The Vancouver Canucks power play had been struggling coming into Game 2 versus the Los Angeles Kings, but things went from bad to worse for the Presidents’ Cup winners and overall first seed in the NHL playoffs.
Kings captain Dustin Brown put two shorthanded goals past Roberto Luongo to lead L.A. to a 4-2 victory and 2-0 series lead, leaving the Canucks with a tall mountain to climb.
Without a doubt, the story of the series is special teams. The woeful Canucks power play is not only 0-for-10 through two games, it’s minus-2. Both of those goals were scored by Dustin Brown thanks to Vancouver turnovers.
The trouble started when Kings forward Anze Kopitar picked up a lazy Vancouver pass in the Canucks zone late in the first period, and put the puck on net. Brown swooped in to pot the rebound shorthanded.
On the next Canucks power play, Brown again capitalized on another Vancouver flub, picking up a misplayed puck at the Kings’ blueline and racing in on a breakaway. Brown beat Luongo stickside on the backhand for L.A.’s second consecutive shorthanded goal, sucking the life out of Rogers Arena and creating a situation Vancouver couldn’t overcome.
Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault hit the nail on the head in his post-game comments.
“Tonight the power play was more than ineffective, it really cost us at bad times,” said Vigneault. “It was our best players. We’ve got a lot of confidence in those guys and they’ve got a chance to prove themselves [in Game 3] come Sunday.”
One of the players Vigneault referred to is Canucks captain and regular season scoring leader, Henrik Sedin, who has typically shone with the man advantage, but hasn’t been able to dig his team out of its special teams slump.
“The process is there, it’s just that the power play isn’t going well for us and that’s why we’re losing games,” explained Sedin. “Five-on-five, we’re playing well enough to win the game. It comes down to special teams. That’s usually where we win games, but the power play lost the game for us. That can’t happen. You can’t expect to go out there and score every time, but we’ve got to gain some momentum for us. We did the opposite.”
The ailing Vancouver power play begs the question: How much do the Canucks miss team-leading goal scorer Daniel Sedin, who has been sidelined with a head injury since late in the regular season?
“He’s a good player, but again, I think we’re better [than the Kings] five-on-five. We created enough chances to win the game,” Henrik said regarding the absence of his twin brother. “On the power play of course you’re going to miss a player like that, but he’s out, so we have to look at the guys we have and be better.”
Henrik managed to hit the scoresheet with an assist on Jannik Hansen’s second-period goal. Henrik put the puck to the front of the net, where Hansen redirected it past Jonathan Quick.
For his part, Quick made 46 saves to earn both the win and praise from the Canucks’ bench boss.
“He’s making the saves when he needs to make them,” said Vigneault. “Obviously he’s been a big challenge for us so far.”
Like the Kings’ goalie, Roberto Luongo has been the Canucks’ best player in the series. The play of the Vancouver netminder was the subject of uncertainty following an uneven performance in last year’s finals, but Luongo has been solid between the pipes so far. Given that Game 3 is a must win for Vancouver, Luongo knows his team can’t dwell on the series deficit.
“Right now it’s important for us to turn the page and focus on one thing and one thing only, and that’s the next game,” said Luongo. “There’s no point in looking at the big picture. We’ve only got to focus on going in there and winning the game. What’s done is done. We’ve proved all year that when we face adversity, we come out and we play hard. We’ve won a ton of games on the road, so whether we’re at home or on the road we know we can win hockey games. Right now, it’s all about the next game.”
Unlike in Game 1, the Canucks outplayed L.A., controlling the play, limiting scoring chances, and outshooting the Kings 48-26.
Canucks forward Ryan Kesler spoke about his team’s mood following the loss.
“Obviously, it’s disappointing,” said Kesler. “We knew this was going to be a challenge. It’s a good hockey club over there, but we’re not feeling sorry for ourselves. We’re definitely still in this series. We just have to go in there and focus on Game 3 and win that and then focus on the next one. That’s going to be our mindset. We’ve got to learn from these two games.”
While the focus is on Vancouver’s power play, the Kings’ power play has had no such troubles. Jarret Stoll notched a blue-collar marker on a scramble in the crease during a third period Kings power play. That turned out to be the game-winner.
Late in the third period, Trevor Lewis would add another goal for the Kings, as would Samuel Pahlsson for the Canucks, but the die had been already been cast.
In last year’s Stanley Cup run, the Canucks never trailed in a series. Now, the veteran team faces a stiff test heading on the road down two games.
“Any team in our situation, what you’ve got to do is stay in the moment,” said Vigneault. “You’ve got to stick to the game plan, stick to the process, and play with the urgency that a situation like this dictates.”