LOS ANGELES – For two straight seasons now, the Vancouver Canucks have won the Presidents' Trophy, given to the team with the best regular-season record.
Not really. The trophy's only real significance, aside from providing home-ice advantage, is the mountain of expectations it slaps on its winner. In this case, that's a city so desperate to win its first Stanley Cup it tried to burn itself down when it didn't a year ago.
So one can only imagine what the city of Vancouver (and its police department) is going through now that the Canucks are on the brink of elimination in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs after the Los Angeles Kings scrapped their way to a 1-0 victory Sunday night, extending their lead to 3-0 in this best-of-seven series.
"What do you think?" defenseman Kevin Bieksa snapped when asked about the mood of the team. "We're down 3-nothing. It's not good."
The situation is pretty dire now for the Canucks: win four straight or pack up for the summer.
Prior to the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the city of Vancouver outlined its plan to handle potential crowds as the Canucks went further into the postseason. The strategy, made necessary after last year's riots following the Canucks' loss to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final, calls for crowd management in the downtown area in the third and fourth rounds. With the Canucks having won 51 games during the regular season, thinking deep into the postseason seemed appropriate.
Now, undoubtedly, those plans will be rolled out sooner than expected in anticipation of Wednesday's Game 4 in Los Angeles.
[ Slideshow: Check out Sunday's best photos ]
As for Game 3, outside of the goaltending brilliance of Jonathan Quick, it wasn't exactly a thing of beauty for the Kings. The Canucks outshot Los Angeles 41-20, which says everything you need to know about the job Quick did.
From the drop of the puck, Vancouver was on the assault, the Kings on their heels. By appearance only, it was the mismatch this series was supposed to be – the dominating Canucks proving to be too talented for the overmatched Kings.
Only, for all the flash and firepower, Vancouver couldn't put the puck in the net – partly because of a scrappy defensive effort that saw the Kings defense jetting to every loose puck, but mostly because of Quick, who has turned away 107 of 111 shots in the series.
"I believe their game plan was to get a lot of bodies to the net – try to take away my eyes," Quick said. "They did a pretty good job of that. I was fortunate a lot of times that the puck didn't get through."
The lone goal of the game didn't come until six minutes into the third period when Kings captain Dustin Brown took a rebound off the pads of Cory Schneider, who got the start over Roberto Luongo, and wristed it home.
Vancouver continued its assault on Quick over the next 14 minutes – looking very much like a team that knows its season is on the brink – but couldn't beat him.
"That's what happens in playoffs," Bieksa said. "They got a lucky bounce of Schneid's right to Brown … and at the other end they got a hot goaltender. We had a lot of shots on him – got a lot of traffic, did a lot of things offensively. But sometimes you run into a hot goaltender.
"We're happy with the way we played," he continued. "These guys gotta beat us one more game for it to be over."
The sentiment inside the Canucks' locker room is that they outplayed the Kings in Game 3 and have for the entire series. The shots on goal (111 to 77 in favor of Vancouver) back that up. But at this point, trailing three games to none, winning the shots-on-goal battle is as meaningful as the back-to-back Presidents' Trophies Vancouver has won.
"We never thought we'd be up 3-0 on a team that's basically dominated the league for two years now," Brown said. "That said, it takes four to win.
"It would be huge from every aspect," he continued, talking about a potential sweep of the No. 1 seed. "We have an opportunity. The pressure's on us. They got nothing to lose."
No, Brown's wrong about that. Here in L.A., where a Kings fan got booed for saying she liked the Clippers better than the Lakers – where the loudest ovation of the night went to Kobe Bryant as he smooched his daughter on "Kiss Cam" – the hangover from a Kings implosion from a 3-0 series lead would be remedied by Kobe simply returning to the lineup.
In Vancouver, a city that's been pining for a Stanley Cup since it entered the NHL in 1970, the fans beat their home to a pulp when the Canucks lost.
No, Vancouver has everything to lose but the Presidents' Trophy, which means the Canucks have everything to lose.
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