Anze Kopitar, Kings are finally rewarded for extra effort
Youthful enthusiasm overtook experience Saturday, giving the Kings a split of their first two playoff games against the Vancouver Canucks and a passing grade on their first significant test as a team with greater aspirations than recent playoff history.
Anze Kopitar converted the rebound of his own shot seven minutes and 28 seconds into overtime during a power play, knocking the puck off goaltender Roberto Luongo’s stick to give the Kings a dramatic 3-2 victory.
The series shifts to Staples Center for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Wednesday, the Kings’ first home playoff games in eight years.
Had they lost Saturday at GM Place, their postseason theme of “back in black” could have referred to mourning their lost playoff chances instead of wearing team colors.
The Kings had trailed, 2-0, after the first period but scored twice in 35 seconds in the second period to pull even.
“It’s not like it was new to us,” Kopitar said, referring to the team’s many slow starts and late rallies during the season. “To get the win feels great and shows the character of the team.”
As the more experienced Canucks faded, the Kings gained strength in the third period and overtime and broke through after Drew Doughty slid the puck to Kopitar for an initial shot.
“He made the save and the puck was in the air,” Kopitar said of Luongo, who was less than commanding all night. “He was reaching back and it hit his knob and went in. To get a split in this building, a pretty loud building, going back to L.A. with a split is huge for us.”
To get it, Coach Terry Murray had to make massive lineup changes. He sat out first-line right wing Justin Williams, defenseman Randy Jones and enforcer Raitis Ivanans and replaced them with Scott Parse, Rich Clune and Peter Harrold, who all acquitted themselves well. Wayne Simmonds, moved up to the first line to replace Williams, scored the tying goal, at 11:33 of the second period.
Their comeback, Simmonds said, was old hat to them. “This is our team,” he said. “We can’t make this a habit, but we pulled it out.
“We’re going to play the next two games at home, and the fans get to see playoff games at home and I can’t wait.”
Jonathan Quick stopped 24 shots to earn his first victory since March 22. “It’s a huge win, especially in a barn like this,” he said. “It says a lot about our team and the character in this locker room.”
And about Quick’s resilience too. The Canucks scored twice on their first four shots at Quick and took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
The Kings squandered an early power play after Dustin Brown sold a mild crosscheck committed by Andrew Alberts, but the Canucks capitalized on their first power play.
Ryan Smyth was serving an interference penalty when the Canucks controlled the puck in the Kings’ end, with Christian Ehrhoff passing to center Kyle Wellwood, who relayed it back to Ryan Kesler. Quick made the first save but Steve Bernier shoved the puck into the net at 7:33 during a scramble in front.
The Canucks made it 2-0 at 9:49. Mikael Samuelsson, who scored twice in the series opener, carried the puck up the middle of the ice and took a long, ice-skimming shot that skipped past Quick from about 50 feet.
The Kings looked lifeless until they got another power play almost midway through the second period and capitalized -- and then struck again 35 seconds later on a three-on-one to tie the score at 2-2.
Shane O’Brien was sent off for roughing at 9:13 and the Kings broke through at 10:58. Jack Johnson took a shot that Luongo stopped with his pad, but he was down and out of position to prevent Fredrik Modin from prodding in the rebound at 10:58.
After play resumed the Canucks began to exert pressure in the Kings’ zone, with Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows camping in front of Quick. But Burrows and another Canuck fell and were out of the play as the Kings came up ice on an odd-man rush, which was capped when Kopitar passed from the left side to Simmonds for a 15-foot wrist shot.
It was the Kings’ first even-strength goal in the series after scoring twice on the power play in Game 1 and getting their first goal Saturday with the man advantage.
“We don’t have experience, but we never quit,” Doughty said. “It’s a great feeling to come out of this building with a win.”
And to become not just a young team but a young team that’s competing hard and, maybe, learning how to win under duress. It’s another step forward for a team that’s creating new playoff history.