Kings center Jeff Carter warms up before a game against the Blackhawks at… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )
The playoff series between the eighth-seeded Kings and top-seeded Vancouver Canucks hasn't started, but both teams were in full playoff gamesmanship mode Monday.
Shortly after Kings forward Jeff Carter said his bruised ankle felt good and he expects to play Wednesday at Vancouver "for sure," Coach Darryl Sutter sounded less positive about Carter's imminent return.
Maybe Carter isn't ready, though center Mike Richards said Carter "could have played the last couple games if we needed him to, the last game for sure." It's more likely that Sutter didn't want the Canucks to know his plans, and he's not the only coach who's especially vague this time of year.
"He's still got a ways to go," Sutter said of Carter, who alternated with Brad Richardson on line rushes with Dwight King and Richards. "I think we've just got to evaluate it a day at a time, him being that far away. We'll just see how it goes."
The Canucks were similarly unclear after 30-goal scorer Daniel Sedin practiced for the first time since he suffered a concussion on March 21. He was kept away from the media in Vancouver, but his twin and linemate, Henrik, was optimistic about his playoff prospects.
"He's 100%," Henrik Sedin told the Vancouver Province. "It was good to see him out there. It's been a while. He looks good. We're happy. If he wouldn't have been out there [Monday], he would have been a real longshot for Wednesday."
Sutter said because he's uncertain about Carter, he reunited the Dustin Brown-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams line Monday to have one set trio. The third and fourth lines were unchanged: Dustin Penner skated alongside Jarret Stoll and Trevor Lewis, and Kyle Clifford, Colin Fraser and Jordan Nolan remained together. The defense pairs were unchanged.
"Jeff Carter, if this was regular season, would be on IR, right? So until he's activated it's not a point of discussion," Sutter said.
Carter said the ankle is improving daily. "The strength, the movement and everything is coming back, so it should be good," he said.
Throwing down the gauntlet
Sutter hasn't hesitated to challenge players he thinks are underperforming, and on Monday he issued a blanket challenge after he was asked what kind of series he expects.
"I think they're the best team in the league and we're going to have to have some guys play above and beyond what they've played during the regular season," Sutter said.
Key to their Kingdom
Team captain Brown said the most important factor for the Kings against Vancouver will be maintaining their defensive game.
"At the end of the day that, in a nutshell, is why we've been successful the last three years. It's because we've been so good defensively, and now we're playing one of the better offensive teams," he said. "If we're not on our game defensively, they're going to pick us apart.
"The flip side of that is we've got to find ways to get goals. But we're capable of winning games 2-1, 1-0. It's going to be really hard to win a game against the Vancouver Canucks if we're giving up four, five goals. That's just a fact. We're not that type of team where we're going to trade chance for chance."
Line 'em up
The Canucks' lines in practice Monday were Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Alex Burrows; Mason Raymond-Ryan Kesler-David Booth; Chris Higgins-Sammy Pahlsson-Jannik Hansen; Manny Malhotra-Maxim Lapierre-Byron Bitz. The defense pairs were Dan Hamhuis-Chris Tanev; Alex Edler-Kevin Bieksa; Aaron Rome-Sami Salo.