L.A. Kings come thisclose to stealing Game One vs. the Vancouver Canucks

Michal Handzus #26 of the Los Angeles Kings and Kevin Bieksa #3 look on as Roberto Luongo #1 of the Vancouver Canucks makes a goal line save during overtime in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs at General Motors Place on April 15, 2010 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver won 3-2. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)Game 1: Canucks 3, Kings 2 (OT)

The Kings took the Canucks to the limit and back Thursday in Game One of the Stanley Cup playoffs. And even though they found themselves on the losing side of the game, the club didn't seem that worried about it.

After all, the young Kings haven't been in the league long enough to actually feel the mounting pressure of playing in the postseason. Personally, my expectations were to get a feel for the stones of this squad in this first game. I didn't anticipate a win, especially playing at General Motors Place. But I was pleasantly surprised with the result.

In front of 18,000-plus crazed fans, the Kings took to the ice, then were subjected to one of the most stirring national anthems I have ever heard . For Canada. The singer charged with belting out "O Canada" actually stopped and let the crowd sing without missing a beat. It was impressive.

I give Canadians one thing: they really love being Canadian. It seeps into every pore of their being. And at first, I found it a little endearing. Then I was subjected to a Molson beer commercial during the first intermission, and I became slightly annoyed. I'm all for thumping your chest in mock patriotism, but being barked at by some gruff dude, telling me that Canada has "more square feet of awesomeness per person than any other nation on Earth" is a bit much.

Back to Game One...  Some of the Kings looked loose, like Drew Doughty and Wayne Simmonds, while others looked like they were gripping their sticks a but too much, like Jack Johnson. That's understandable, since it's their first time around and everyone deals with anxiety differently. But the important thing is that once the game started, they were all busy and played focused and ready. And they needed to, since the Canucks brought their A-Game as well.

All the questions swirling around both these goaltenders quickly disappeared. Especially for Quick, who looked to have recaptured the mojo he lost during the Olympic break, when he sat on the bench for two weeks. Maybe it was the excitement of actually getting on the ice at GM Place after being banished to Guy-Behind-The-Guy-Behind-The Guy status during the Olympics.

Maybe he was playing coy the last two weeks of the season, when he failed to win his 40th game of the season in eight tries. That allowed people to start questioning his abilities, and lowering the bar of expectations. Regardless of his mindset before the game, Quick showed his head was in the game. He faced 17 shots in the first, turning them all away and looking solid as a rock.

A late interference call on Vancouver's Andrew Alberts with nine seconds left in the first period allows the Kings a power play after the Zamboni races during intermission. And the Kings' seventh-ranked power play drew first blood, when Jarett Stoll scored on an previously untested Roberto Luongo. The Stollercoaster of Love gets a fat rebound and buries it to give L.A. the lead.

But the Kings' good fortunes are short-lived, when Jack Johnson flips the puck over the glass, and gets the gate for delaying the game. The penalty really isn't Jack's fault, since he was just attempting to clear the puck. But once you give the Canucks an opening like that, you know something bad is going to happen. After all, the Canucks are .1 percent ahead of the Kings on PP percentage for the season.

And it's Mikael Samuelsson who ties the game, on a scramble in front of Jonathan Quick for Vancouver's first goal. The Stick In A Box strikes again. as Daniel Sedin scores on a nifty move off a rush from a pass from his brother (and 2010's Art Ross winner) Henrik. The Kings found themselves down a goal, and fans were curious to see how they respond.

The young team continues to grind and finally gets something going in the Canucks' end. Andrew Alberts strikes again, this time dishing out a wicked boarding on Brad Richardson, who appeared dazed and bloody after the hit into the glass. Alberts gets a 10-minute game misconduct, as well as a five-minute major for the boarding.

So the Kings go on the power play, and Dustin Brown is able to hold the puck in on an attempted clearing pass, and skates it in deep, avoiding Canucks left and right. he finally passes it back to Alexander Frolov behind the net, who immediately passes to Fredrik Modin, who one-timed it past Luongo for the Kings' second power play goal of the game. The setup was a thing of beauty, and gave Frolov his first-ever playoff point.

The game remains tied at two for the rest of the second and the third period, despite the Canucks feverish attack. The Kings are outshot 13-2 in the third period, as Vancouver threw everything but the kitchen sink at Quick, who remained focused. And for the sixth (!) game in a row, the Kings head to overtime.

As the game entered its' fourth frame, Terry Murray was more selective about who he put out there with the Sedins. Any time either twin got a look at the puck, they were hit. It was a solid game plan, and taking it's toll on the brothers.

In what proved to be the key play of overtime, Luongo made a miraculous save on Jack Johnson, sprawling backward. The puck had trickled past Bobby Lu and toward the open net. But Luongo looked like Neo from the Matrix, sprawling in an impossible twist to swat the puck from the goal line. The frustrating thing is the Kings weren't there to grab the rebound, which would've likely been easily scored. In his acrobatic save, Lu's stick knob (heh, knob) got caught on his pad strap, and he couldn't free himself to get it out.

