LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 18: Henrik Sedin #33 of the Vancouver Canucks scores a goal for a 3-1 lead past Jonathan Quick #32 of the the Los Angeles Kings and Willie Mitchell #33 during the third period at Staples Center on April 18, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
This is one of those games. You've likely heard every possible cliche before you've had a refill on your coffee. The Canucks have to win or they're eliminated. You can't get simpler than that. They're in a pretty good place right now for a team with their season on the line. Getting healthier, their best player back in the lineup, back at home and a history of coming through in this particular situation, the Canucks are confident they can send this series back to LA for a chance to knot it up and wrestle home ice advantage back from the Kings. They're loose, still having fun and not being distracted by the kinds of controversies that would cripple other teams? Fortunately, and at the same time sadly that sounds like just another day at the office for the Canucks. What's going to be the key to a Canucks win to force a Game 6? Could they have gotten an extra bit of motivation last night?
One thing's for sure: The Los Angeles Kings will be going hard after the Sedins tonight. Daniel and Henrik were instrumental in the win, reigniting a long-stagnant power play, with Daniel looking like he hadn't just come off a near month-long battle with a concussion. The Canucks top line took over the game in the 2nd period of game 4 and with that renewed focus, it could open the door for some other slumbering giants to awaken. Ryan Kesler, Chris Higgins and Mason Raymond need to step up tonight as leaders of the offensive core. I know that given his play in this series Raymond sticks out like a sore thumb there, but we need to see something from him other than a series of wasted offensive rushes that end with him spinning helplessly into the corner on his backside. Chris Higgins was an absolute revelation in last year's playoff run and had himself a hell of a season when he was healthy. His silence so far in the playoffs needs to end if the Canucks want to move forward. And Ryan Kesler? Well the Guzzler's slowly been garnering steam, and is due for an explosion of epic proportions. I'd love to see his detractors eat a nice, steaming plate of crow served up Keslord style tonight.
Goaltending. You can't win a Cup without it. And despite what some would have you believe, the Canucks are sitting pretty darn good in that department, too. Roberto Luongo didn't play his way out of this series, and anyone who tries to tell you that's a troll or a fool. No, that distinction hangs on the heads of his teammates. Either way, this series is now resting on the shoulders of Cory Schneider. Is that even fair? Probably not. The Canucks have gotten goaltending good enough to win every game, they just took an agonizingly long time to start breaking down LA's defence and penalty kill. There's so much talk about the Canucks looking to ship Luongo out this summer, but the possibility that they're showcasing Schneider simply cannot be ruled out. Roberto Luongo has done pretty much everything asked him, professionally and personally. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who could handle this situation with the kind of grace he has. It sucks we even have to discuss such ridiculousness when the focus should be elsewhere.
The pressure's starting to swing towards the other end of the scale now, and it's the young Kings under the microscope, forced to try and close out a series they couldn't get done at home. It was 2 years ago that a Kings team coughed up a 2-1 series lead to the Canucks, losing it in 6 games. After playing well in the first part of the series, Jonathan Quick gave up 17 goals in the last 3 games. One has to wonder if he's revisiting those days in his head. It certainly looked a little more like what we expect in this matchup during game 4.
Not to take anything away from Nashville, but given the Red Wings performance in the playoffs of late, how much of that series was Predators' domination and how much was more of the same from Detroit? I have a feeling that the Wings weren't coming out of the first round regardless of opponent... Did Jonathan Toews give the Canucks a little extra motivation last night? Sure Captain Seriouspants salvaged his team's season in a serious way (ugh, sorry...) but it also provided a glimmer of hope for a matchup that could definitely salvage the potential ratings nightmare of a St. Louis/Los Angeles and Phoenix/Nashville Western Conference snooze fest. Please, oh please hockey gods, I implore thee: help guide us to victory so that we may slay that bloody dragon one more time, and shove the fist of righteousness down Duncan Keith's scummy throat (legally, of course). So with Detroit and San Jose out (hey, how did those late season wins work out for you? Are we going to hear interviews this summer how you know in your heart of hearts you should have won? Bah!), the attention turns to two more teams who could be gone before the Canucks and Kings drop the puck tonight. The Philadelphia Flyers look to once again close out the Pittsburgh Penguins and it all comes down to one man: Ilya Bryzgalov. If the Bryz can just turn in one decent game, this series is over. The Penguins have been a hot, overrated mess and it's been Bryzgalov's poor play that's kept them hanging around. He keeps his humangous big 5 hole shut and Philly moves on to the next round. Up next, we have the defending Cup Champians, who much like the spelling on Marshmont's tattoo, are not quite right. The Little Ball Of Scum notched his 1st points of the series in yesterday's win by the Caps, which is shocking enough. When you look at who hasn't contributed a lick of offence, it's even worse. Milan Lucic: 1 assist. Patrice Bergeron: 1 assist and now out for Game 6. Tyler Seguin: 0 points. The only Bruin to score more than 1 goal so far is Rich Peverly. Their power play's looked worse than the Canucks at times (and that's saying something) and they certainly aren't getting the same caliber of goaltending this year that they had last time. The Bruins will lose today, thus enabling Tea Party Tim to resume work on his bunker... Not a surprise, but no supplemental discipline for Ottawa's Chris Neil for his hit on the Rangers' Bryan Boyle last night. Despite John Tortorella's claims, the hit was legal in the eyes of the NHL, though the timing after Raffi Torres' jaw-dropper 25 game ban is sure to leave people as confused as ever. It's pretty much a given that Torres will file an appeal in the coming days, and I totally get that. It's not that he's disputing the crime, but the sentence itself. Between the length in regular season games (using the league standard of 2 reg. season games= 1 playoff game) and comparing other offenses, it looks more like a case of scapegoating than actually doing what was right. Look, I am not saying he deserved a slap on the wrist here. 20 games and I don't blink an eye. I know he's a repeat offender. I also know that if he's a star, we're discussing how light he got off, hell possibly even why he didn't get a suspension in the first place. This is where the NHL shoots itself in the foot. The failure to properly punish superstars when they cross the line is hurting the game, especially from the fans' point of view. Sure Alexander Ovechkin has been dinged a couple times, but what Evgeni Malkin? Is he any less a dirty player than Ovi? Why was Duncan Keith not a repeat offender, despite 3 previous incidents, the first in 2009 of blatant headshots? One thing we've been told is you can't blame Colin Campbell for not previously punishing players like Keith. Then why allow him the excuse of having a so-called 'clean record'? Yes, he should have been punished before. Instead of allowing that to work in his favour, that should have seen Brendan Shanahan come down harder on Keith. A statement that, despite not being suspended in the past, the player has shown a clear history of dangerous hits would be a welcome message to everyone concerned about player safety. Despite dishing out the worst hit of the year, Duncan Keith was on the ice, setting up the tying goal in last night's game. In a just world, he likely would have still been in the press box.
KICKASS METAL BATTLE HYMN OF THE DAY
From a band that knows a thing or two about triumphing over tremendous odds against them, it's the title track from Sepultura's Arise album.