Game 1: Canucks 3, Kings 2 (OT)
The Kings took the Canucks to the limit and back Thursday in Game One of the Stanley Cup playoffs. And even though they found themselves on the losing side of the game, the club didn't seem that worried about it.
After all, the young Kings haven't been in the league long enough to actually feel the mounting pressure of playing in the postseason. Personally, my expectations were to get a feel for the stones of this squad in this first game. I didn't anticipate a win, especially playing at General Motors Place. But I was pleasantly surprised with the result.
In front of 18,000-plus crazed fans, the Kings took to the ice, then were subjected to one of the most stirring national anthems I have ever heard. For Canada. The singer charged with belting out "O Canada" actually stopped and let the crowd sing without missing a beat. It was impressive.
I give Canadians one thing: they really love being Canadian. It seeps into every pore of their being. And at first, I found it a little endearing. Then I was subjected to a Molson beer commercial during the first intermission, and I became slightly annoyed.
I'm all for thumping your chest in mock patriotism, but being barked at by some gruff dude, telling me that Canada has "more square feet of awesomeness per person than any other nation on Earth" is a bit much.
Back to Game One... Some of the Kings looked loose, like Drew Doughty and Wayne Simmonds, while others looked like they were gripping their sticks a but too much, like Jack Johnson. That's understandable, since it was their first time around and everyone deals with anxiety differently. But the important thing is that once the game started, they were all busy and played focused and ready. And they needed to, since the Canucks brought their A-Game as well.
All the questions swirling around both these goaltenders quickly disappeared. Especially for Quick, who looked to have recaptured the mojo he lost during the Olympic break, when he sat on the bench for two weeks. Maybe it was the excitement of actually getting on the ice at GM Place after being banished to guy-behind-the-guy-behind-the guy status during the Olympics.
Maybe he was playing coy the last two weeks of the season, when he failed to win his 40th game of the season in eight tries. That allowed people to start questioning his abilities, and lowering the bar of expectations.
Regardless of his mindset before the game, Quick showed his head was in the game. He faced 17 shots in the first, turning them all away and looking solid as a rock.
A late interference call on Vancouver's Andrew Alberts with nine seconds left in the first period allowed the Kings a power play after the Zamboni races during intermission. And the Kings' seventh-ranked power play drew first blood, when Jarett Stoll scored on a previously untested Roberto Luongo. The Stollercoaster of Love got a fat rebound and buried it to give L.A. the lead.
But the Kings' good fortunes were short-lived when Jack Johnson flipped the puck over the glass, and got the gate for delaying the game. The penalty really wasn't Jack's fault, since he was just attempting to clear the puck. But once you give the Canucks an opening like that, you know something bad was going to happen. After all, the Canucks are .1 percent ahead of the Kings on PP percentage for the season.
And it's Mikael Samuelsson who tied the game, on a scramble in front of Jonathan Quick for Vancouver's first goal. The Stick in a Box struck again. as Daniel Sedin scored on a nifty move off a rush from a pass from his brother (and 2010's Art Ross winner) Henrik. The Kings found themselves down a goal, and fans were curious to see how they respond.
The young team continued to grind and finally got something going in the Canucks' end. Andrew Alberts struck again, this time dishing out a wicked boarding on Brad Richardson, who appeared dazed and bloody after the hit into the glass. Alberts got a 10-minute game misconduct, as well as a five-minute major for the boarding.
So the Kings went on the power play, and Dustin Brown was able to hold the puck in on an attempted clearing pass, and skated it in deep, avoiding Canucks left and right. He finally passed it back to Alexander Frolov behind the net, who immediately passed to Fredrik Modin, who one-timed it past Luongo for the Kings' second power play goal of the game. The setup was a thing of beauty, and gave Frolov his first-ever playoff point.
The game remained tied at two for the rest of the second and the third period, despite the Canucks' feverish attack. The Kings were out-shot 13-2 in the third period, as Vancouver threw everything but the kitchen sink at Quick, who remained focused. And for the sixth (!) game in a row, the Kings headed to overtime.
As the game entered its fourth frame, Terry Murray was more selective about who he put out there with the Sedins. Any time either twin got a look at the puck, they were hit. It was a solid game plan, and it took its toll on the brothers.
In what proved to be the key play of overtime, Luongo made a miraculous save on Jack Johnson, sprawling backward. The puck had trickled past Bobby Lu and toward the open net. But Luongo looked like Neo from the Matrix, sprawling in an impossible twist to swat the puck from the goal line. The frustrating thing was the Kings weren't there to grab the rebound, which would've likely been easily scored. In his acrobatic save, Lu's stick knob (heh, knob) got caught on his pad strap, and he couldn't free himself to get it out.
The frustrating thing was seeing veteran Michal Handzus prematurely celebrating the goal. Had the normally stoic Slovakian just had his stick on the ice, he could have easily tipped it in. That was L.A.'s last best chance, as Samuelsson scored his second of the game two minutes later to give the Canucks Game One of this best-of-seven series.
For the Kings to take it to the Canucks like they did, under hostile conditions on Vancouver's home ice, and take them to overtime, speaks volumes about the squad's makeup. It will be interesting to see just where they go from here. Can they respond with the same intensity?