Kings capitalize on breaks as Canucks flounder in critical Game 3
Dustin Brown, roaring down the boards to deliver a malevolent hit that left Henrik Sedin gasping for breath and clawing for help from his bench. As a metaphor, it worked pretty nicely: The captain of the Kings all but knocking out the captain of the Canucks.
Sedin returned to the game and gave it his best shot, much like the Canucks will return for Game 4 on Wednesday night in Los Angeles. But by dropping this critical Game 3 contest 1-0, it seems as though both efforts simply delay the inevitable.
This won't be the kind of Hollywood ending Vancouver was hoping for. Down three games to none in the series, the Canucks are poised to become just the ninth conference champ to fall to the eight seed since the current playoff format started in 1993.
And honestly, it's a fate they deserve.
You have to believe Alain Vigneault thinks as much, anyway. Vancouver's coach said he was just looking for "a change in momentum" when he decided to give Cory Schneider his first start of the series after dropping Games 1 and 2 with Roberto Luongo in net.
Smart call, since Big Mo clearly wasn't swinging his way.
A handy scapegoat whenever the team struggles, Luongo was excellent in the opener and solid in Game 2, but received little support from a team that was unable to match the competitive drive -- and brutally effective forecheck -- brought by the underdog Kings. Those losses weren't his fault.
No surprise, then, that Schneider was a virtual non-factor, especially early on Sunday. Los Angeles was lousy in the first, needing 12 minutes to muster its first shot and netting just five total in the stanza. Vigneault could have handed a mask to Fred Schneider and gotten the same result. But as in the first two games, goaltending wasn't the issue.
The problem for the Canucks? While they controlled the flow for much of the game, they didn't get the results because they did little to test Jonathan Quick. Sure, 41 shots sounds like he was under assault, but they generated much sound and little fury. The Kings established domain through the middle, forcing Vancouver to volley pucks from distance that either blackened his crest or were controlled and sent harmlessly into the corner.
Outside of a haphazard bounce that found Alex Burrows' stick about six feet out late in the first, Vancouver failed to generate the kind of down-low chances that were key to its regular season success. The kind that were imperative if it hoped to get back into this series, especially in the waning seconds of the game as shot after shot was rebuffed by well-positioned skaters before Quick was required to make the save.
The absence of Daniel Sedin was keenly felt, but that's when others have to step up. And with just four goals in three contests, it hasn't happened. Henrik's been game, but no one expects the magic that he has with his brother at his side.
And so Ryan Kesler, Vancouver turned its lonely eyes to you.
And he's looked away.
Kesler has been unrecognizable as the player who was a Conn Smythe favorite heading into Finals last year against Boston. One day after proclaiming this a "must-win game" he was more of a clown than a contributor, flopping to draw calls, launching into the air for a last-minute cheap shot on Mike Richards and losing four critical offensive zone faceoffs in the dying moments, including one final chance for redemption with 8.2 seconds left.
Was he great on the draw earlier? Sure ... but who will remember that after watching Richards waste him in the last minute?
With those two struggling, it's little surprise that the power play has sputtered. The unit that struck at a nasty 19.8 percent during the regular season has siphoned more energy that it has provided in this series. A dreadful 0-for-10 in Vancouver, it fired blanks on four chances in Game 3. At least it didn't cough up any shorties like it had at home.
(On a side note, it's a good bet that referees Kelly Sutherland and Kevin Pollock skipped their afternoon nap to take in the humiliation of their colleagues Francois St. Laurent and Eric Furlatt in the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia game. Clearly looking to keep this contest under control, the duo whistled a number of very marginal infractions. I've seen in-game makeup calls before, but some of these felt like intra-league makeup calls.)
Meanwhile, Brown provided a constant reminder that the best trades sometimes are those you don't make. The Kings' captain made his presence felt early, drawing a penalty on a rough introduction to Alexander Edler, then bringing a little animosity to what had been a somewhat tepid game with that brutal -- but clean -- hit on Sedin.
While his teammates struggled to generate many chances of their own, he led the way with six shots. And it was Brown who dusted himself off after being blasted in the corner by Sami Pahlsson, skated to the right of Schneider and lifted a poorly controlled rebound over Schneider for the game-winning goal.
Say what you want about the overall effort of the Kings. Certainly wasn't their finest of the series, as they struggled to establish any kind of forecheck, threw too many of their shots into Schneider's belly and spent too much time in their own zone.
But with a chance to put their boots firmly on the throats of the Canucks, they did it.
And Vancouver? Their season was on the line ... and the Canucks didn't bother to pick up.