The Kings, trying to take a 3-0 playoff series lead for the first time in their history, will face a different goaltender Sunday night at Staples Center than they faced in the first two games of their series against the Vancouver Canucks.
Cory Schneider will start in goal instead of Roberto Luongo, the Canucks announced Sunday afternoon. It’s more an effort to shake things up than an indictment of Luongo, but it’s an interesting move by the top-seeded Canucks.
The Kings skated Sunday morning, before the Canucks’ announcement. Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said it didn’t matter to his team who starts in Vancouver’s net.
"They were both very successful during the regular season and they both played a lot of games, so obviously whoever plays, their team is comfortable with both," he said.
However, Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell said a switch would be "surprising to me, to be honest with you. I thought Lou’s been their best player in the first two games of the series. In the first game, we played a pretty good hockey game. The third period we laid off the gas a little bit there and expected a push back from Vancouver, but he stood on his head and gave them a chance.
"The last game I thought he played pretty well as well," he continued, adding the Kings scored on "a couple of power-play goals and shorthanded breakaways. I’d be surprised to see that."
But a change is what the Kings will see as they try to add a positive note to their generally sad playoff history.
They’ve reached the Stanley Cup finals only once, in 1993, the only time they’ve gotten past the second round. They took a significant stride when they won the first two games of their first-round series against the top-seeded Canucks and put themselves in position on Sunday night at Staples Center to take a 3-0 series lead.
Yes, since they entered the NHL for the 1967-68 season, the Kings had never won the first three games of a playoff series. Their two victories at Vancouver represented only the third time they had won the first two games of a playoff series, the first being in 1968 and the second in 1976 to win a best-of-three preliminary series.
Mitchell was asked after the team’s game-day skate how it would affect the Kings to win again Sunday and whether a 3-0 lead would be insurmountable. He said nothing would be guaranteed because the Canucks, the top team in the NHL this season and the defending Western Conference champions, have had so much playoff experience the last few seasons -- far more than the Kings, who haven’t won a playoff series since 2001.
“We need to get to the next level, which is to actually have rivalries. And by that I mean getting to the playoffs and having some success. That’s how you have rivalries,” Mitchell said.
But how does a team establish a winning culture when its past playoff experiences have been so bleak?
“Do it. You’ve got to do it,” he said. “You’ve got to go through situations where you don’t have success to learn what you did wrong, the defining moments within a series where you have to find a way to get through it and be successful. That hasn’t happened here. I think we’ve added pieces over the last couple years that have been through that a little bit and that’s going to help this time around.
“We’d love to do that and we’re going to have to do it against the best team in the NHL over the course of the regular season, so it’s going to be a tough hurdle for us, but we like the challenge. This time of year you’re going to have to play everyone if you want to get to where you want to be. I think it starts with a group of players and, obviously, leadership above, as well as the coaching staff.”
The Kings lineup is expected to be the same as in Game 2, which means left wing Kyle Clifford (head injury) won’t play. Andrei Loktionov will again skate in Clifford’s spot on the fourth line with Colin Fraser and Jordan Nolan.
Sutter said that Clifford, who was slammed into the glass by Vancouver’s Byron Bitz in the series opener, had not resumed skating. “Hopefully in the next day or two we can get to the next stage of that,” Sutter said.
Bitz was suspended two games for that hit and will finish serving that suspension Sunday.
Sutter also said that forward Brad Richardson was skating and could possibly return during this series.