VANCOUVER – Not only did the Vancouver Canucks spoil his playoff dream last spring but there was Anze Kopitar sitting in the dressing room Saturday night with a mouthful of stitches.
His face might have been numb but the Los Angeles Kings’ centre said there was no feeling of revenge or vindication after helping his youthful club to a 2-1 NHL shootout win.
“It was more of a boost for (Sunday), to get off to a good start to the season with the win, getting the confidence with the young guys coming into the league,” said Kopitar, who came back from a high stick to score the decisive shootout goal.
“I’m sure they feel a little better after a win than they would after a loss.”
The Kings play the Flames in Calgary on Sunday after spoiling the Canucks’ season-opener as Vancouver celebrates its 40th NHL campaign.
“We knew it was going to be an emotional game,” said Kopitar who received 15 stitches in his upper lip, three inside the mouth and a false tooth after being clipped by Manny Malhotra’s stick in the second period.
Kopitar, with a trickle of blood smearing his face, was first to score in the shootout by deking Canuck netminder Roberto Luongo and beating him with a backhand.
Jack Johnson clinched the win with a stick-side shot while Jonathan Quick foiled Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler.
Kopitar said he received his final stitches as the clubs were set to return for the third period.
“I had it in my head that I was going to come back as soon as I left the ice surface,” he said.
“They beat us out (of the Stanley Cup playoffs in six games), you know, no secret, but … there’s still three games left with those guys. Every single one of them is going to be emotional and hard.”
Kopitar, who had a career year 34 goals and 81 points last season, said Malhotra was trying to clear the puck when he caught him on the follow-through. There was no penalty on the play.
Kesler said both teams played with an edge.
“Obviously, it’s turning into a bit of a rivalry,” he said.
“We had a couple power plays in the third (period) early on, but we had to have to have that killer instinct where we needed to bury them right there and make it 2-0 and we didn’t.”
The Kings took consecutive penalties early in the period and Canuck coach Alain Vigneault said his club missed a big opportunity.
“We couldn’t generate any momentum and then in the overtime for close to two minutes there, they had a shooting gallery out there,” he said.
“Our guys blocked a lot of shots and our goaltender made some big saves.”
The Kings had their big opportunity in overtime when a Kevin Bieksa penalty produced a 4-on-3 power play.
Luongo was solid as Kopitar and defenceman Drew Doughty blazed away from the face-off circles and Los Angeles had a 6-0 edge in shots.
The teams forged a 1-1 regulation tie by converting power-play chances.
Justin Williams evened the score for Los Angeles with 4:05 remaining when he backhanded a loose puck behind Luongo.
Christian Ehrhoff, who led Vancouver defencemen with 14 goals last season, jumped into the play to give Vancouver a second-period lead, shovelling a puck behind Quick.
“We had some good penalty kills and we just hung around until the end and got one in,” said Williams. “It was a basic grind game.
“They blew us out of our dream last year. We kind of spoiled their opening night here tonight. We’re happy for that.”
Members of the 1970-71 Canuck team were introduced in pre-game ceremonies where Henrik Sedin was named the club’s 13th captain.
Doughty said it was a matter of keeping the pressure on the Canucks.
“We were battling the whole game. We just had to wait for that one chance. We were digging in on the power play, just trying to get a goal and we did a great job.”
NOTES: Los Angeles was the Canucks’ first opponent when Vancouver entered the NHL 40 years ago. The Kings won 3-1. … The two clubs played in 1970s uniforms on Saturday. … The Kings are the NHL’s youngest team with an average age of 25.4.