The Kings’ first playoff game in LA since 2002 is also the first in their series against the Vancouver Canucks to end in regulation. Los Angeles beat Vancouver 5-3 and even got Alain Vigneault to pull Roberto Luongo, which he refused to do the last time the Canucks were in L. A. even though the Kings scored 8 (yes, eight) goals against him. Apparently, Vigneault said it was Luongo’s choice not to be pulled in the regular season game in L.A. Perhaps he should have overruled that decision to preserve Luongo’s confidence against the team Vancouver ended up facing in the first round of the playoffs. If you had told me that after two games in the playoffs Luongo and the Kings’ goalie (Jon Quick) would have the same goals against average and that Quick would have the better save percentage, I would have probably thought you reversed your statistics. While Quick has been the Kings’ number one guy all season (and even played 72 games for them, beating out Potvin for the club record for appearances), Quick finished about in the middle of the pack in save percentage (26th out of 44 ranked goalies, .907). Luongo finished 16th with .913. Quick was pretty shaky at the end of the regular season. In fact, the last two regular season wins the Kings had were won by Ersberg (though Quick started the one game). In spite of this, Quick has been Murray’s guy for the playoffs, as everyone knew he would be. Quick may be young and may not have any NHL playoff experience to rely on, but he’s definitely been rising to the occasion.
The Canucks came out strong tonight and though the players seemed split on whether they had a bit too much excitement seeing their building completely full (and then some, a standing room only sellout of 18,264 was announced, the normal sellout is 18,118) it seemed like the Kings were a bit flat initially. The combination led to the Kings going down 1-0 to the Canucks only 2:09 into the game. I’m sure many Kings fans thought what I did at that point… that it was starting out too much like the other games and that another come from behind game going into overtime was more than I could handle. Three in a row would just be too much to handle. The nerves in the overtime of a playoff game can be too much for fans sometimes, I think. There is nothing more exciting than overtime in playoff hockey. No true hockey fan can say they don’t think playoff hockey overtime is one of the most exciting things in the world to experience live. In spite of that, when I care about the team a lot (and no matter how much some reporters will try to tell you they’re impartial most of them care one way or another going into a game) it’s stressful to watch them in overtime. I’m glad the Kings won this game in regulation. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next game were a nail biter. Jack Johnson mentioned that after the game tonight, too. You never know what will happen in the playoffs and the Canucks are bound to bounce back from tonight’s game and come out strong Wednesday in Los Angeles.
Vigneault was clear that Luongo will still be playing Wednesday and the Sedin twins are still key players (even though Samuelsson has scored 4 of the Canucks’ 8 goals this series. He did admit that his best players have to step up their play and be their best players, but Vigneault is definitely still supporting his team leaders.
The Kings’ special teams were amazing tonight and have really been great for the entire playoffs. Their power play was 3 for 3 tonight (clearly 100%) and they kept Vancouver from scoring on their four power plays (100% penalty kill). Those numbers can’t be beaten and will be almost impossible to maintain, but they’re a great sign for the Kings and their fans. Doughty had a goal and three assists and Johnson had three assists. They’re clearly working well together on the power play. Handzus had two of the goals they assisted; Smyth had the other goal. What a return to NHL playoffs in Staples Center. When I talked to Jack Johnson after the last regular season home game, he pointed out that they hadn’t played their last home game and they were ready to come home and reward their fans with playoff wins. They’ve gotten one home win in the playoffs so far and they’re ready to get another when they return to Staples Center on Wednesday, but they know it’s not going to be easy. The players are enjoying the playoffs and they want to keep playing.
Some people in the press box were unimpressed with the way the Kings set things up for their fans tonight. I think if they’d seen how little Anaheim did for the playoffs (rather than comparing the Kings to east coast teams) they’d appreciate it more. As I walked to Staples Center tonight, I was thrilled to see a southern California team that’s truly happy to be in the playoffs again. The Ducks didn’t do that much for their fans when they were in the finals. The Kings have always had a better idea about how to celebrate with their fans than the Kings. The Kings had roller hockey and a stage set up outside. A radio station was there to help them celebrate being in the playoffs. The Magic Johnson, Oscar de la Jolla, and Wayne Gretzky’s statues were all wearing the current Kings 3rd jersey (their home jersey for the playoffs, partly because it fits their “Back in Black” theme). Inside, The Briggs (who sing the Kings’ main theme song, “This is L.A.”) had their equipment set up and performed their song live before and after the game. I had been wondering if they’d be back for game 4 and from what they said to Heidi in their interview (which I watched when I got home from the game), the deal was that they would come back if the Kings won tonight, which makes sense to me. So, we’ll see The Briggs live in Staples Center again Wednesday night.
Kings fans were encouraged to dress in black tonight to fit in with the third jerseys and the Back in Black theme. The fans did dress in black, but for some reason (my guess is that they’re a lot less expensive to make) the Kings handed out white towels to their fans. Teams (including the Penguins and Coyotes) have been made fun of for having white outs at home when the visiting team is in white. The Kings go with having their fans wear black, the color their team wears at home. However, they handed out white towels to match the visiting team’s jerseys. I don’t understand that one. I’ve heard from some goalies that they have trouble seeing the puck when their team does black outs at home (and Turco reportedly told the Stars he didn’t want any more of them, since it was harder to see the puck in front of a sea of black t-shirts and jerseys), so I can understand a team choosing white instead of black as the color they have their fans wear at home. However, if you choose black and want to hand out towels, make sure they’re black! For the playoffs in Pittsburgh, almost every home game includes a free t-shirt and free towel. The Kings are only giving out t-shirts and haven’t had to spend money on playoff gifts to fans for years. They should be able to pay a bit of extra money it might cost and make the towels in black so they match their team and their fans. I’m sure that wouldn’t look quite as cool for the black lights in the opening, but for the rest of the game when the lights are on completely, it would make a lot more sense.
Fans had a lot of great signs in the stands tonight, but my favorite was probably the one that said "Bob Miller - Let's hang out!" That is one smart fan. Bob Miller has so many wonderful stories. Perhaps he'll write that second book and share them with even more fans.
I also saw a fan wearing a pretty cool hat that it seemed she'd probably made herself. It had a mohawk down the middle, braids coming down from the flaps that cover the ears, and Ivanans' number on the side. When I asked her about it, she said she did make the hats herself, but she has a website. If you're interested in a fun hat for the Kings playoffs, check out http://www.mohockeyhats.com/. Right now, she only does Kings hats, but she's thinking of expanding at some point.
I can’t remember a more interesting playoff year. After two games, EVERY
series in the NHL Playoffs (both conferences) was tied 1-1. There can’t be a single sweep in the first round of the NHL playoffs in 2010 and I can’t remember the last time it was clear that was the case after each team had played 2 games. Heck, I’m not even sure how many first rounds have happened in the NHL without a single sweep.
With the Washington Capitals’ game tonight, it seems that some of the series’ may be separating out a bit more than the first two games indicated, but the match-ups are better than I can remember in a long time. I wish I still had NHL Center Ice so I could watch all the playoff games. I know I’ve complained about it already, but I am still completely puzzled by the games chosen for national coverage in the United States. Why does the NHL Network exist if they can’t show the games Versus chooses not to air? And why would anyone choose to show games 1-6 of a series, but not the most important game (7) if it goes to 7 games? How could anyone choose to completely omit any
series of the playoffs completely from national coverage (have fun living in the bars, out of area Flyers & Devils fans)? It makes no sense to me. Hopefully, they’ll make better choices when the conference semifinals get here.
To read more of my thoughts on the NHL and other sports, check out Press Box Perspective