff Carter is likely to return after suffering a bone bruise on his ankle, however, Brad Richardson is out indefinitely after having an appendectomy. Andrei Loktionov was called up and will likely draw into the lineup. Simon Gagne and Scott Parse will not play in this series.

Keys Performers

Los Angeles Kings

Jonathan Quick and Drew Doughty.

Quick has certainly had a Vezina-worthy season, but his playoff performances have left a lot to be desired. This spring he’sis another year older, another year more experienced, and another year more prepared to handle the pressures and rigors of playoff hockey. Quick has played a LOT of hockey this year though, so the key for Quick tonight is his stamina, especially if this game goes long.

As for Doughty, he can be a game changer, for better and for worse worse. He could very easily be the best defenceman in this series, but he could also take a string of completely stupid penalties. He needs to keep that hot-temper in check and concentrate on shutting down the twins, while dominating the puck. If Doughty loses the plot tonight, he will be handing the Canucks a huge advantage. A big game from both Quick and Doughty is the key to a Kings win tonight.

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Vancouver Canucks

Roberto Luongo and Samme Pahlsson. Luongo loves playing the Kings, as I pointed out yesterday. And he loves Game 1’s, so we fully expect that Bobby Lu will have a strong game tonight. The key for Luongo though is to hold his team in the game long enough for them to break through on Jonathan Quick. Goals will be hard to come by in this series, so it’s vital that Luongo holds on to let his team get a lead.

Pahlsson could very much be Luongo’s best friend in the "holding off the Kings until the Canucks get the lead" department. Pahlsson and his linemates had a VERY strong game against the Kings in late March, and did exactly what many are expecting them to do in this series: shut down Kopitar and his linemates. With Pahlsson and Luongo keeping the Kings at bay long enough for the Canucks to grab a lead, Vancouver can take Game 1.

The Links

Here are your top 5 links for today’s game:

  1. Tale of the Tape (Vancouver Canucks)
  2. Canucks vs. Kings gameday: NHL playoffs Round 1, Game 1 (The Province)
  3. Canucks’ Luongo under microscope for NHL Playoffs (The Province)
  4. Daniel Sedin will not play in game one versus the Kings  (Pass it to Bulis)
  5. Canucks ready for another Stanley Cup run (CBC Sports)