After losing Game 3, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault called out his top players, including twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, and goaltender Roberto Luongo. They were the best players on the ice in a Game 4 win over the Los Angeles Kings.
With a 6-4 victory over the Kings, the Canucks escaped what would surely have been akin to playoff death – being down 3 games to 1 in a best of 7 series. With the series now tied at 2-2, the format is shortened to a best of 3, with 2 of those in Vancouver, if necessary. The ‘Cardiac Canucks’ saved their best performance for the third period again, erasing a deficit heading into the final stanza. CBC analyst Jim Hughson described the Canucks first period as tentative and nervous, possibly because of the implications of a Vancouver loss. The Kings thrice held the lead, opening with a goal from sophomore sensation Drew Doughty. Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar also added singles to put L.A. out in front, but each time they did, the Canucks had a response.
Alain Vigneault left the challenge of Game 4 up to his star players. Even though he ‘called them out’, reaffirming that they’d need to be their best players, he also showed confidence by stating he knew they would be. Entering the third period down 3-2, twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin mustered their star power and recorded 5 points between the two of them. Henrik took a wonderful, patient pass from Daniel, cut into the slot, and wristed one over (goaltender) Jonathan Quick’s blocker. Jim Hughson remarked that he’d never seen Henrik so elated to score a goal, and it was a huge one.
For once, the L.A. Kings penchant for crashing Luongo came back to haunt them. With two minutes to go in regulation and down a goal, Michael Handzus collided with a Canuck defender and knocked the net off it’s moorings as the play headed back towards the Kings zone. Kyle Wellwood did some fantastic work ragging the puck along the end boards, chipping valuable seconds off the clock. Forty seconds later, when the play came back to the Canucks zone, the refs blew the play dead, seeing the net dislodged. Kings coach Terry Murray was incensed, but the officials knew Luongo had not knocked it off. Henrik Sedin also had a gritty shift, keeping four Kings from getting puck possession to Quick’s left just behind the net.
Sami Salo gave the Canucks their first lead of the game at the 12:16 mark of the third period on the powerplay. Daniel and Henrik moved the puck cross-ice, and Daniel found Salo sneaking in from the point. He blasted the one-time feed two feet off the ice over Quick’s blocker for a vital power play marker.
The win now shortens the series to a best of three contest, with 2 games in Vancouver, if necessary. Don Cherry and other hockey pundits will tell you that Game 4 is the hardest one to win. With that in mind, it should be interesting to see how momentum factors in going into Friday’s game in Vancouver. During the regular season, the Canucks were the 2nd highest scoring team, only trailing Washington in that statistic. With 4 goals in the third period, they finally showed their offensive bite, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Although teams (including the Canucks) have come back trailing a series three games to one and won it, it doesn’t happen very often. To be frank, in my own mind, I felt if they had lost this game, that the series would be all but over.
Roberto Luongo shone in Wednesday’s game, and is a large reason why the Canucks find themselves tied going in to Game 5. While I feel that a lot of the criticism that he has shouldered this series has been unfair, he went a long way to deflecting that negativity. His rebound control was superb, and the timeliness of his saves instrumental in the win. Canucks fans collectively held their breath as Alexander Frolov broke away for a clean shot on Luongo, with the Kings leading by a goal. It’s too early to call it a series saver, but we might well reflect back on it in a weeks time and recall it’s importance.
Of course, there’s still a good chunk of hockey to be played, and it’s anyone’s guess who will be moving on to the conference semi-finals. What we do know is that Vancouver has home-ice advantage, including last change, to try to claim the series win. We also know that Alain Vigneault put the challenge out to his best players, as well as his vote of confidence. That call was answered in their 6-4, come-from-behind victory Wednesday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.