VANCOUVER – The Los Angeles Kings got the start they wanted, and then Dustin Penner gave them the goal they needed.
Penner scored the winning goal with 3:14 left in the third period as the underdog Kings upset the favoured Vancouver Canucks 4-2 in the opener of their Western Conference quarter-final series Wednesday night.
Penner, who had gone without a point since scoring March 20, said it was nice to get “just any goal actually.”
“You can’t get frustrated,” he said. “I wasn’t so much worried about us getting frustrated so much as letting one slip away, and we got a fortunate bounce on my goal. But we worked hard for 60 minutes tonight and it worked out for us.”
The goal came after the Kings controlled play in the first 40 minutes, but saw the Canucks come back from a 2-1 deficit. Penner capitalized after a Mike Richards pass went off Jeff Carter’s skate, and he whipped the puck past Canuck goaltender Roberto Luongo.
Richards, former Canuck Willie Mitchell and Dustin Brown, into an empty net in the final minute, also scored for the Kings.
“Our last two years, in our first series, we’ve lost the first game,” said Richards, who also had two assists. “Obviously, we really wanted to come out with a good effort tonight.”
Carter also had two assists for the Kings.
Alex Burrows and Alex Edler replied for the Canucks.
Los Angeles only secured a playoff berth with three games left in the regular season and entered the series as the clear underdog.
“We wanted to have a good start in a tough building, and we did that,” said Kings coach Darryl Sutter.
“We took advantage of a couple penalties that (officials) have to call and scored goals.”
The Kings outshot the Canucks 39-26. Los Angeles converted two of seven power plays, while the Canucks were blanked on five.
“They had a good power play,” said Canucks captain Henrik Sedin. “They kept us in our end for the full two minutes and it’s tough, mentally.”
The Canucks finished first overall in the NHL for the second straight season with a 51-22-9 record, while the Kings finished eighth in the Western Conference with a 40-27-15 mark. Although the Kings dominated, the Canucks hung in as the score was tied 1-1 after the first period and 2-2 after the second.
“We came out strong,” Penner said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game. We knew they were going to come out hitting and we were a well prepared group here. We did a lot of video and we’re a really focused group right now.
“Their goaltender kept them in and they could have easily stolen it from us. We had a lot of power-play opportunities, and when you get a lot of power-play opportunities and don’t capitalize as much as you should, it’s one of those games they can pull out of the fire.”
After Burrows opened the scoring 3:17 into the game, a delay-of-game penalty to Vancouver’s Chris Higgins for shooting the puck over the glass gave the Kings a five-on-three power play for 1:11. But L.A. needed just 10 seconds to forge a 1-1 tie as Richards beat Luongo with a shot through the legs from a sharp angle.
It was the first of two five-on-three opportunities for the Kings, but they could not score when Edler also drew a delay-of-game call for batting the puck in mid-air over the glass.
“They played a better overall game than we did tonight. You’ve got to give them credit,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said.
“We ended up with four penalties in the first period, which is a lot and we followed it up with nine more minutes in the second. Obviously we spent a lot of energy trying to kill those penalties but they were the better team tonight.”
The Kings had five straight power plays in an 11-minute span covering the first and second periods but could not score.
Vancouver winger Byron Bitz gave them another chance at 12:12 of the second as he received a boarding major and game misconduct for slamming Kyle Clifford face-first into the glass. Clifford stayed on the bench a while afterward, then left the game and did not return.
Mitchell put in a point shot off Jannik Hansen’s stick with less than a minute to go in the five-minute power play.
The Canucks drew even with just eight seconds left in the second period as Alex Edler’s point shot hit Brown’s stick, bounced off the ice and then went high past a screened Jonathan Quick in the L.A. goal.
“That could have been a killer point in the game,” said Richards. “I thought we played a really good second period, albeit we were on the power play quite a bit, too. That could have been a tough one for us, but we stayed with it—and Dustin (Penner) got us a big goal.”
Game 2 is Friday night in Vancouver.
Notes: Kings C Brad Richardson is out indefinitely after an appendectomy. … Carter returned to the lineup after missing the last five games of the regular season with a bruised ankle. “It feels fine,” he said after the morning skate. … Vancouver’s top scorer Daniel Sedin remained out with a concussion. He missed his 10th straight game. The winger did not take part in the morning skate with the team or a second session with extras. Vigneault refused to comment on a Swedish media report that quoted Sedin’s father saying Daniel experienced a headache after skating earlier in the week. … This is the fifth post-season series between the teams. Both clubs have won two series. The Canucks prevailed in 2010 and 1982 en route to the Stanley Cup finals. The Kings ousted Vancouver in 1993 and 1991. … Los Angeles has four Stanley Cup winners on its roster. The Canucks have one—Sammy Pahlsson (Anaheim, 2007).