Monday, April 26, 2010

Vancouver Canucks 4 at Los Angeles Kings 2 - Western Confernce QF, Game 6 - April 25, 2010


One of my favourite experiences is flying from Japan to the US and immediately watching a sporting event that day. This can most easily be accomplished when flying to the West Coast as the flights arrive early enough that you can make an evening game without any worry. Being in a high-energy environment of pro sports keeps you awake and helps with the jet lag. So when I realized that I'd have to visit LA as part of the London trip, I knew I could fly Sunday evening from Tokyo and see the Canucks-Kings game the same evening.

Due to the time difference, my Sunday was like this:

10 am: Wake up and watch San Jose-Colorado game on NHL GameCenter Live.
3 pm: Leave for Narita Airport
6:45 pm: Fly to LA
12 noon: Land in LA
6:00 pm: Watch playoff hockey!

There's always the underlying concern that a flight delay might cause me to miss the game, but there was no problem this time. The flight landed an hour early, which gave me a few hours to rent the car and check in to the hotel before making a short drive downtown, where the Staples Center is located.

The Playoff Experience

It was a gorgeous day in LA as I parked the car and walked over to the arena. The picture below is from the corner of Pico and Figueroa, where I found parking for $10. Considering that one block away was $20, I thought it was a good deal, although there seemed to be street parking around.


It was about 2 hours before game time but there were still a lot of fans milling about, including lots of loud and energetic Canuck fans. The CBC was filming a bunch of fans next to the ESPNZone for their opening sequence on Hockey Night in Canada. They did a number of takes; I didn't have a Canuck jersey so didn't try to get in the shot. Maybe when the Leafs finally make the playoffs...


I wandered around just soaking up the sun and the pre-game atmosphere, which was fairly low-key. The Kings theme was black and white and they had dressed the Gretzky, Magic Johnson, and Oscar De La Hoya statues in Kings jerseys. The ice girls were handing out beads and taking pictures with fans but there was a notable lack of energy. I think the fans knew that the 7-2 drubbing the Kings took in game 5 did not bode well for their chances today.


The ticket office was showing plenty of single seats in all price levels, and there weren't any obvious scalpers, so I ponied up the dough (well, the credit card) and got a lower level seat in row 8 in the end that Vancouver would shoot twice. Tickets were actually not that expensive, I paid almost the same in Tampa for the Leafs game and paid more in Ottawa last month.

I had a quick look at the ESPN Zone but it was packed, and with gates opening 90 minutes before the game, I decided to enter early and tour the rink.

Staples Center

The Staples Center is part of a larger entertainment complex known as L.A. Live, which includes the Nokia Theater and ESPN Zone. The arena itself is arguably one of the premier sports destinations in the country as it is home to the Lakers and Clippers as well as the Kings. Even the D-League has a team here as does the WNBA.

Staples Center is located on Figueroa St in downtown LA, and is close to the Pico Blue Line MetroRail station. Parking is available in nearby lots or you can try to find street parking north of the venue.

The front of the arena has 4 statues of local legends. Magic Johnson is the most prominent, with the Gretzky and De La Hoya statues standing nearby. The most recent addition is of late Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn. This statue was added just a few days ago and was very popular among fans for the unique photographic opportunity. You can sit in the chair next to Hearn's statue and have your picture taken.


Once inside, there are three levels of seating suitably named the 100, 200, and 300 levels. But in reality, the 200 level is only separated from the 100 level by a walkway, so they are quite far away from the ice. Furthermore, the prime sideline seats at this level are called "Premier" and are more expensive than the lower seats.

If you are capable of withstanding extended periods of time at altitude, you can try sitting in the 300 level. From my experience, seats at this level seem to be the furthest from the ice in any arena. This is because there are three levels of suites that rise vertically from the lower bowl, which pushes the upper bowl seats further away. In the picture below, you can see how the 100 and 200 levels are barely separated and then 3 levels of suites above that. The 300 seats are barely visible in the darkness.


The concourse in the upper level seemed quite narrow. Although I was there well before game time and there were few fans around, I got the impression that it would be crowded during intermissions. This is the view from the first row of the upper deck. I should note that the seats are all covered with towels which the fans wave whenever the Kings score.


Food options here are not that impressive, with McDonald's and California Pizza Kitchen the most notable options. Prices weren't exorbitant, but I didn't see anything worth trying.

One interesting and unique feature are red lights that are hung underneath each section in the upper bowl. These are turned on when the Kings score, which adds a bit of colour to the annoyingly loud celebrations.

The Kings have a couple of banners including their 1993 Campbell Conference Championship (ugh) but they are overshadowed by the Lakers banners, which include the 2009 NBA championship and are much larger in general.

Overall, I wasn't that impressed with the venue. It's a great location and a huge and imposing place, but doesn't seem to have that much to differentiate it from other rinks in the league. It could be because the Kings are overshadowed by the Lakers, but I didn't find anything here that would make me return on a regular basis.

From the Nokia Plaza after the game

Sneaking On the Ice

While I was wandering around the lower bowl, I noticed that a few fans had lined up and were getting their picture taken on the ice. They all had credentials of some sort, but that didn't stop me from playing dumb and lining up. Another Canucks fan lined up behind me and we managed to sneak onto the ice. Of course, the photographer asks us for our credentials but I don't care about the photo. I am standing on the ice at the Staples Center!!! Well, I'm standing on a mat actually, but it's the first time I've been on an NHL surface and it's pretty cool. The other guy begged to get an official picture but the photographer wouldn't do it, as the other fans had paid for the privilege. But he allowed me to snap a picture of the guy before leaving the ice. Didn't get a picture of myself, but I still spent a memorable minute there.

