Whether it was a coaching change before Christmas or a major trade engineered before the deadline, one thing became clear during this turbulent Kings season — these weren't the actions of a painstakingly cautious organization tied too closely to a rigid building plan.
Detonation? More like a midcourse correction by Kings' General Manager Dean Lombardi.
Is too much change, or not enough, for them to find success in the playoffs? The answer will start to take form Wednesday (7:30 p.m., Channel 13) with Game 1 of the first-round series between the Canucks and the Kings at Rogers Arena.
The Kings are attempting to win a playoff series for the first time since 2001, and are facing last season's Stanley Cup runners-up, who are also this regular season's best team. The Kings lost to Vancouver in six games in the first round two years ago.
Vancouver and the Kings split their four meetings this season. The Kings took themselves out of division contention in the last two games with losses in a shootout and in overtime, dropping them to eighth place in the Western Conference.
"We do have pressure on us," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "But we have a little less pressure on us than a team like Vancouver. We've done well against them this season and we definitely think we can beat them. We don't see ourselves as the underdog."
Injuries to front-line players have been an issue for both teams.
The Canucks were without star forward Daniel Sedin for the final nine games when he suffered a concussion after taking an elbow in the head from Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith on March 21. The Kings' Jeff Carter injured his ankle on March 28 in Calgary and sat out the last five games.
Carter, who was acquired at the trade deadline from Columbus in exchange for defenseman Jack Johnson, appears ready to go for Game 1. Tuesday he was working with the No. 1 power-play unit before practice. Carter also practiced Monday, and Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said: "He was better today than he was yesterday."
Said Carter: "The first couple of strides, the first couple are a little sore. But once I actually get moving, I'm all right. It should be fine. I feel like I'm getting better and I can contribute something."
Also, the Kings will be without forward Brad Richardson, who required an emergency appendectomy Monday and is out indefinitely. They recalled Andrei Loktionov from their minor league team in Manchester, N.H.
Sutter said Richardson had been feeling symptoms the last few days, saying: "We thought it was groin-related, or stomach-muscle-related. I know how he feels. I had that four, five years ago.… I told him, 'Nothing you can do about that.' "
Meanwhile, the status of Vancouver's Daniel Sedin remains murky. He practiced Monday but not Tuesday, skating with some of his teammates afterward. "It's not a setback," Canucks Coach Alain Vigneault told the Vancouver Province newspaper. "It's a unique injury. We're following protocol and it's the playoffs — when he's healthy he'll play."
Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell, who played four seasons with the Canucks, didn't hesitate when asked whether Daniel Sedin would be in the lineup, saying: "100%."
He also offered some candid insight into why the Kings might be better positioned to succeed in the playoffs this time after having lost to the San Jose Sharks in six games last season.
"I think our coach has been terrific," Mitchell said of Sutter, who succeeded Terry Murray in December. "I hate to say it, right? I don't think our preparation was where it needed to be.
"We won't lack preparation with Darryl Sutter. That's one thing you never lack, going into a game, a series. He has you mentally ready and focused. You see him walk around on game day and he's excited, passionate. He wants to win. That what you want. You want to look across the dressing room and see your teammates like that too, 'All right. It's on.' "