Whenever the Vancouver Canucks weren’t talking about Daniel Sedin’s return, or their goaltending conundrum, or the inability to score on the power play, the conversation ultimately turned to getting more breaks and bounces around the net. Team captain Henrik Sedin, among others, figured if the Canucks just kept peppering Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick with enough pucks, a few of them would eventually filter through.
The law of averages said so, right?
It turns out Sedin’s logic was spot on. A little bit of puck luck, plus 19-and-a-half-minutes of Daniel Sedin, in his return to the line-up, was about all Vancouver needed to get on the board in their best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final against the Los Angeles Kings.
The Canucks scored two second-period goals, on long shots from the right point Wednesday night, to erase an early deficit and rally for a 3-1 victory over the Kings at Staples Centre. The victory kept the Canucks alive to fight another day, even though Los Angeles still leads the series 3-1, as it shifts back to Vancouver for Game 5 on Sunday night.
No President’s Trophy-winning team had ever been swept in the first playoff round, but Vancouver was on the verge – unable to score goals consistently against a Kings team that had the second best defensive record in the NHL this season.
“Getting Danny back was a huge boost for us,” assessed Henrik Sedin. “That’s what you need sometimes in the playoffs. Things are changing. They start thinking. They’ve still got a lot of pressure on their team over there. They’re huge favourites – but we’ve made a series of this.”
“I felt good,” added Daniel Sedin, who said he came through the game physically unscathed. “I would have told (coach Alain Vigneault) if I didn’t feel good and he wouldn’t have played me, but I felt fine.
“I think first period wasn’t really good, but after that, we got it going as a line. It was a solid night, I think. Henrik is the key to our line, and he’s played really well of late.”
The Canucks had hoped Daniel Sedin’s return to the line-up after a month recovering from a concussion would rally the troops, emotionally and in more tangible ways. Sedin was on the ice for Vancouver’s opening goal, by Alex Edler, a harmless-looking wrist shot from the point that Quick couldn’t pick up because Ryan Kesler was busy obscuring his view. It was the Canucks first power-play goal in 15 tries in the series.
If anything, the Canucks were even more fortunate on the go-ahead goal, by Kevin Bieksa, a slap shot from the point that was perfectly, if accidentally, deflected into the goal by Kings’ centre Mike Richards.
And then the trifecta of good fortune was completed moments later when referee Dan O’Halloran blew the whistle just as Kings’ forward Brad Richardson chopped a loose puck into the net.
Just about everybody, players and coaches on both sides, agreed that Vancouver had been the better team in each of the previous two games, but ended up on the wrong end of the final score. On this night, the Kings largely outplayed the Canucks, but Vancouver got the result anyway.
Hockey sure can be a funny game sometimes.
Vigneault took a calculated risk when he gave the starting nod in goal to Cory Schneider ahead of Roberto Luongo for what shaped up as a potentially series-ending game. Schneider rewarded Vigneault’s faith with a strong, solid, consistent night between the pipes. L.A. held a 31-16 shot lead after two periods, but Schneider stood his ground. He looked smooth and calm in the middle of the net and was particularly good, moving from post-to-post, making everything look easy.
“That’s what a goalie is there for, especially on the road, is you’ve got to come up with some big saves early on and give your guys a chance to get into the game and into the rhythm,” said Schneider. “I thought our second and third periods were better. We got stronger as the game went on.”
Of particular note was a stop Schneider made on Kings’ rookie forward Jordan Nolan in the final few seconds of the opening period, with L.A. already ahead by a goal. If the Kings score there and take a two-goal lead into the dressing room after 20 minutes, it could have been a completely different result.
As it was, the Canucks found a way of regaining their composure at the break and were able to carry a one-goal lead into the third.
For all of the Kings’ defensive abilities, they have struggled most of the season to score goals on demand. Probably their best chance to tie came early in the third when Kings’ captain Dustin Brown was awarded a shorthand penalty shot, after Bieksa pulled him down on a breakaway. But Schneider stayed with Brown and didn’t give him much to shoot at, turning the shot aside.
As it happened, the short break permitted the Canucks’ No. 1 power-play unit to catch its collective breath and it paid off when Henrik Sedin chipped in his first of the series, with an assist from Daniel, to give Vancouver some breathing room.
Daniel Sedin estimated Tuesday that his physical conditioning was the worst that it has been in five years because he wasn’t able to exercise regularly during his convalescence. However, he got better as the game went along and his presence contributed to making the slumping Canucks’ power play look dangerous, time and again, after being a non-factor in the first three games.
“There’s been times when (the power play) has felt good, but we haven’t got the goals,” said Henrik. “This was a huge building block for us – to score on the power play.”
The Kings scored their only goal of the game in the first period, Anze Kopitar sidestepping Mason Raymond, to get himself in the clear and snap a shot over Schneider’s glove. But that was as close as the Kings would come, and now, after having everything go their way in the first three games, they now have four days to ponder what went wrong – and if they’ve allowed a sleeping tiger to get off the mat.
“We have no pressure, that’s the way we look at it,” said Daniel Sedin. “We’re going to have fun. Who knows what can happen? You play hard and try to make things happen. Tonight, it was good enough to win the game. Who knows what’s going to happen Sunday?”