VANCOUVER – One lunge, one desperate swipe of a goalie’s glove and a few inches separated the Kings from a first-round playoff series lead on Thursday night.
The win was there for the taking in overtime, when Jack Johnson swatted at a rebound and the puck rolled toward the Vancouver goal line. That’s when Roberto Luongo used every bit of his 6-foot-3 frame to reach back and cover the puck before it crossed the line.
Two minutes, 27 seconds and one neutral-zone turnover later, the Vancouver Canucks scored for a 3-2 victory in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series at GM Place.
Game 2 will be played Saturday night in Vancouver, not much turnaround time for a young Kings team that just suffered its first big playoff disappointment together.
``It is (tough), but Game 2 is coming up here pretty quick, so that's what we've got to look forward to,’’ Kings center Jarret Stoll said. ``Short memories in these playoffs. You've got to have an even keel and prepare and focus for the next game. It was a tough one, yeah, but we have to regroup and focus for Game 2.’’
The Kings led 1-0, on Stoll’s second-period power-play goal, and tied the game 2-2 on Fredrik Modin’s second-period power-play goal, but Mikael Samuelsson’s second goal of the game, 8:52 into overtime, ended it for the Canucks.
A Kings team with eight playoff rookies on its game roster battled for almost 70 minutes and certainly didn’t look out of place. That can especially be said for goalie Jonathan Quick, who answered all doubts about his recent play with a strong 41-save effort.
``He was phenomenal,’’ veteran winger Ryan Smyth said. ``He held us in there a few times and gave us a chance to win. Goaltending, that's what you need. It's just going to get better. He's a competitor. He competes really hard in practice and he shows it in the game situation. Everybody is saying that he was struggling a little bit lately but, no, we all have confidence in him and we're really excited.’’
Quick’s readiness came under question after he ended the regular season with an eight-game winless streak, but Quick set the tone early with a point-blank glove save on Alex Burrows, eight minutes into the first period, and never really wavered in the game.
The Kings rightfully had praise for Quick, and could be proud of the overall effort in their first playoff appearance since 2002. They started the game well, in the face of a loud Vancouver crowd and a more veteran opponent, and showed no trace of nervousness.
``I thought we played good,’’ Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``I liked the way we played. Coming into this building, with the young group of guys that we have, and a lot of inexperience -- we have some veterans who have been here before -- and especially in a Canadian market there's a lot of energy and emotion in the building.
``It can be a little intimidating, but I thought we handled it pretty well. I liked the way we started in the first few shifts.’’
In the end, though, the Kings – as happens to many teams -- got ``Sedined.’’ The twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin had a hand in all three Vancouver goals, particularly the game-winner.
Just over eight minutes into overtime, Daniel Sedin took the puck from Kings defenseman Randy Jones in the neutral zone. The Canucks cycled for a while in the Kings’ zone, missed one shot and had two others blocked.
Finally, Henrik Sedin got the puck behind the net and fed a perfect centering pass to Samuelsson, who beat Quick from the slot to end the game. Daniel Sedin had one goal and one assist and Henrik Sedin had two assists in the game.
``One of the Sedins set it up behind there,’’ Quick said of the overtime goal. ``He was doing that all night and he's been doing it all year. He likes posting up there. Then he passed it off and I couldn't tell you who scored. I didn't even really see it. He got a good shot off and put it where I wasn't.’’
The Kings, meanwhile, had offensive only in spurts and were outshot 44-27, including 13-2 in a third period in which they played gritty, desperate defense but did little except expend energy clearing the puck from their zone before making a line change.
Offensive play opened up for the Kings in overtime, and they had one brilliant chance.
At the 4:07 mark, Quick made a sprawling save on Henrik Sedin after a 2-on-1 Vancouver break, and the Kings were able to get pressure on Luongo.
Then, at the 6:06 mark, Smyth shot and Luongo made a save. Michal Handzus put a rebound shot on net, and Luongo made a save. The puck came to Johnson, just to the left of the goal, and Johnson didn’t get his full force behind the shot. The puck hit Luongo and trickled behind him, but the goalie reached back to stop the puck from going in.
``Good save,’’ Murray said plainly. ``Good players make good plays.’’
A gold-medal goalie, in fact, given that Luongo helped Canada win the gold medal, in the very same arena, during the Olympics in February. In Game 1, Luongo didn’t get seriously tested very often in regulation.
Shots were 17-6 in favor of the Canucks in a scoreless, physical first period in which Vancouver failed to score on the only full power play of the period.
The Kings had a power play for the first 1:52 of the second period, though, and they scored 54 seconds into the period. Stoll took a pass from Handzus and scored on a shot from the high slot.
Vancouver tied the game with its own power-play goal, less than three minutes later, when Samuelsson knocked in a rebound after a scrum in front of the Kings' net at the 3:09 mark.
Vancouver took a 2-1 lead at the 8:31 mark of the second period. Henrik Sedin, with the puck in the Kings' zone, passed left to his twin brother, Daniel, who cut to the net with speed and beat Quick on a backhand shot from close range.
An already physical game turned nasty with 8:51 remaining in the second period, when Vancouver Canucks defenseman Andrew Alberts left his feet and smashed Kings winger Brad Richardson into the glass and boards.
Richardson left the ice in clear discomfort, holding his face, and Alberts got a five-minute boarding penalty and a game-misconduct penalty. The play will certainly be reviewed by the league for possible supplemental discipline.
``I think the referees made the correct call,’’ Murray said. ``I did see a replay between periods. I think it's the correct call. The league now makes a decision on what they're going to do, but again, from my side of it, all you can ask is that the referee interpret it the right way, and I thought they did.’’
With the Kings on the ensuing five-minute power play, they tied the game with 6:54 remaining in the second period. Dustin Brown controlled the puck along the boards and pushed it behind the net. Alexander Frolov fed a nice pass to the left circle and Modin one-timed the puck past Luongo.
The Kings, though, recorded only six shots on goal during the five-minute power play, and didn’t score again until the game went to overtime.
``We weren't making plays in the third,'' Stoll said. ``We were just chipping pucks out, trying to survive, I think. We needed to regroup, for sure, in the intermission. We needed to talk about things and just regroup.
``We came out and we got the forecheck going and got some chances, but it was a heck of a save by Luongo on that one, and they go back and make a great play, had a great shift and got the goal on that one.''