Vancouver was within 3 minutes of taking a 3-1 series lead against Chicago in the second round of last year’s playoffs, but after a late goal they lost Game 4 in overtime. They also lost their momentum, their composure, and two games later, the series.
Now, after overcoming a third-period deficit to win Game 4 in Los Angeles on Wednesday and tie this year’s best-of-seven series 2-2, the Canucks go into Game 5 on Friday hoping the Kings feel the same way they did about being so close.
“It’s still tough looking back,” Henrik Sedin(notes), who scored the winner with 2:52 left Wednesday, said of last season’s loss to Chicago. “We were 2-2 last year too, but they had all the momentum. We were so close to being up 3-1 and to blow that lead was really tough for us to handle.”
The Canucks learned from that experience, and say it’s paying off in a more even-keel approach to this series, not panicking when they’re behind or forcing things against the tight-checking Kings.
“We’re different this year,” Sedin said. “We could have easily been down 3-1, but we battled back and got momentum again so we have a different feeling in here this year for sure.”
They also say part of that playoff learning curve is not counting on the young Kings coming apart and making it easy the rest of the way. Momentum may be on Vancouver’s side after outscoring Los Angeles 4-1 in the third period on Wednesday. However, momentum has been fleeting throughout a series that has seen the team scoring first lose each of the first four games.
“They were up at home and could have made it 3-1 so I’m sure it stings a little today,” goalie Roberto Luongo(notes) said. “But it’s the playoffs and there’s no reason for us to believe they are going to just lean over and give us the series. They’re going to come here to take a game.”
To do that, the Kings are counting on a veteran group that includes four Stanley Cup winners to help several key players experiencing the emotional roller-coaster of the postseason for the first time. Captain Dustin Brown(notes), leading scorer Anze Kopitar(notes), top defensemen Drew Doughty(notes) and Jack Johnson(notes), and No. 1 goalie Jonathan Quick(notes) are all in their first NHL playoff series.
“With a young group of guys, you could really sense it when I walked into the locker room last night,” coach Terry Murray said before flying to Vancouver on Thursday. “It was a very difficult one to deal with. But as a team you have to go through it together. Veteran players need to step up and say a few things. The leadership group is a part of this thing. They have all been through a lot of these battles before. It’s an important time for them to be part of it.”
There are several positives for the veterans to point out to the sixth-seeded Kings.
Their power play has converted nine of 16 chances, including six straight midway through Game 4. Their 5-on-5 play was better the first two periods of Game 4 than at any other point in the series. And they’ve been one of the NHL’s top road teams all season, winning Game 2 in Vancouver against a team that dominated on home ice all year.
“We knew it was going to be a long series,” veteran Ryan Smyth(notes) said. “This is what the playoffs are all about. You ride a big wave, at times you go through ups and downs, but you can’t ride them too high or too low. We’ve got older guys who can settle things down and we have younger guys who have energy and want to create things at another level. I think we’ll handle it real well.”
The Kings power play may get more opportunities after Vancouver defenseman Nolan Baumgartner(notes) was hurt in Game 4. That means Andrew Alberts(notes), who took five penalties including a major for boarding in the first two games before being benched, will get back in Friday.
“We’re on a roll baby,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said with a long laugh after canceling practice Thursday afternoon. “I’ve never seen a situation like that, six power-play goals in a row. A lot of times the pendulum swings, and things have a way of going back to normal.”