VANCOUVER, B.C. – It’s hard to put a price tag on playoff experience, but Mikael Samuelsson has already proven to be a wise investment for the Vancouver Canucks.
Samuelsson scored his second goal of the night at 8:52 of overtime to give the Canucks a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings Thursday in the opening game of their NHL first-round playoff series.
It was Samuelsson’s first playoff game as a Canuck after winning a Stanley Cup ring with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 and playing in last year’s final.
Left alone in the slot, he took a pass from Henrik Sedin and ripped a shot that beat Kings’ goaltender Jonathan Quick.
“I just play my game, try to pick my spots, and try to be at the right place at the right time,” said Samuelsson. “I fired the shot and I was lucky.
“It always feels right shooting.”
When the Canucks signed Samuelsson to a three-year, US$7.5-million contract last summer they hoped he’d bring some post-season experience to a team that has not been past the second round of the playoffs since 1994.
“If you’ve been around, you know what to expect, that’s what experience is,” said Samuelsson, who had a career-high 30 goals and 53 points in 74 games this season. “You stay calm because you know what to expect and you are well prepared.
“That’s what experience is.”
Coach Alain Vigneault said the 33-year-old Samuelsson was a calming influence on the Canucks.
“He played a strong game, got some quality chances, and scored a big goal,” said Vigneault. “Hopefully that experience and that seizing the moment is going to rub off on some other guys on our team.”
The Canucks lead the Western Conference quarter-final 1-0. The second game in the best-of-seven series will be played Saturday night in Vancouver.
The young Kings were outshot 44-27 but gave the Canucks all they could handle.
“Once you get into overtime, it’s anyone’s game,” said defenceman Jack Johnson. “It’s a game of inches in overtime. I expect a lot of games in this series to be like this.”
Los Angeles came within less than an inch of winning with about six minutes gone in overtime.
Johnson fired a puck that went off goaltender Roberto Luongo’s blocker and dribbled toward the goal-line. A sprawling Luongo was able to reach behind him and swipe the puck away.
The play brought chants of “Lou-uuuu, Lou-uuu” from the towel-waving, sellout crowd of 18,810
“I just turned around and it was heading toward the line,” said Luongo. “Once I swiped it off the line I knew it hadn’t crossed, so it was nice.”
It was the Kings’ first playoff appearance in eight years.
It wasn’t the result Los Angeles coach Terry Murray wanted, but his team showed they are not going down without a fight.
“I like the way we played,” said Murray. “Coming into this building with the young group of guys that we have . . . it can be a little intimidating. But I thought we handled it very well.”
Daniel Sedin had a goal and assist for the Canucks. Samuelsson also scored on a power play, while Henrik Sedin had two assists.
Fredrik Modin and Jarret Stoll scored power-play goals for the Kings.
Modin tied the match at 13:06 of the second period during a five-minute power-play.
The Canucks looked comfortable with a 2-1 lead, and were beginning to take control of the game, until Andrew Alberts drove Brad Richardson into the boards from behind, delivering an elbow to the head in the process.
Alberts was given a boarding major and a game misconduct.
The Kings went to work on the power play. Modin took a pass from Alexander Frolov from behind the goal-line, then rifled a shot that beat Luongo.
Vigneault said he didn’t see the play and wasn’t sure if Alberts would face further discipline.
Daniel Sedin scored the game’s prettiest goal, with Henrik drawing an assist.
Daniel was in full flight when Henrik feathered him a perfect pass. He went to his forehand, then lifted a backhand shot past Quick.
Not all the action was on the ice.
A scuffle in the stands late in the third period resulted in five people being ejected. One fan suffered a cut forehead and was attended briefly by paramedics but stayed to watch the rest of the game
Henrik Sedin was involved in a bizarre incident with the Kings’ Anze Kopitar in the second period. Kopitar got his stick up and it became wedged between Sedin’s visor and helmet.
No penalty was called on the play even though a member of the Canuck training staff had to free Kopitar’s stick from Sedin’s helmet.
The Canucks won the Northwest Division championship and took the third seed in the Western Conference with 103 points, two more than the Kings.
The Kings came into the game with the league’s second best road record of 24 wins. The Canucks set a franchise record of 30 wins at home during the season.
Notes: Pavol Demitra played in his 84th playoff game, the most of any Canuck. …Aaron Rome (Anaheim) and Samuelsson (Detroit 2008) are the only Canucks with Stanley Cup rings. …The Kings and Canucks have met in three previous playoff series with L.A. winning in 1993 and 1991 while Vancouver won in 1982.