Today is a big day for four teams in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoff hunt. In the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia Flyers lead the series against the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 while in the West the Los Angeles Kings lead their series against the Vancouver Canucks 3-0.
The Pens will face the Flyers today without Craig Adams (1 game), James Neal (1 game), and Arron Asham (4 games) due to suspensions handed out after a wild game 3. They also may be missing defenseman Zbynek Michalek tonight due to an injury. The road to victory will be tough for the Pens as they suit up four guys with a combined total of three games of playoff experience to make up for the gaping holes the suspensions leave in their lineup. With the lack of experience coming into the lineup, the Pens must rely on stellar play from Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal if they are to force a game five.
The downfall of the Pens has undoubtedly been due to their parade to the penalty box and lack of defensive composure as they allowed a total of 20 goals in three games to Philadelphia’s 12. Along with that you have to question Marc-Andre Fleury’s confidence as he has been letting in some pretty uncharacteristic goals, quite a few of which have been shorthanded. Fleury will have to bounce back to give his team a chance.
If you watched the goon fest that was game three in this series, you have to wonder just how much the Flyers are in Pittsburgh’s heads and if the Pens have the mental toughness to pull together a solid 60 minutes and bring the series back home. If their top stars can’t do it, then don’t expect their younger players to be able to do it either. This should be a very interesting fourth game nonetheless.
If it does come down to the hand shakes at central ice, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some shenanigans accompanying the ceremony after this post game interview gem from the Pen’s captain:
On the opposite coast, the Vancouver Canucks are in a similar hole but their problems lie on a different level as they continue to struggle against Jonathan Quick.
Though the series has been pretty chippy, it’s not as chippy as the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia series and Vancouver has strung together a couple of top notch games in which they dominated play for the most part. However, Jonathan Quick is proving why he is a Vezina worthy candidate. Great play by Quick along with a Vancouver team that seems to struggle time and time again with finishing its opportunities is a deadly combination for the Canucks (deadly in a bad way).
Alongside Quick, Dustin Brown has been the other LA player that’s the talk of the series. In the playoffs, momentum is always a huge factor that can shift a series in one team’s favor. Dustin Brown has been doing just that for his team. In game 2, Brown had 2 shorthanded goals and came just a touch shy of a hat trick. In game 3, Brown had the game winning goal (as well as the only goal) and delivered this massive hit to Vancouver’s best player, Henrik Sedin:
This hit was a turning stone in the game as the Kings gained more puck possession and were able to score in the third. Talk about an effective leader.
While LA’s captain has been on the ice getting it done and rallying his team, one can argue that the Canucks’ captain hasn’t been doing the right things to lead his team on. Unless of course you find diving inspiring:
Kessler may need to put more focus on scoring a goal rather than trying to draw penalties and snow shower Quick to get his team going. As of now Kessler only has 2 points in this series and has yet to record a goal. Next to Dustin Brown’s 5 points, two is not enough and Kessler will need to step up his game if he wants to lead his team home to a game 5.
Vancouver has been without its top scorer in Daniel Sedin and they plan on inserting him back in the lineup today, but he himself admitted he isn’t in the best shape he can be due to a month of inactivity from a concussion. Nevertheless, he can potentially give the team a boost on the powerplay if Vancouver plans on only playing him for those specific occasions. In this series the Vancouver powerplay has gone 0-14.
Or maybe it’s the pressure? After missing the cup by one game last year, Vancouver reclaimed the President’s Trophy this year and once again were the favorites for making it to the finals. However, Vancouver may be caving in under the pressure put on them to blow any and all opposition out of the water. Their first two games at home were sloppy and a bit unorganized. Game three away from their fans was their best game of the series. It will be interesting to see how they come out for game four. Will they be energized or deflated? Time can only tell.