VANCOUVER – It wasn’t perfect, but the Vancouver Canucks’ penalty kill is starting to improve.
The timing couldn’t be better.
After giving up at least two power-play goals in each of the first four games of their Western Conference quarter-final with Los Angeles, the Canucks held the Kings to just one on Friday in Vancouver’s 7-2 win.
And they didn’t flinch when Michal Handzus threw the puck in front of goalie Roberto Luongo and banked it in off the skate of defenceman Christian Ehrhoff for a 1-1 tie in the first.
“The goal that they got was … almost typically like the other ones, a fortunate bounce on their part that ended up in the back of our net,” said Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault.
“Our guys battled through that one, didn’t let it affect them and hopefully that will let us build a little bit of confidence.”
Confidence was what the Canuck penalty killers needed after giving up nine goals on 16 man-advantage opportunities in the first four games of the series.
They compiled an anaemic kill rate of 43.8 per cent, dead last among the 16 playoff teams.
On Friday, Vancouver held the Kings to a 1-for-5 performance, including a 28-second 5-on-3 second-period power play that could have brought the Kings back in the game.
Instead, the Canucks killed it off, skated to a big win and a 3-2 lead in the series. Game 6 goes Sunday in Los Angeles.
“It was something we needed, especially that 5-on-3,” Ryan Kesler, nominated for a second time for the Selke award as the NHL’s best defensive forward, said of the penalty kill.
“They get one there and all of a sudden it’s 4-2 and they are still on the power play. That was big kill. I think we’re finally starting to play better on the PK.
“Once you get a couple of kills in a row you relax and try not to do too much. If we are working as a group out there with (Luongo) it’s tough to beat. It’s when we are working individually that we seem to fail.”
There’s been lots of failure. The Kings scored on six consecutive power plays at one point in the series.
Dating back to their six-game loss last spring to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Canucks had allowed two or more power-play goals in each of their last six Stanley Cup playoff games.
That dubious stat tied the New York Islanders, who set the NHL standard for futility defending man-advantage situations in the 1990s.
On Friday, the Canucks pressured the Kings as they brought the puck into the attacking zone and played high on their point men if they did get over Vancouver?s blue-line.
“They changed up their scheme and came a little bit harder,” said Kings forward Dustin Brown, who has one power-play goal in the series.
“We’re going to have to make adjustments, look at film, but our execution has to be better as well. I don’t think we passed the puck nearly as well as we did in the previous games.
“When you’re not passing the puck, any penalty killer will tell you if you have a rolling puck or the pass is not clean they’re going to do a much more effective job and they did that tonight.”
Alex Burrows, second to Kesler in penalty-kill time, said the Canucks built momentum and confidence off their effort, especially when they were down two men.
“At the same time it kind of killed their hope to come back into the game,” said Burrows, who led Vancouver with 35 regular-season goals but hasn’t found the net in the post-season.
Kings defenceman Jack Johnson said the Canucks’ improvement when Los Angeles was on the power play was a major factor in the Vancouver victory.
“It’s huge,” Johnson said. “When you get a 5-on-3 you’ve got to score, especially in the playoffs.”