The Vancouver Canucks have won division titles the last two years but could win only one round in the playoffs each time. They won’t get any sympathy from a Los Angeles Kings team they denied its first playoff series win in nine years.
Both teams expect to advance further this season, and they’ll open Saturday at General Motors Place in a first-round rematch from last spring’s playoffs.
The Canucks are coming off a second straight Northwest Division crown and a 103-point season behind career-high point totals from multiple forwards. Henrik Sedin(notes) won the Art Ross Trophy with 112 points and took home the Hart Trophy as league MVP. His twin brother, Daniel (85 points), Ryan Kesler(notes) (75), Alex Burrows (67), Mason Raymond(notes) (53) and Mikael Samuelsson(notes) (53) all set career highs.
Vancouver ousted Los Angeles in six games to open the postseason but lost to eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago in the Western Conference semifinals for a second consecutive year.
Kesler knows a similar result this season won’t satisfy the Vancouver fans, many of whom feel their team is good enough to return to the Cup finals for the first time since 1994.
“We’ve always had a lot of pressure on us to succeed, especially being in a Canadian city and having fans as passionate as our fans,” said Kesler, who signed a six-year, $30-million contract extension during the offseason.
“Is there added pressure? Probably a little bit. But we know that we have a really good chance. There are not many years where you feel you have a really good chance, and this year I feel we have a really good chance. We can go a long way.”
How they handle adversity may determine just how far the Canucks (49-28-5) can go.
“I’m the same guy, I’m not going to change the way I was whether I’m captain or not,” Luongo said. “I’m going to be vocal when I feel I need to be and I’m just going to go about my business the same way. At the end of the day, really it’s just a letter and a title and it doesn’t really change much for me.”
One significant change for the Canucks is having to play without Burrows, who appeared in every game the last three seasons but will be out until at least November after surgery to repair a torn labrum.
Vancouver has a revamped defensive corps led by free agent acquisition Dan Hamhuis(notes), who helped anchor Nashville’s blue line for six seasons. The Canucks also added Keith Ballard(notes) and Ryan Parent(notes) through trades.
Los Angeles (46-27-9) will counter with a formidable defense of its own, hoping that unit helps the team advance past the first round for the first time since 2001.
“Last year I really improved my shot. This summer I was trying to work on everything,” the 20-year-old Doughty said. “Getting quicker, more mobile and just working on my hands and shot again.”
“(Doughty made it) intriguing coming down here,” Mitchell said. “To play with a player like that - how I play the game, it seems like (we) would complement each other really well.”
Los Angeles isn’t all about defense, however. Budding star and 81-point scorer Anze Kopitar(notes) leads an offense which also features captain Dustin Brown(notes), rising youngster Wayne Simmonds(notes) and center Jarret Stoll(notes).
The Kings face a difficult test traveling to Vancouver, where the Canucks tied for the NHL lead with 30 wins in 2009-10. Los Angeles lost four of five visits last season, including a 7-2 defeat in the most recent one - Game 5 of the teams’ playoff series.