Persistent Kings make Canucks pay
The old cliché goes something like this: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” That aptly describes the performance of the Los Angeles Kings, who defeated the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks 4-2 on Wednesday in Game 1 of their Stanly Cup playoff series thanks to a lucky bounce and a last-minute goal by Dustin Penner.
Despite dominating the opening 40 minutes, the Kings found themselves tied with the home team headed into the third period. It wasn’t until the game’s final minutes that L.A.’s persistence paid off, with Penner finding the puck on his stick after an unusual bounce of Jeff Carter’s skate. The hulking power forward easily popped his shot behind a sprawling Roberto Luongo.
“We worked hard for 60 minutes tonight and things worked out for us,” Penner said. “It was a bit nerve-wracking. You can’t get frustrated, but I’m not as worried about getting frustrated as I am about letting one get away.”
One of the biggest reasons the game didn’t get away from the Kings was Mike Richards, who led all scorers with a goal and two assists. One of those assists was key in setting up Penner’s game-winner.
Richards intercepted Alex Edler’s clearing attempt and passed to Carter, who directed the puck with his skate to Penner.
“That was just a bad pass by me and a good play by [Carter],” Richards explained. “To tell you the truth, I just got lucky. The puck hit me, ended up on my stick, I made a bad pass, and somehow it ended up in the net, so it was a lucky break. But obviously we’ll take it. You get breaks with hard work.”
Richards was the first King to find the back of the net when he scored a power play goal from a sharp angle to tie the game in the first period. It was a goal Luongo would like back, having otherwise played an outstanding game with 35 saves on the night.
The Richards goal was the first sign of the role that special teams would play in the game. The Canucks took 27 minutes in penalties, putting Los Angeles on the power play eight times, including once for five minutes following a major penalty to Byron Bitz. Bitz hit Kyle Clifford from behind, sending the Kings forward head-first into the boards. Clifford left the game and did not return, while Bitz received a game misconduct.
Los Angeles made Vancouver pay for their lack of poise by taking the lead on a power-play goal from ex-Canuck Willie Mitchell, whose point shot beat a screened Luongo.
The Kings were 2 of 8 with the man advantage, while the Vancouver power play came up dry in all five opportunities.
Although they were soundly outplayed in the first two periods, the Canucks hung around to keep things close. With 8 seconds left in the second period, Edler flipped a shot towards the LA net that deflected off Dustin Brown’s stick and in. Brown later earned some redemption by potting an empty-net goal in the final seconds, but the Edler goal was the type of deflating moment that could have signaled doom for the Kings.
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, who led all skaters with more than 28 minutes of ice time, spoke about how things might have been.
“It would have been tough to lose after dominating the first two periods,” Doughty said. “We played a pretty good game, but at the same time, we’ve got a lot of room to improve. We did feel like we were dominating at times, but they were giving it back to us, too. They got some scoring opportunities and Quickie made some big saves, so we need to limit those and create some more for ourselves.”
Doughty and Richards were involved in some obviously nasty trash talk with the likes of Burrows and Canucks agitator Maxim Lapierre. The colorful character of the Vancouver squad is bound to be part of the storyline any time the postseason rolls around, but Doughty welcomes pesky Canucks antics.
“One of the things they like to do is get under the other team’s skin,” Doughty said. “But I know for me and Richie, we thrive with those kind of things. The more they try to go after us, the better we’re going to play, so it just helps our team.”
Doughty and his teammates aren’t making too much of the win. They know the Canucks, winners of the President’s Trophy as the NHL’s best regular season team, will be fired up to earn the home-ice split in Friday’s game.
“It’s such a long series," Doughty said. "It could go to seven games, and even though we got this first one, which is obviously huge, we’ve got to win three more. Now it goes into Game 2. They’re going to reset. We’ve got to reset. It’s going to be a completely different game.”