One day after opening their playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks with a 4-2 victory, the Kings found themselves backtracking from a playful jab on Twitter. The team’s official account posted a message saying: ”To everyone in Canada outside of BC, you’re welcome.”
That didn’t sit well with senior members of the organization, especially after all the attention it generated.
”We encourage our digital team to be creative, interactive and to apply a sense of humor whenever possible,” Kings spokesman Mike Altieri said. ”To anyone who found it offensive we sincerely apologize.”
The Canucks have drawn criticism the last few seasons in which they captured the Presidents’ Trophy in back-to-back years and fell one game short of the Stanley Cup in 2011.
In October, CBC commentator Don Cherry added to the chorus by saying Vancouver was disliked because the players whine at officials.
The team had the best record in the NHL this season and entered the series with Los Angeles a heavy favorite. Game 2 is Friday night in Vancouver.
The Canucks will be without forward Byron Bitz, who was suspended for two games by NHL on Thursday for boarding Kings forward Kyle Clifford during Game 1.
The hit happened at 12:12 of the second period Wednesday night, and Bitz was given a major penalty and a game misconduct. Clifford stayed on the bench for a while, then left the game and did not return. The Kings scored on the ensuing power play and won 4-2.
”I had no intention of hurting anybody,” Bitz said. ”That’s not the way I play. It was an unfortunate play. The referees made the call, and it cost my team a goal – so it’s my fault.”
Bitz offered an excuse which has been heard often from players who have faced disciplinary actions on hits to the head.
”I just went to finish my hit,” Bitz said. ”And the way I made contact, he hit the glass awkwardly. I had no intent to injure or target the head. I was just trying to finish my hit, and the referees made the call.”
The hit came as Canucks winger Daniel Sedin missed his 10th straight game with a concussion suffered when he was elbowed in the head March 21 by Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith, who received a two-minute penalty. The NHL subsequently handed Keith a five-game suspension for the infraction.
Bitz’s hit also came on the same day Los Angeles Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell praised the NHL for taking a tougher stance on head shots. Although he became an example of the new disciplinary angle, Bitz endorsed it.
”You can’t replace your brain,” he said. ”You’ve got to protect the guys’ heads. You don’t want to have guys with concussion problems, and they’re doing the right thing.”
After the hit, Clifford went to the bench for a while, but then went to the dressing room and did not return. Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter said Clifford will not play when the series resumes Friday in Vancouver.
”You (media) guys know the (situation),” said Sutter, reluctant to reveal the extent of Clifford’s injury. ”Upper-body injury, and he’s out. But you guys know that, right? I don’t want to not tell the truth, so I’ll just leave it at that.”
Meanwhile, the Canucks, who finished first in the NHL during the regular season, are looking to reduce their penalty total in Game 2. The Kings, who squeaked into the playoffs by securing the eighth and final berth in the Western Conference, converted two of seven power-play chances.
”The penalties really affected our team,” said Vancouver rookie winger Zack Kassian. ”We had a lot of top-end guys killing a lot of penalties, which you don’t want to be doing too much. Obviously, it takes away from their offence.”
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said the Canucks must also do a better job on the power play. The Canucks were blanked on five man-advantage opportunities Wednesday.
”We have the personnel for it to be good right now, and we need to execute better,” Vigneault said. ”Our best power play (Wednesday) night was the last one that we had (in the third period) when we took Alex Edler off. He needs to take his game up a notch, because obviously he’s been a big part of our defensive group, a big part of our team, and he’s a great player. We need him to play at his level.”
The Canucks are also looking to put in a better overall effort after the Kings controlled the play during most of Game 1.
”Obviously, (Wednesday) night, if it’s not for (goaltender Roberto Luongo), it’s not even close,” Vigneault said. ”We’re all aware of that, it’s pretty safe to say, and we need to come up with some answers.”
L.A. captain Dustin Brown also called for his team to display more discipline after the Kings participated in many scrums after the whistle. Los Angeles must also do a better job of pressuring Luongo.
The veteran Canucks goaltender posted 34 saves on Wednesday, including many difficult ones, as he allowed three goals. The Kings scored another one into an empty net while he was pulled in favor of a sixth attacker.
Brown said the Kings did a good job staying close to Vancouver’s top players, but did not create enough traffic in front of the Canucks net.
”He made some good saves, but he also saw a lot of pucks,” said Brown. ”If there’s one guy we need to make it harder on, it’s him.”
Notes: Andrew Ebbett and Dale Weise are candidates to replace Bitz. … Sutter is expected to install either Kevin Westgarth or Andrei Loktionov in Clifford’s vacant lineup spot. … For the second straight day, Daniel Sedin did not skate after participating in on-ice workouts earlier in the week. … Both clubs held optional skates.