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The Canucks are coming off of their belated first win of the postseason, way back on Wednesday night. That feels like ages ago, doesn’t it? Now that Chris Martin and his merry band or love-songster have cleared out of Rogers Arena, the games can recommence. On Sunday night the Canucks will try to make like the Bee Gees and stay alive in their preliminary round series against the Los Angeles Kings.
In game four the Canucks were buoyed by the return of leading scorer Daniel Sedin, and the calm competence of Cory Schneider – who has been excellent in his two starts so far this postseason. The club is still in a significant hole, down three games to one in the series and facing elimination, but there is some cause for optimism. The steadying presence of Schneider, the apparently rejuvenated power-play and Samme Pahlsson’s ability in game four to legitimately contain Anze Kopitar’s line is a winning recipe. Can the Canucks fend off the Kings and prolong their season Sunday night? That’s the big question.
Puck Drop: 5 PM PST
Television:CBC. Radio: The Team
Through four games in this quarterfinal series, the Kings have won the chance battle three times – so the hole the Canucks are in is well deserved. Despite that, the Kings only have one clear victory in the series, and their victories in games one and three were largely the result of lucky bounces, and Alex Edler’s habitual brain flatulence.
Nonetheless, the Canucks need Cory Schneider to be at the top of his game, and so far he’s been up to the task. In game four he held the Canucks in it through two periods, and made several key stops, none bigger than his save on Dustin Brown’s penalty shot with the game at 2-1 in the third period. Shortly thereafter the Canucks iced the game.
In his two starts this postseason, the Marblehead maven has pitched two quality starts, and is carrying a .969 save percentage. That won’t continue, and the Canucks are going to need to play attacking hockey and score some goals – but they still need Schneider to be excellent, especially since the penalty kill has struggled, and the Kings are the better five-on-five team.
The return of Daniel Sedin has given the Canucks attack some life, as they managed to beat Jonathan Quick three times on Wednesday night, and twice on the power-play. The power-play has been a dog’s breakfast for months, but they capitalized twice on Wednesday. The first goal was lucky but in the third period on Wednesday, the club put together a vintage Canucks power-play shift, generating five scoring chances and a goal to ice the game. If the Canucks can continue to generate pressure with the man-advantage, that’ll go a long way towards neutering the Kings physical game.
David Booth will again play with the twins this evening, while Ryan Kesler centers Alex Burrows and Maxim Lapierre – a line that could well be the leagues most annoying threesome. All three of those skaters are song-birds, and while Maxim Lapierre has been told to "shut up and play," it’s hard to imagine that group being able to contain themselves.
The third line, or the teams first checking unit, will again consist of Samme Pahlsson, Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen. Expect this trio to be hard-matched against Anze Kopitar’s group this evening. Their performance against this line is essential, if they’re successful at containing the Kings top-line, that means lots of Sedin shifts against Stoll’s line and that’s not a favourable matchup for the Kings.
Mason Raymond, whose performance all season has left much to be desired, will draw out of the lineup this evening. Vancouver’s fourth line will consist of two rookies: Zack Kassian and Dale Weise, and the two bruising wingers will be centered by defensive zone face-off specialist Manny Malhotra.
On defense, the Canucks will roll with the same pairings they used on Wednesday. Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis will soak up the most difficult minutes, Alex Edler and Sami Salo will round out the top four, and Keith Ballard and Chris Tanev will play on a speedy third pairing. With the exception of Alex Edler – who has struggled this series – the defense has been rock solid five-on-five, and Vancouver will need that to continue this evening.
For the Kings, Willie MItchell has been the stand out blueliner, and has teamed up with young Russian puck mover Slava Voynov to successfully turn pucks in the other direction all series long. The more important matchup for the Kings is Drew Doughty and Rob Scuderi against the Sedin twins and David Booth. The twins and Booth managed to create space and generate chances on Wednesday night, while the Kings top pairing struggled. They’ll need to be better this evening.
Cory Schneider – Schneider’s calming presence, and dominant athleticism has given the Canucks hope in the series. He’ll need to continue to out-duel Jonathan Quick (a tall order) for the Canucks to have a chance tonight. Vancouver has been bleeding chances against while short-handed, and Schneider’s stalwart goaltending was undoubtedly the difference on Wednesday night. The Kings are out-chancing Vancouver’s side, and if the Canucks are going to be manage to pull a historic comeback in this series, Schneider needs to continue to be dynamite.
Anze Kopitar – Kopitar is an elite NHL forward, but he isn’t often talked about as such, probably due to a lack of postseason success thus far in his career. I suspect that’ll change this Spring, as Kopitar has been outrageously good in this series. If Kopitar can come out of the gate firing, and pulverize the Pahlsson line as he managed to in game one, he’ll force Vigneault to hard-match Ryan Kesler against L.A.’s top line which, negates the Canucks preferred deployment strategies.
Finally, check out this pump-up video from Samir Javer, if this doesn’t get you hyped for game 5 you’re… Not human.