After letting one get away, Kings get another chance

This is when great players separate themselves from the merely good ones and reputations are forged.

The Kings were a few minutes from taking a 3-1 series lead over the Canucks Wednesday and positioning themselves to clinch a ticket to the second round Friday in Vancouver. Instead, they were left to wonder if the opportunity they squandered will be their last chance to impose their will.

Vancouver’s sensational Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, took their game to an untouchable level against the suddenly flustered Kings. Their combined five points in the final period — and Coach Alain Vigneault’s decision to put shooter Mikael Samuelsson alongside them in place of digger Alex Burrows — was key in the 6-4 victory that tied the series at 2-2. A start time for Game 6, to be played Sunday at Staples Center, will be announced Friday.

That could be the Kings’ finale because of the chance they let slip from their flailing hands. They know it.

“It’s definitely tough to swallow, especially the way we played the first two periods,” Anze Kopitar said Thursday.

“We just gave them more life and they took advantage of it.”

There’s no guarantee that the Canucks, still suspect on defense, will make the most of this. But Samuelsson has at least one goal in every game and five overall, the Sedins have new fire and goaltender Roberto Luongo, flopping more than a beached flounder, made some crucial saves.

At GM Place the Canucks will be physical. They will have the last line change to get the Sedins away from the Brad Richardson- Michal Handzus- Fredrik Modin line or the shutdown defense pair of Rob Scuderi and Drew Doughty. Kings Coach Terry Murray said he will try to keep Handzus’ line against the Sedins but is comfortable with the Ryan Smyth-Kopitar-Wayne Simmonds line, which was badly positioned and caught in the offensive zone on Henrik Sedin’s game-winner at 17:08 of the final period.

“It is a missed opportunity. It is a hockey game you end up losing. You have a 3-2 lead going into the final period and battle hard to get back after giving up a couple to tie things up,” said Murray, who plans to keep his defense intact but might restore Justin Williams to the lineup.

“I guess you’re going to go through those kinds of situations as a hockey club. The most important thing we take out of this one now is being able to get ready to play another game in Vancouver. We’ve got to win a game up there again to get the job done. So to rebound is most important.”

To aid their physical recovery Murray gave players a day off the ice. How they heal emotionally might be more crucial.

Murray said he made a point immediately after the game to tell players they had done many good things, but they hadn’t yet put that loss behind them.

Finding a steady emotional level this time of year isn’t easy. “Especially with a young group of guys. You could really sense that when I walked into the locker room. It was a very difficult one to deal with,” Murray said.

“But again, as a team you’ve got to go through it together. Veteran players need to step up here and say a few things. They’ve all been through battles before, and it’s an important time for them to be a part of it.”

Smyth, one of those veterans and leaders, saw the lost chance. “It comes down to when you get your opportunities you’ve got to bury them,” he said.

But he also saw reason to believe the Kings can find the right emotional balance to give themselves a chance Friday.

“This is what playoffs is all about. You ride a big wave. At times you go through the ups and downs but you can’t ride them too high or too low,” he said.

“We’ve got a great team here. We’ve got older guys that can settle things down and we’ve got some young guys that have energy. And you want to create things to another level and I think we’ll handle it really well.”

This is one chance they can’t let slip away.