VANCOUVER – Down 1-0 after two periods with their season on the line, the Vancouver Canucks showed they still have a little fight left.
Brad Richardson scored with 1:23 remaining in regulation Saturday as the Canucks kept their minuscule playoff hopes alive with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings.
Richardson took a feed from linemate Zack Kassian at the side of Jonathan Quick’s goal and ripped home his 11th of the season to keep the Canucks in the post-season chase, at least mathematically.
“That shows the character of the team,” said Kassian. “We could have folded once they scored and packed our bags but we didn’t. We competed and stuck with our game plan.”
The Canucks and embattled head coach John Tortorella would have been eliminated from post-season contention with a regulation loss, but will instead live to see another day thanks to a spirited effort against a Western Conference powerhouse.
“What do we have to lose, right? Torts just told to have fun and go play and what the hell?” said Richardson of what was discussed in the locker-room during the second intermission. “I think we all know where all are.
“Whatever happens, happens.”
Vancouver still sits six points back of the Dallas Stars for the second wild-card spot in the West with just four games left on the schedule.
In short, the Canucks will need a miracle to make the post-season, but the fact they came back against a Kings team that won the season’s first four meetings and was 26-2-0 when leading after two periods is a definite positive in what is in all likelihood a lost campaign.
“We played hard. We played as a team. We stuck together,” said Canucks captain Henrik Sedin, who returned after missing four games with an upper-body injury. “That’s never been a problem here the last couple weeks and that’s a good feeling.”
Alexander Edler added a goal and an assist for Vancouver (35-32-11), which got 25 saves from Eddie Lack in his 18th straight start since the Olympic break.
Slava Voynov scored for Los Angeles (45-28-6). Quick stopped 38 shots for the Kings, who are locked into the third seed in the Pacific Division.
“I thought we played great the whole game,” said Richardson, who left the Kings to sign with Vancouver in the off-season. “Everyone played great tonight. I thought Eddie was awesome. It’s nice to beat those guys for sure.”
Trailing 1-0 after 40 minutes, the Canucks tied the score on the power play after Edler’s seventh of the season just 66 seconds into the third stood up after a video review.
The Vancouver defenceman pinched down to Quick’s crease and saw Daniel Sedin’s saucer pass deflect in off his skate, but without a distinct motion.
The Canucks had another power play moments later, but some good puck movement failed to create a clear-cut chance on Quick.
“We have to bear down. We took three penalties and they scored on one of them,” said Kings forward Marian Gaborik. “We can’t have breakdowns in our zone. We have to get ready and make sure it doesn’t happen. We’re heading into playoffs.
“These game situations can cost us big so we have to figure it out and make sure we bear down and are strong on pucks in front of our net.”
The game was played after a controversial few days in Vancouver that included Canucks president and general manager Mike Gillis seeming to criticize the style employed by Tortorella in a live radio interview.
Gillis said he wanted the club to get back to the high-tempo, puck-possession game that got Vancouver to within one victory of the 2011 Stanley Cup under former head coach Alain Vigneault, who was fired last off-season after a first-round playoff exit.
Tortorella responded to Gillis’ comments by saying that both he and his boss were on the same page in terms of systems coming out of training camp, but added that he was slow to respond to injuries that forced the Canucks into a more conservative style by mid-season.
On the ice, the Kings snapped a scoreless tie on a power play with 28 seconds left in the second period on Voynov’s fourth goal of the season on a massive breakdown by the Canucks’ penalty-killing unit.
All four Vancouver players on the ice inexplicably wound up in the corner below the goal-line, leaving Voynov wide open in front to bury a feed from Jeff Carter. The goal was Voynov’s first goal since Nov. 14, a span of 59 games.
“When they scored at the end of the second period, we talked about just gaining the momentum back,” said Tortorella. “I thought we played a pretty good second period. We just make a terrible coverage mistake on our penalty kill—really they didn’t get a sniff through any of it.
“We just talked about the first few shifts of just trying to gain momentum and not sink because we got scored on late. Then we score a power-play goal. I thought we played well.”
The Canucks had a 4-on-3 power play for 34 seconds earlier in the period that they failed to capitalize on, as well as a great chance for Richardson that the Vancouver forward couldn’t get up and over Quick.
At the other end, Lack made a huge pad stop in the period’s opening minute when he came across to stone Tyler Toffoli on a 2-on-1.
The Kings and Canucks have played some physical games this season and in the playoffs, but the opening 20 minutes felt more like an exhibition game.
Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown had the best opportunity to break the scoreless deadlock with 30 seconds remaining, but his shot from the faceoff circle rang off the post behind Lack.
“We played, I think, like we did back before Christmas. We iced a lineup that’s healthy,” said Henrik Sedin. “We were able to be aggressive, play the way we know we can. We’ve been in a lot of tight games against these guys.”
Notes: Kings defenceman Matt Greene left the game in the third period but later returned after taking a shot off the shin that left blood splattered on the ice. … Kings defenceman Drew Doughty missed out because of an upper-body injury, thought to be a left shoulder ailment. Andrew Campbell made his NHL debut on the L.A. blue-line in Doughty’s place. … The Canucks are home to the Anaheim Ducks on Monday. … The Kings take on the Flames in Calgary on Wednesday.