Daniel Sedin Returns, Canucks Stave Off Elimination With Gutsy Win in Los Angeles

Leigh Ramsden April 19, 2012 3
Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images

The Vancouver Canucks entered tonight’s contest down 0-3 in their series against the L.A. Kings, and knew they had to win in order to salvage a shred of credibility and avoid being the first Presidents’ Trophy winning club to be swept in the first round of the playoffs.  With their backs firmly against the wall, the Canucks were inspired by the return of Daniel Sedin and gutted out a win at the Staples Center to send the series back to Vancouver for game five.

The Canucks had played better than the Kings had at even strength in the last couple of contests, but struggled to generate very many scoring chances against the stingy Kings’ defense.  Tonight was a slightly different tale, as the Kings were the better team 5 on 5 for much of the night, but the Canucks were able to turn the game in the second period as they slipped a couple point shots past standout Kings’ netminder Jonathan Quick.

The first period, strangely, was probably the Canucks’ worst period of the series.  They were roundly outshot, outchanced, and outhit in the opening frame.  The Kings came out playing the same game they had in the previous games and were hitting everything that moved in a Vancouver uniform.  They were rewarded for their work at the 13 minute mark, as they capitalized on a brutally mis-timed Alex Edler pinch at the blueline.  After the puck got past Edler, Anze Kopitar chased the puck down, then easily sidestepped a backchecking Mason Raymond and snapped a wrist shot past Canuck goaltender Cory Schneider to put the Kings into the lead.

Schneider was by far the Canucks’ best player in the game, but especially so in the first and second periods as he stymied the Kings time and time again.  The Kings were much better in the first period and the second half of the second, coming in waves and generating a number of grade A scoring chances.

The game turned in the Canucks’ favour early in the second.  The Canucks had goals from Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa 4:29 apart to give them the lead.  The Edler goal was scored on point shot on the power play, with Ryan Kesler screening Quick.  Bieksa’s goal came off a deflection from a Kings defender.  These goals were somewhat lucky, but also proved that the only way to beat a goalie that is as hot as Quick is to get in front of him, and look for screens, rebounds, and deflections.

The Canucks were back on their heels slightly in the back half of the second as they took a couple penalties and the Kings pressed them.  Schneider again stood on his head kept the Canucks in the lead.

The third period was the Canucks’ best period by far.  After starting somewhat slowly, the Sedin twins returned to their wizardry and generated a number of chances for the visitors.  A sequence early in the third period iced the game for Vancouver.  After Slava Voynov took a penalty, the Canucks were absolutely dominant on the ensuing power play, generating chance after chance with Quick turning them all away.  Kevin Bieksa then coughed up the puck at the blueline to Dustin Brown, and then took Brown down on his partial breakaway, a move which resulted in a penalty shot.

Down a goal, Brown bore down on Schneider on the penalty shot, but Schneider was equal to the task, as he denied Brown’s attempt to go five-hole.  The penalty shot allowed the Canucks’ first unit power play to remain on the ice, and just 22 seconds later, Henrik Sedin scored on a rebound to ice the game for the Canucks.

After their last goal, the Canucks effectively clamped down on the Kings and didn’t allow them any top-quality chances.  The ones they did allow, Schneider was equal to the task.

The Kings outshot the Canucks 44-30 on the night, however, in the pivotal third period, the Canucks were better, outshooting the Kings 14-13.

Hockey can be a strange game.  The Canucks looked dead in the water in the first period, as their desire was lacking and the Kings were taking the game to them continually.  After the Kopitar goal, it looked next to hopeless.  However, in a familiar refrain, they “stuck to the process”, and were rewarded with a couple of goals in quick succession, which helped even out the deficit they have endured in the luck department in this series.  After taking the lead, the Canucks played like a different team, and came out in the third to win the game – which they did.

The Canucks are still down 3-1 in the series and a series win remains unlikely.  However, this win should help the team get energized as they head home for game five.

