Checkmate: Kings eliminate Canucks; move on to 2nd round for first time since 2001
The odds were on Vancouver's side, but the fates favored the Kings.
After winning the President's Trophy for the second year in a row, it seemed possible for the Canucks to make another deep Cup run. After all, they were 60 minutes from taking it all last year, losing 5-2 in the Cup Final vs. the Bruins.
The Canucks made some trades and decisions over the summer that made the difference in the late season. German defenseman Christian Ehrhoff - who put up 50 points for Vancouver in 2010-11 - was allowed to become a UFA last summer; he signed with the Buffalo Sabres. The Canucks also traded away Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm to the Florida Panthers, and received David Booth, Steven Reinprecht, and a 2013 Draft pick in exchance. At the trade deadline, they sent promising rookie Cody Hodgson and Alexander Sulzer to Buffalo for Zach Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani.
After going 6-7-1 to open their season, the Canucks found their footing and eventually moved up through the Western Conference standings, before closing out the standings atop the West, and the league. They split their season series with the Kings, including taking their final game, 1-0, at home in Vancouver.
The Kings have won their division just once (1990-91) and made it as far as the Stanley Cup Finals just once (1992-93). Despite that, the team has been to the playoffs multiple times, including each of the past three seasons. This is the first time of the past three seasons that the Kings have made it out of the Quarterfinals round, after being knocked out by the Canucks in 2010 and the Sharks in 2011, and the first time since the Kings beat the heavily favored Red Wings in 2001. They led this year's series vs. the Canucks 3-0, and closed it out 4-1.
Los Angeles is one of the younger teams in the NHL; the team has been coming together over the past few seasons. Over the past couple years, the team has acquired some very good players such as Simon Gagne, Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter through trade or free agency. Coupled with an airtight goaltender in Connecticut native Jonathan Quick - and a very skilled backup in Jonathan Bernier - the Kings have become a force to reckon with in the Western Conference, among a highly competitive Pacific division.
Vancouver led game 5 early with a PPG by Henrik Sedin in the first period. It took most of the game for the Kings to tie it up with a Brad Richardson goal early in the third. It became a battle of the goalies, Cory Schneider vs. Jonathan Quick, to push the game into OT. It's interesting to note that Schneider and Quick's history stretches all the way back to high school, when the two battled against one another in New England prep schools. Ultimately, however, the Kings were victorious when Jarret Stoll's shot it top shelf over Schneider.
Last season, the Canucks had been up 3-0 in their Quarterfinal series vs. Chicago, when the Blackhawks turned around their performance and pushed them all the way to game 7. A clearing attempt by Chicago defenseman Chris Campoli led to a turnover and a goal by Vancouver that won them the series. The Canucks must have felt a sense of deja vu as this year, sd they were the team down 0-3, and this time, it was a turnover by their own defenseman, Dan Hamhuis, that led to a 2-on-1 and the Stoll goal.
The Canucks were gracious in defeat, with their coach, Alain Vigneault, stating after the game, "You've got to give credit to the Kings. They played a real great series, a real tough opponent, played strong hockey, made the strong plays on the ice and, at the end of the day, they deserved to win." Daniel Sedin said, "They played clean and honest and the way they played, they deserved to win."
The Kings will play the St. Louis Blues in the second round. Like the Kings, the Blues eliminated their first-round opponent, the San Jose Sharks, in just five games. Both teams have outstanding goaltending - while Quick led the league in shut outs with 10, the Blues' goalies combined for 15 - Brian Elliott notched 9, while Jaroslav Halak had 6. Neither team is considered an offensive powerhouse - not in the way that fellow Western Conference teams like the Blackhawks or Red Wings are - but both teams have 3 players that broke the 50-point mark this season, and LA center Anze Kopitar was among the top scorers in the league at 76 points.
LA swept the Blues during their regular season series. Three of the wins were 1-goal wins, including a shootout win in Los Angeles in late March. Neither team has seen the Western Conference Finals for many years: LA since 1993; St. Louis since 2001. All three teams in the West which have already punched their tickets for the second round have never won a Stanley Cup; if the Coyotes can get past the Blackhawks, it will make four, and it will be a landmark playoff season in the West.
Only 4 of the 8 second-round teams have been determined so far. In the West, the only teams still battling it out are the Blackhawks and Coyotes. In the East, the Senators and Panthers both have 3-2 leads over the Rangers and Devils; the Bruins and Capitals are headed to a game 7. Playoff dates for the next round will be determined once the remaining second-round teams have been finalized.