Eddie Lack makes his third straight start on Thursday night for the Vancouver Canucks, gunning for a first win in the team’s crucial third meeting of the season with the Los Angeles Kings.
The Kings, who are pushing for a playoff spot and trail the Canucks by just three points, have won both games against Vancouver this year – 5-1 in November and 3-2 in January. They meet the Canucks two more times before the end of the season, with just 16 games and a whole lot of ground to be divided by playoff time.
“They’re a team that plays hard,” Lack told Canucks TV, “and obviously they’re very good in front of the net and putting traffic (there). So that’s definitely something you have to be ready for.”
“They’re getting hot late in the season and it’s nothing new to them,” said Canucks scoring leader Radim Vrbata, who has paced Vancouver with 25 goals this season. “So we’ll have to be ready for them.”
Vrbata is Vancouver’s only 20-goal scorer so far this year – captain Henrik Sedin, somewhat surprisingly has 15, Daniel has 14, and Shawn Matthias is second with 16 notches.
Lack is 4-1-1 in his last seven outings with Vancouver (he relieved Jacob Markstrom on March 3, and wasn’t credited for the 6-2 loss) and has won two straight games. He’s stopped 95.3 per cent of the shots he’s faced in his last four contests and has helped the Canucks keep pace in the West without injured normal No. 1 Ryan Miller.
“Obviously I had a little dip, and that is when I just told myself, ‘This is nothing like last year, just keep playing, keep having fun and keep working hard in practice,” Lack told NHL.com, acknowledging his 10 goals against against St. Louis and Buffalo, in his first two games after Miller’s injury.
“I feel better when I push myself a little more in practice, too, and not just think, ‘There’s a game tomorrow, you have to take it a bit easy.'”
Vancouver will look to complete a California sweep tonight against the Kings – they’ve already beaten San Jose and Anaheim this week.
As Vrbata alluded to, the Kings are used to stalling early in the regular season before slouching back into championship form in the spring. In 2012, they became the first-ever eighth seed to win the Stanley Cup. In 2013, L.A. entered the playoffs as the West’s fifth seed, but surged to the Western Conference Finals, where they lost to the eventual Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
In 2014, the Kings hovered around the bottom of the playoff bracket, but ultimately got hot late and won their second championship in three years – and in doing so, became the first team to ever win a Cup after winning three seven-game series before the Final.
This season, Los Angeles has failed to sustain any momentum – even falling back to earth after an eight-game winning streak in February – and find themselves on the outside looking in with a month to play.
And while many still fear the typical Kings playoff push is coming, others are wondering whether this is the same championship-calibre club.
Keep in mind, Los Angeles has played nearly three extra seasons since 2012 – when you consider the grind of back-to-back-to-back playoff runs. They’ve also been playing without reliable defenceman Slava Voynov, Drew Doughty routinely tops an exhausting 30 minutes of ice time for Darryl Sutter’s team (that’s half the game, in case your math is slow), and both Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar are having down years, offensively – 51 and 51 points respectively, through 60-plus games.