By Andrew Howard - LA Kings
Throughout the regular season, the Los Angeles Kings were rock solid entering the third period with a lead, posting a 29-0-2 mark, one of two NHL teams not to suffere a regulation loss when leading after two.
That was the regular season.
Entering the third period with a 3-2 lead on Wednesday night, the Kings allowed the Canucks to score four goals en route to a 6-4 loss for Los Angeles in front of a standing-room only crowd of 18,322 at STAPLES Center.
Instead of an opportunity to take a commanding 3-1 series lead heading into Friday night's game in Vancouver, the series is now even at 2-2 with the certainty that the two teams will meet at STAPLES Center on Sunday for a sixth game.
"When you have a lead going into the third period, you got to be able to nail that thing down," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "That's what you're objective [is], obviously. Keep playing hard, keep playing heavy and be physical on their players and shut that down.
"Win the game."
Vancouver tied the game at 7:29 mark of third period on goal by Mikael Samuelsson off a rebound, and then took the lead for the first time in the game almost five minutes later on a power-play goal by Sami Salo.
The fact that the costly penalty for the Kings was for too many men on the ice was ironic, as it was a similar penalty that powered the Kings to an overtime win in Game 2.
"We have the too many men on the ice and they capitalize on the power play," Murray said."That kind of kicked the door a little bit."
While Wayne Simmonds made it forgivable for a moment with a spectacular goal while flying through the air less than a minute later to tie the game, the NHL scoring champion Henrik Sedin brought the win home for the Canucks.
Scoring his first goal of the series, Sedin gave the Canucks the lead for good after three Kings players got caught in Vancouver's defensive zone, creating an odd man rush which resulted in a goal with 2:52 remaining.
"We made two costly mistakes, and they are a transition team," Kings forward Ryan Smyth said. "We have talked about this at the start of the series and throughout the series. They thrive on that kind of stuff, and it showed. We have got to eliminate the turnovers and the odd man rushes."
Ryan Kesler would add an empty-net goal but by then the story had been written for the Kings. With an opportunity to cap off the return of playoff hockey to Los Angeles with two wins, the Kings must head to Vancouver for the start of what is now essentially a three-game series.
"They're a good club," Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick said. "If you don't play the full 60 [minutes] it's going to happen to you and they capitalized on a few mistakes we made."
Quick added that in playoff scenarios a teams goaltender needs to step up with big-time saves, something he said he didn't do.
Someone who did was Vancouver's Roberto Luongo. After consecutive games against the Kings at STAPLES Center in which he allowed eight goals and five goals, Luongo made some crucial saves down the stretch.
"I felt great, but obviously it was a high-scoring game," Luongo said. "Sometimes you've just got to make the saves and get the win. Like we've seen in the past, we are a bit more high-scoring and sometimes these games are going to happen, but at the end of the day when the game is on the line, sometimes you've got to make the save."
The Kings must now prove that they have short memories and put Wednesday's costly third period behind them. If the team wishes to return to STAPLES Center with a lead in the series, they must show that a young team can bounce back.
"This is part of the process," Murray said. "You got to go through it. As a young group of guys you're going to face adversity and again we, I feel, have handled those situations pretty well over the course of the year where we've shown to be resilient and gritty and bounce back. Its going to be a test up in Vancouver."