LOS ANGELES, Calif. – When Jonathan Quick rapped his goal stick on his posts as the buzzer sounded, the sellout crowd unleashed 11 years of deferred playoff excitement on their Los Angeles Kings.
After so many false starts and failures, the long-suffering Kings are on the verge of an unlikely breakthrough.
The mighty Vancouver Canucks? They’re on the brink of collapse.
Quick made 41 saves, Dustin Brown scored on a long rebound with 13:30 to play, and the eighth-seeded Kings pushed Vancouver to the edge of a shocking playoff ouster with a 1-0 victory in Game 3 on Sunday night.
Brown sparked the Kings with a crushing second-period hit on Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin, and his fourth goal of a stellar series put the Kings one win away from their first playoff series victory since 2001. They couldn’t celebrate until Quick finished off his second career playoff shutout after posting a club-record 10 in the regular season.
“We’ve gone through a lot this year, but we’ve always battled out and found a way,” Brown said. “It’s important for us to understand that we can’t take it easy now that we have a three-game lead … but it feels great to have an opportunity to close out a series at home.”
With their stalwart captain and their all-star goalie playing at their absolute peaks, the Kings earned a chance to finish off the two-time Presidents’ Trophy-winning Canucks in Game 4 on Wednesday night.
The Kings also snapped a five-game playoff losing streak at Staples Center. Los Angeles is starved for playoff success after watching first-round defeats the past two years following an eight-year post-season absence.
“This team has been trying to put pieces together for the last six years,” Brown said. “It’s been a long road, and I really think it’s only just starting for us. Going into the series, did this group believe we could beat them? Definitely. We never thought we were going to be up 3-0 in a series against a team that’s pretty well dominated this league for the last two years. Still, it’s three games, and it takes four to win.”
After barely making the playoffs and blowing the Pacific Division title in the final week of the regular season, the Kings stunned the defending Western Conference champions with two 4-2 victories in Vancouver last week, taking a 2-0 lead in a seven-game playoff series for the first time since the Second Six franchise’s debut season in 1968.
Vancouver largely controlled the first two periods of Game 3, but Quick kept it even until the Kings got some flow in the third. Anze Kopitar set up the goal with a sharp drop pass to Williams, whose vicious shot that bounced off Cory Schneider’s pads straight to Brown.
Los Angeles had a power play for the final 1:35 of regulation, but the Canucks pulled Schneider anyway. Quick beat his stick on the goalposts in celebration after the final buzzer sounded.
“We haven’t done anything special yet,” Quick said. “There’s still work to be done.”
Schneider made 19 saves in his first start of the post-season for Vancouver, but also gave up a rebound of Justin Williams’ shot leading to Brown’s goal. Despite a huge shots advantage, the Canucks failed to score on four power plays, dropping to 0 for 14 in the series.
Vancouver has lost seven of its last eight post-season games since taking a 2-0 lead in last summer’s Stanley Cup finals.
“I think you know the stats,” Sedin said. “It’s not easy, but I think we have the team in here to do it. It’s going to turn around, and we all know what can happen. We were there last year. Chicago was one game away from (rallying from an 0-3 first-round series deficit), and we’re in the same spot right now.”
Three of the previous six Presidents’ Trophy winners lost their first-round playoff series.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault switched goalies for Game 3, benching veteran Roberto Luongo in favour of Schneider’s second career playoff start. The change made only a slight difference, but Vancouver clearly still misses leading goal-scorer Daniel Sedin, who’s out with an apparent concussion.
“Playing against that team, sometimes you have to be perfect,” Schneider said. “You have to try to win a game 1-0 against them, and unfortunately, we just came up one goal short of being perfect. We had every chance to win it. We just couldn’t get it done.”
Los Angeles hadn’t won a home playoff game since beating Vancouver in Game 3 of their 2010 first-round series. The Canucks won the next three games to advance.
Until Brown connected, the Kings put on a quiet offensive performance befitting the NHL’s second lowest-scoring team, managing just 11 shots in the first two periods despite six power plays.
Emotions boiled when Brown steamrolled Sedin with a shoulder hit in the Canucks captain’s chest early in the second period, sending Sedin crawling to the bench and sparking a fight between Anze Kopitar and Alex Burrows. The hit wasn’t penalized, and Sedin returned from a brief trip to the locker-room.
Afterward, Sedin confirmed the hit was legal, and Brown spoke of his respect for Sedin.
NOTES: The Los Angeles Lakers went to overtime to beat the Dallas Mavericks earlier Sunday, slightly delaying Staples Center’s changeover from basketball to hockey. Kobe Bryant stuck around to watch the Kings with his two daughters, as did David Beckham after watching the Lakers from courtside. Will Ferrell also attended the game. … After Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler appeared to embellish a cross-checking penalty against Willie Mitchell in the second period, the Staples Center scoreboard showed the replay, followed by several clips of springboard divers. Kesler and a few Vancouver teammates have been accused of diving by numerous opponents.