After his team lost 6-4 Wednesday, Los Angeles Kings head coach Terry Murray noted that Vancouver Canucks winger Mikael Samuelsson changed the game.
Samuelsson, who leads the Western Conference quarter-final series with five goals in four games, was shifted to Vancouver's top line alongside his Swedish countrymen, the Sedin twins, in midflight. Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault made the move to spark the twins, and because normal first-liner Alex Burrows is in a dreadful slump - no goals in 10 games.
Samuelsson responded with a game-tying goal, and the Sedin line erupted for three third-period goals in a comeback victory that evened the series 2-2. Credit Samuelsson with changing the game, but also credit him with saving the series, because the Canucks might be golfing already if not for his contributions.
"Samuelsson was going well, and the twins needed to pick up their game a little bit," Vigneault said. "I thought that sparked them for the remainder of the game."
Samuelsson has goals in all four games, and he also gets a pass for Vancouver's awful penalty killing because, unlike most of the team's top players, he doesn't play in short-handed situations. He is one of two Canucks with Stanley Cup rings, and the former Detroit Red Wing has used the 2010 postseason to cement his status as one of the best free-agent signings last summer.
"He's been unbelievable for us," Henrik Sedin said. "That's what you need, different guys stepping up in different games and different series. He's been there every game for us. Hopefully he can keep it going."
Burrows is a crash-and-bang player who plays with lots of speed and emotion, and who forces the Sedins to pick up their pace. Samuelsson is more deliberate, and he prefers to hang on to the puck - and shoot it - more than Burrows. That helps the Sedins' vaunted cycle game, but Samuelsson also gives the twins a shooting outlet because he often stations himself in the faceoff circles, looking to pull the trigger.
"[He]gives us a little more time to get to open ice," Henrik Sedin added. "He's been there and he's done that, but it's not like he's been a top scorer in every playoff. But he's really calm out there. He's patient, and if things don't go right, he stays with it."
Samuelsson, 33, signed a three-year, $7.5-million (all currency U.S.) contract last summer after a second straight appearance in the Stanley Cup final.
As a Red Wing, Samuelsson was somewhat lost among a deep group of forwards, and went seeking a more prominent role as a free agent. He settled for Vancouver, where his ice time increased by nearly two minutes a game.
"This is what I wanted," Samuelsson said after Game 4. "I wanted a bigger role. I really liked it in Detroit, but I got stuck a little bit there. I thought I could do bigger things, and I still think that."
He has already earned his $2.5-million this season, finishing second on the team with 30 goals and tying his postseason best for goals in just four games.
The Canucks fancied his ability to play wing on the top three lines, and for the most part, he settled in next to Ryan Kesler on the second unit. But he was also used to jumpstart the Sedin line at several points this season, which makes his omission from the Swedish Olympic team all the more glaring.
"He complements those two [Sedins]really well," said Kings centre Anze Kopitar, whose line has often gone head-to-head with Vancouver's best trio. "They're both playmakers, and he gets to those soft areas where the goals come from."