#1 Canucks vs. #8 Kings
Advantages Canucks: Experience, So close in 2011, Goalie tandem
For the defending Western Conference champs it is all about how they look at the pressures that exist. The Canucks have the spotlight of Canada shining on them. The only other Canadian team in the playoffs is Ottawa and they are not expected to contend for the Cup. If the Canucks can seize the energy of the attention they will be receiving and use it, they can go deep in the playoffs. My guess is that the experience of the Canucks will pay off big time, especially in this series against LA that will be harder than many expect. Goals should be at a premium, and the Canucks will need to be strong in one-goal games.
Vancouver should be able to use the "so close" angle in losing Game 7 of the Finals at home to motivate itself to the commitment level needed to win the Cup. Unfinished business exists in British Columbia and I believe the Canucks will be a highly motivated team. The confidence of this team has been bolstered by the fine play of their Luongo and Schneider tandem in the net. Consistency in the net will free this team up to handle the expectations and the grinding, close-knit style of the Kings.
Barriers Canucks: Pressure of expectations, Luongo?
Vancouver is a highly skilled team with great experience. However, the weight of carrying Canada's expectations for winning a Cup can become a huge burden and weigh the team down. If Vancouver gets off to a slow start at home the pressure of expectations will be harder to deal with, and will provide the Kings the opportunity to pull off the upset. Worst case scenario is soft goals from Luongo which would reinforce the myth that he is not a Cup-capable goaltender and put the Vancouver faithful in an anxious state.
Advantages Kings: Quick, Richards, Disciplined team approach
The Kings play a grinding, defensive style and receive excellent goaltending from Jonathan Quick. There will be many close games in this series and the play of Quick should give the Kings the belief that they can win in Vancouver and win this series. Los Angeles played relatively well to win their way in to the playoffs, and can use that momentum to steal a game on the road. Quick will give LA lots of confidence by his stellar play and put them in a winning position in most games.
The Kings are talented. They have Anze Kopitar who can be an offensive force. Justin Williams and Jeff Carter are capable of filling the net. And, Mike Richards and Matt Greene bring the leadership needed to upset a #1 seed and move deeper in to the playoffs. This team is dangerous and disciplined. They know they are capable of beating anyone; the issue has been doing it consistently.
Barriers Kings: Expectations of being the next up and coming team, Scoring
As a squad I think the Kings have numerous players that have revealed their mental toughness over the years. This 2011-12 squad must use the experience of their veterans to handle the pressure of the playoffs. As a #8 seed you may think the Kings have lowered expectations, however the expectations are pretty high in LA. This team has been the "up and coming" team for some time and everyone is expecting a breakout finally in the playoffs. Can they get through the first round? The biggest issue will be scoring enough goals on Vancouver to ease some of the pressure in this very difficult series. A lack of scoring depth puts too much emphasis on the top line to produce. Quick lost far too many games when giving up only a goal this season. That has to change in the playoffs. Otherwise, it creates a great deal of pressure on Quick and the defense to be perfect. And, trying to be perfect in the playoffs is not realistic.
Take Homes: Vancouver is a highly confident team riding the wave of good goaltending down the stretch. LA has been more inconsistent but knows that it can take on anyone. The games should be low scoring and close so the team that better executes late in these close games, and stays composed, will have the upper hand.