EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — If David Booth can finish off his scoring chances as quickly and effectively as he downed a yogurt before facing a sea of microphones Tuesday, then the Vancouver Canucks might just put the bite on the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday. Same goes for Chris Higgins, whose game has gone from reliable and versatile to inconsistent and incomplete.
As much as the Presidents’ Trophy winners are hopeful Daniel Sedin will return for Game 4 of the Western Conference quarterfinal series after practising for the first time with the full team since April 9, they also need an injection of offence from those who are certain to play. With Booth lining up for the first time this season with Henrik and Daniel Sedin, and Higgins back with Samme Pahlsson and Jannik Hansen, two hands are being played as the desperate Canucks try to avoid being swept. They’re gambling that Booth can use his speed to accept passes and get to the net where there hasn’t been a presence. And they’re hoping Higgins can be good in transition and do the same.
“Right now, we need couple of difference-makers,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “I like our effort the last two games, but we need guys to step up.”
He didn’t name names, but Booth and Higgins are pointless after finishing with 16 and 18 goals respectively in the regular season. In his first postseason, Booth’s biggest impact came on the opening shift of Game 1 when he delivered a thunderous check. He does have 11 hits in the series, but just five shots.
“I’ve got to keep playing the body and using my speed and maybe create a gap for them,” Booth said of Henrik and Daniel’s creativity.
“They’re the best two in the league in my opinion, and this is exciting for me and I have to carry it over to the game.”
At his best, Booth gets to the net and finds a way to finish even if he’s being banged around and flying through the air. That hasn’t occurred nearly enough in the series, and Jonathan Quick is getting good looks at pucks with little traffic to contend with.
“There haven’t been Grade A scoring chances,” said Booth. “It’s been a neutral-zone game and we’ve been putting pucks at the net, but we’ve just got to get around in the right areas. We’ve been too close to the net or off to the side and we’ve got to get bodies there.”
Higgins has nine shots in the series, but didn’t register one in Game 3 and is also minus-3. But he has worked well with Pahlsson and Hansen, and because the Canucks have to be rock-solid defensively first in Game 4, that could result in scoring chances in transition or an aggressive forecheck.
“We just need to plant the seed of doubt tomorrow and see where we’re at in Vancouver,” Higgins said of extending the series.
“It’s getting that first victory. It can change on one shift. We need guys to step up and be hungry and be that player to change the series around. We’re playing well except for putting the puck in the net. We’re not stuck in our own end for any length of play. It’s just tight games and one or two goals look like they might stand up.”
Higgins also believes the Canucks are making life too easy for Quick. The Kings blocked 23 shots in Game 3, compared to 14 by the Canucks, and by not forcing the athletic post-to-post agile goalie out of his comfort zone and overplaying pucks, they’re playing right into the Vezina Trophy candidate’s hands.
“One thing to focus on are second and third chances,” said Higgins. “He’s aggressive and comes out of the paint a lot and finds those rebounds and loses his angles a bit, and those are what need to capitalize on. It’s been a lot of one and done as far as opportunities go and we need to keep hammering away and keep causing some opportunities.
‘We’re upbeat. We just need to get the first goal Wednesday and get things doing in right direction. Let them know we’re not going anywhere.”