GAME OBSERVATIONS

  • There’s a lot of chatter about coach Alain Vigneault’s decision to start Schneider in net.  As I have mentioned, I believe that any coach will always start the goalie that they believe gives the team the best chance to win.  Although there are some potential “political” issues surrounding Schneider’s selection over Luongo in an elimination game, Vigneault did the right thing.  Schneider proved this decision was correct, stopping 43 of 44 shots, many with a high degree of difficulty.  Schneider’s numbers in these two games are:  GAA – 1.01; SV% – .969. Absolutely stellar.
  • During the day, it appeared Daniel would play, but this wasn’t confirmed until the lineups were named just prior to the game.  He wasn’t that noticeable in the first and second periods, but once the rust was off, he was incredibly impressive playing with his brother in the third.  These guys were unbelievable and provided the offensive spark the team needed.  They played most of the game with David Booth, but were reunited with Alex Burrows midway through the final stanza.  Hopefully Daniel feels good after returning home tonight and doesn’t suffer a setback.
  • At the end of the night, Daniel had 19:34 of ice time, playing 22 shifts in total.  His shifts were equal in the three periods, but they lasted longer in the second and third.
  • The next game doesn’t occur until Sunday, which will provide the entire team, and especially Daniel, extra time to recover mentally and physically.  The long break can only help the Canucks.
  • The Kings were motivated and physical tonight, doling out 50 hits to the Canucks’ 26. Half of the Kings’ hits were in their dominant first period.
  • Until the Canucks hit their stride in the third, they were struggling getting pucks to the net again.  The Kings did a great job of blocking shots and preventing the Canucks from penetrating the middle of the ice.  Hopefully the Canucks’ third period is a sign of things to come.
  • The maligned Canuck power play was very good tonight.  They were two for three with the man advantage, and the last one (which culminated in the Henrik goal) was completely dominant for the entire two minutes.  The first power play was only 34 seconds long, but looked to be on the right track as they had net presence and low and behold – a shot went in.
  • Not that the Canucks have “solved” Quick, but they really need to continue getting in front of him, bothering him, and looking for tip ins and rebounds.  It worked tonight.
  • The Canucks defense was much improved tonight.  Edler again didn’t look great, but it was an improvement.
  • Chris Tanev has been struggling a bit and I think it will be interesting to see if Vigneault makes a lineup change to insert a more physical presence on the back end (Rome or Alberts).
  • Keith Ballard has been tremendous since he returned to the lineup. His speed at the back is a huge asset for the team.
  • Vigneault continues to underutilize the fourth line.  Manny Malhotra, Zack Kassian, and Max Lapierre all played less than ten minutes.
  • Lapierre moved up to the second line with Kesler and Booth late in the third period, with Raymond demoted.  We may have seen the last of Raymond in a Canuck uniform.
  • The Kings’ first line of Kopitar, Brown, and Justin Williams has been playing unbelievable in this series.  It has been a beast.  Conversely, the Richards-Carter combination has been played to a stalemate by Kesler’s unit at even strength.  In game one, when Richards and Carter were matched up against Sammy Pahlsson’s line, they looked great.  This should be borne in mind when considering the lack of production out of Kesler in this series.
  • Brad Richardson returned to the Kings’ lineup on the fourth line, and that line was the Kings’ most impressive on the night.  Richardson combined with Colin Fraser and Jordan Nolan to provide a lot of physicality on the night, and were able to contribute some offense, pinning the Canucks in their end on a few occasions.
  • Canucks Nation appeared to be well represented at the Staples Center, as there was noticeable cheering and noise for the Canuck goals.

TAKING STOCK OF WHERE WE’RE AT

  • The Canucks are now down 3-1.  This deficit is not ideal, but if you forget about how we got here, the task is far less daunting than being down 3-0.  The Canucks play game five at home and it’s unlikely they’ll lose three in a row on home ice.  However, unlikely does not equal impossible.  The Canucks will have to put a better effort on the ice in the next game if they want to remain in the series.
  • For my money, the Canucks had a better game in game three, as they really limited the Kings’ scoring chances.  Tonight, they were the recipients of a couple of lucky goals, so they’ll have to get back to playing sound defense and getting bodies in front of Quick to remain successful.
  • Momentum can be a funny thing.  The Kings really looked like they were going to close out this series, but the lucky goals against seemed to deflate them a bit while they gave the Canucks some life.  Although the break is long, the Canucks should benefit from the time off as they can reflect on the things that went well for them tonight.
  • Coming back from being down 3-1 is extremely difficult, but the fact that game five and a potential game seven are at home could help immensely.  I expect the Canucks will win game five.  The series may be won or lost depending on their performance in game six.
  • The Canucks have had a couple of memorable comebacks from being down 3-1, with the most famous being the comeback against the Flames in the first round of the 1994 playoffs.  Pavel Bure won that series in overtime, and that series win catapulted the Canucks on their run to the Stanley Cup final.
  • At this stage, it looks like Schneider is the man in net, at least for now.  Barring injury, I don’t see Luongo getting back in this series.  If by some miracle they pull it out, we could conceivably see Luongo in the next round.  Only time will tell how he handles the fact that it looks like he’s been supplanted.

PARTING SHOTS

Broadcast Observations of the Night:  I have to wonder if the late starts are being determined by the timing of the early CBC games.  Tonight, it seemed like they waited for the end of regulation in the Ottawa/Rangers game before they sang the anthems in L.A.

On the topic of the anthems, ex-American Idol contestant Pia Toscone has been singing the U.S. anthem before the game.  She’s a great singer, but she stretches that thing out so long it’s not even funny.  On a broadcast note, I wonder why CBC insists on showing this.  I’d rather the game just got going.

CBC should have done a better job showing the Canuck fan in the yellow top more consistently throughout the game.

Kirk Muller was in studio in Bruce Boudreau’s stead.  Muller knows the game, but TV is not his forte.  He seems a little bit flat and while he knows the game, he doesn’t provide the same entertainment value that Boudreau does.