The frustrating thing was seeing veteran Michal Handzus prematurely celebrating the goal. Had the normally stoic Slovakian just had his stick on the ice, he could have easily tipped it in. That was L.A.'s last best chance, as Samuelsson scores his second of the game two minutes later to give the Canucks Game 1 of this best-of-seven series.

For the Kings to take it to the Canucks like they did, under hostile conditions on Vancouver's home ice, and take them to overtime speaks volumes about the squad's makeup. It will be interesting to see just where they go from here. Can they respond with the same intensity?

Anze Kopitar #11 of the Los Angeles Kings chases down a loose puck while being chased by Daniel Sedin #22 of the Vancouver Canucks in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 15, 2010 at General Motors Place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)• AP: Samuelsson scores in overtime for Canucks
“Quick made a ton of big saves and I didn’t have many but that one was just as important,” Luongo said of a play that needed video review. “It was definitely going in, but once I swiped it off the line I knew it hadn’t crossed.”
• LA Times: Kings lose playoff opener to Canucks in overtime
It was a disappointment to them but no shame that they were done in by the quick hands and great vision of NHL scoring champion Henrik Sedin, whose pass from behind the net found Mikael Samuelsson in the slot for a wrist shot that beat Jonathan Quick eight minutes and 52 seconds into overtime and gave the Canucks a 3-2 victory to launch their Western Conference playoff series.
• LA Kings: Canucks beat Kings 3-2 in overtime
A Kings team with eight playoff rookies on its game roster battled for almost 70 minutes and certainly didn’t look out of place. That can especially be said for goalie Jonathan Quick, who answered all doubts about his recent play with a strong 41-save effort.
• NHL.com: Samuelsson 's OT goal gives Canucks win over Kings
The save in that crucial situation epitomized the picture of calm that was the Canucks on this night. The Kings, who had a roster full of key players who were making their postseason debuts, certainly didn't wilt under the pressure, but the Canucks were clearly the team that embraced it.
• ESPNLosAngeles' Arash Markazi: Quick's solid play good news for Kings
While Canucks captain and hometown hero Roberto Luongo got the win in goal, there was little doubt who was the best goaltender on this night, as Quick kept the Kings in the game time after time when it looked as if Vancouver was on the verge of opening things up. The Canucks outshot the Kings 44-27, with most of those shots coming in the first and third periods where the Kings were outshot 30-8.
• NHL.com's Kings/Canucks blog: O'Donnell talks value of experience
"I don't think any of them are going to stay up at night tossing and turning or reading their articles or getting on the Internet just reading too much. So I think in that way they're going to be fine."
• NHL.com: Jonathan Quick answers doubters
"He gave us a chance. He stood tall. He was phenomenal," said left wing Ryan Smyth. "He fought traffic really well. He found a way to move with the puck. From a goaltender, that's all you can ask for."
They said it
"You’ve got to feel good about your game, to a point, and try to carry it over to the next game. At the end of the day, it’s not the result we wanted, so we’ll refocus and work hard to try to get that result next time.” – Jonathan Quick, on his first playoff game.
"We have some guys who are competitors. When they're on the ice they're pretty competitve. When they're off the ice, they're pretty laid back,. I think that's goinng to help these guys, especially starting in Canada here not to get caught up in the whole buzz and feeling and energy and electricty of what's going on." – Sean O'Donnell, on the young Kings getting experience.
 “It’s everything I expected. We’ve got enough guys with experience. I think the only ones on defense who didn’t have playoff experience were myself and Drew, but we’ve got experience in other games that a lot of other people don’t have, so I think we’re handling this just fine. All you can take out of this is just to learn from it, move on and bounce back the next game.” – Jack Johnson, on his first playoff game.
“They had some good opportunities, but for the most part I thought there was a lot of perimeter stuff. They were taking a lot of shots from up top or on the outside. There were a few chances inside and Quickie was up for the challenge, but for the most part I thought the shot difference was a little bit different but we’re capable of more. We’ve got to maybe get some more shots at Luongo.” – Ryan Smyth, on the Canucks’ offensive chances.
“We weren’t making plays in the third. We were just chipping pucks out, trying to survive, I think. We needed to regroup, for sure, in the intermission. We needed to talk about things and just regroup. We came out and we got the forecheck going and got some chances, but it was a heck of a save by Luongo on that one, and they go back and make a great play, had a great shift and got the goal on that one.” – Jarret Stoll , on the Kings' scoring chances in the third.
“I was a little concerned yesterday, maybe even at the morning skate today, but again, I really liked the way we handled ourselves in the locker room before the game started. There was a lot of the right things being talked about. I think it showed with the first half of the first period. There was good stuff, good composure. We managed the puck well and made plays. I really was very pleased with the young team.” – Terry Murray , on the playoff debut for his young team.
 

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