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Kings hope to break through in Game 5 after another extended break

After losing Game 4 to the Canucks on Wednesday, the Kings finally get another chance to close out the series on Sunday. L.A. hasn't won a playoff series since 2001.

April 21, 2012|By Lisa Dillman
  • Kings forwards Jeff Carter (77) and Mike Richards (10) warm up before a game against the Blackhawks earlier this season at Staples Center.
Kings forwards Jeff Carter (77) and Mike Richards (10) warm up before a game… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )

It's been 11 years since the Kings won a playoff series, so what's another four days? Well, plenty actually, if you believe Kings Coach Darryl Sutter, who wasn't too happy about the extended break in their best-of-seven Western Conference first-round series against the Vancouver Canucks — and maneuvered his way through yet another off-day Saturday.

Last Sunday, the Kings held a commanding 3-0 lead in the series and looked poised to eliminate the Canucks, the Presidents' Trophy winners as the NHL's top regular-season team. But then Vancouver got on the board Wednesday with a 3-1 victory that also saw the return of Daniel Sedin.

Sedin, the Art Ross Trophy winner as the NHL's leading scorer a year ago, helped kick-start the slumping Canucks' power play and also gave the visitors a significant psychological boost.

Then came yet another lengthy break in the series — this one as a result of a pair of Coldplay concerts at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver — meaning that whatever momentum the Kings may have had a week ago could theoretically have disappeared.

And Sedin, who missed almost a month with a concussion, received some extra healing time, but that also may have benefited the Kings' Jeff Carter, who missed the final five regular-season games with a deep bone bruise in his ankle.

Carter and center Mike Richards, the focal points of the Kings' second line, have both been minus-three since Game 1 and overshadowed by the play of the No. 1 line, Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams.

Richards pointed to the another critical, looming issue on the eve of Game 5, which is 5 p.m. in Vancouver on Sunday.

"Our power play has to score," said Richards, who was superb in Game 1. "They got two, we got zero [in Game 4]. That's the difference in the hockey game. But other than that, Xs and O's go out the window when you know a team this well. Specialty teams usually have that impact."

Carter, especially, has struggled to find his scoring touch on the power play and even strength since returning to the lineup.

"I think he's playing through an injury and his last game was his best game," Sutter said. "What are his strengths? His speed and his puck skills. When you're not playing at 100% it does make a difference."

Said Carter: "It's been getting better every game, I think. So it's not a big issue. It was sore."

Sutter, the master motivational strategist, has been positioning his team as the underdog in the series, prior to the Kings' departure for Vancouver. Veteran Sutter watchers know this is par for the course.

"We're still overlooking the fact they're the best team in the league," Sutter said. "What adjustments did they have to make? The adjustment they made is they got a superstar [Sedin] back in their lineup."

In NHL playoff history, teams holding a 3-1 lead in a series went on to win 91.3% of the time (209 out of 229 times prior to this season). It's only happened three times since 2004, although the Canucks have dug themselves out of a 3-1 deficit three times in their history.

Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell, who once played with the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, said the Kings need to be more aware of what the Sedins can do on the power play, a key part of the loss in Game 4. The Kings had been flawless killing penalties in the series up until that point, but Vancouver managed to score twice with the man advantage in Game 4, with Daniel Sedin making a particularly deft play on Henrik's third-period insurance goal.

"They're not Steven Stamkos," Mitchell said of the Sedins. "They don't have world-class shots. But what they are are world-class playmakers, and world class at creating that two-on-one."

Much of the focus in the NHL on Saturday was on the 25-game suspension levied against Phoenix forward Raffi Torres for an illegal hit to the head of Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa. Sutter spoke about the two-game ban that Canucks forward Byron Bitz received for an illegal hit to the head of the Kings' Kyle Clifford in Game 1. Clifford has yet to return to the lineup or even a full practice.

"How many times have we said this, over and over, there's no way of telling, 'I feel good. I don't feel good. I've got a symptom. I don't have a symptom' " Sutter said of head injuries. "…There's just no time-[line] on this. That's the problem."

Back to the repeat offender, Torres, Sutter referenced the old TV series, "Law & Order." To make his point, Sutter repeated a line from the show and detective Lennie Briscoe (the late Jerry Orbach), saying, "Did he have any priors?"

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

twitter.com/reallisa

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