Scorer's table

From the ice

The Warmup

Before every hockey game, I like to stand next to the glass and watch one team warm up. You can get a feeling for how the team is feeling and also figure out the lines and defensive pairings which make it easier to watch the game.

Today, I watched the Canucks. I noticed that they were serious and focused, but still relaxed. After all, they were up 3-2 and coming off a rout two days before. There were several loud Canucks fans next to me banging on the glass but the players generally ignored them, although Ryan Kesler did flip a puck to one lucky gentleman.

The pics below are all from this warmup period.

Luongo stretches

Steve Bernier, who scored the first goal for Vancouver

Alexandre Burrows

Kesler


Kesler again, look at the torque on the stick

I have plenty more but that's enough for now.

The Game

It was a 6 pm start but I think the Canucks forgot this because they were pretty much non-existent for two periods. The Kings outshot them 16-5 and were up 1-0 on a wraparound goal from Alexander Frolov, who outworked Henrik Sedin and beat Roberto Luongo on the far side.

Drew Doughty and Daniel Sedin

The second period started much the same as LA continued to pressure the Canucks and it looked like they were about to go up 2-0 when Luongo was on his back and without his stick as the loose puck went to Ryan Smith in the slot. But Luongo made the save of the playoffs, waving his glove and nabbing the puck to keep the game 1-0. This ended up being the #1 play of the day on ESPN and it was doubtless one of the best saves I've seen.

Luongo peeks from behind Ryan Smith

Shortly thereafter, the Kings took a penalty and Vancouver capitalized when Steve Bernier tipped in an Alexander Edler point shot to tie the game. The save seemed like a turning point, but the Kings didn't give up and were rewarded when Drew Doughty scored from a point shot just as a Canuck penalty expired. The second period ended with LA up 2-1 and outshooting Vancouver 26-11.

Luongo was the difference, keeping his team in it and they finally responded. Just two minutes in, Kevin Bieksa took a harmless shot from the right circle but LA goaltender Jonathan Quick opened the five-hole nice and wide and the puck trickled in to tie the game. Quick immediately hung his head, knowing that the easy goal would be tough for the Kings to get back. A few teammates skated by to encourage him, but their body language was not positive. Still, Quick made a great save off Kyle Wellwood just 30 seconds after the goal and that seemed to give the Kings some lift.

The rest of the period had some great chances for both teams but Vancouver was definitely stronger. They were winning the battles along the boards and had several great rushes but Quick was equal to the task and it looked like overtime would be needed. With just over two minutes to go, Mikael Samuelsson broke his stick on a shot. The puck slid to Daniel Sedin who bounced it off the post and behind a startled Quick to give the Canucks a 3-2 lead and send the Vancouver fans into a frenzy.


The Kings pulled Quick on their next rush up the ice (above) but Alexandre Burrows added an empty netter to clinch things (celebrations below) and the Canucks were off to the second round.





The handshakes, Bernier thanks Quick for letting in the first goal

This was a great game. Lots of end-to-end rushes, some great goaltending including the save of the year, a last-minute goal, and the Canucks advancing. Very glad I made it over for this one.

Vancouver was the more talented team but they are inconsistent and rely on Luongo too much. You can beat LA this way, but Chicago will be more difficult (assuming the Blackhawks beat the Predators). The Canucks will need to improve their work ethic for the whole game if they are keep moving on. Let's hope they recognize this and get to the conference finals.

Notes

This is the second time I have seen the Canucks beat the Kings in a playoff game in LA. Back in 1993, 3 friends and I drove 24 hours straight to watch the Canucks win game 4 of the Smythe Division Final at the Great Western Forum. But the Canucks lost the next two games and watched as the Kings went to the Stanley Cup finals.

Three years ago I saw Vancouver eliminated in Anaheim in round 2. In that case, Anaheim went to the finals and won the Cup.

So, the trend is set. If I see a playoff game in LA, the team that wins the series goes to the final. Let's see if the Canucks can continue the tradition.

Speaking of the 1993 Kings, Wayne Gretzky was in attendance and shown on the scoreboard, which drew a loud cheer from the crowd.

One interesting banner was the numbers 16 down to 1 which represents the number of games that you have to win the Stanley Cup. 16 and 15 were crossed off, looks like they'll have to wait until next year for 14.


In the second period, a shot went off the post and sailed into the crowd just above my head. I had no idea as the fans were mostly wearing black so I didn't see the puck until a blur zoomed overhead. It landed two rows behind me and fortunately didn't hit anyone; there's no way any fan can expect to see it in time.

Next up

Tonight I drive north to Lancaster, where the California League's Jethawks host the High Desert Mavericks. Tomorrow the Lakers and Thunder do battle in game 5 of their series which is now tied 2-2. Tickets for that game are outrageously expensive and almost all gone, so no guarantee I can get in. After that, there's more baseball with a Cal League doubleheader on Wednesday (morning game in Rancho Cucagmonga, evening in Inland Empire) and the Pirates-Dodgers on Thursday. I'm going to be here on Friday too and just found out that #1 Arizona State is in town to take on #5 UCLA in NCAA baseball action. What a great way to finish the trip before I fly to London on Saturday.

On a related note, the Phoenix Suns are home tonight for game 5 of their series against the Trailblazers and then the Coyotes take on the Red Wings tomorrow night in game 7. I briefly considered driving over but the hockey tickets are way too expensive, so I'll stick with the original plan and see Phoenix next month.

Exclusive coverage here as always!

Best,

Sean

1 comment:

  1. Excellent recap of the game. I watched a bit of it on TV. Nice photos. Clever wording.... "Bernier thanks Quick for letting in the first goal." Looking forward to hearing about the rest of the trip. Meg

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