Playoff Preview: (1) Vancouver vs. (8) Los Angeles

By Adam Gretz | Hockey writer
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Over the past nine years only four No. 8 seeds have been able to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs: the 2001-02 Montreal Canadiens, the 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers, the 2008-09 San Jose Sharks, and the 2009-10 Canadiens.

It's a tough matchup to get out of if you're the lower seeded team, especially when you have to go up against the Presidents' Trophy winning team like the Los Angeles Kings do starting on Wednesday night when they travel to Vancouver.

But the Kings shouldn't be viewed as your typical eighth seeded pushover. If there is a bottom seed that's capable of pulling off a big early upset this season, these guys just might be the one.

The Kings have been one of the best teams in the NHL since the trade deadline, they have one of the top goaltenders in the league this season (Jonathan Quick), a strong defense, and have been one of the best teams in the league all year when it comes to controlling possession of the puck, especially at even strength. The only thing they really lacked for much of the season was any sort of finishing ability around the net, and a lot of that started to change with the February addition of Jeff Carter.

Will it be enough for them to pull off the opening round upset?

VAN Offense vs. LA Defense

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The Kings have a strong defense, anchored by Drew Doughty, but Canucks coach Alain Vigneault is one of the best in the league at getting his players, particularly his forwards, in the right matchups and deploying them in the right situations. Henrik And Daniel Sedin (assuming Daniel plays) will get the lion's share of the offensive zone draws; Manny Malhotra and Samuel Pahlsson will be given the tough task of playing in the defensive zone and matching up against Los Angeles' best forwards, and that's gone a long way toward helping Vancouver be one of the best offensive teams in the league and one of the toughest to play against.

LA Offense vs. VAN Defense

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For most of the season the Kings offense struggled to score goals, filling the net at one of the lowest rates we've seen over the past decade. But over the final month-and-half of the season the floodgates seemed to open a bit for them and they were able to average over three goals per game over the final 21 games of the season, after barely averaging two goals per game over the first 61 games of the season. That sudden improvement just happened to coincide with the trade for Carter. Their ability to control the puck and keep pressure on opposing defenses at even strength has always been there, they just needed to start finishing, and with a healthy Carter in the lineup, they have two very strong scoring lines.

Goaltending

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Really tough call. The Canucks have two outstanding goalies with Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, but Quick has been one of the best (if not the best) goalies in the league this season. Flip a coin.

Special Teams

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Both teams are pretty strong on the penalty kill, due in large part to their goaltenders, but the Canucks get the edge with a superior power play, which is not only one of the best at generating shots and chances when on the man advantage, but also scoring.

Prediction





Photo: Getty Images

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