LOS ANGELES – Of all the breaks that went the Vancouver Canucks’ way in the final three games of their playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings, none was bigger than a fortuitous crack in Mikael Samuelsson’s stick.
When Samuelsson’s lumber snapped on a shot that sent the puck trickling meekly toward the net, Daniel Sedin was in perfect position to pounce. His late goal sent the Canucks into the second round on a wave of confidence in their talented twins’ top line, which is making its own good luck.
Sedin scored the tiebreaker with 2:03 to play, and the Canucks rallied from another third-period deficit to finish off Los Angeles with a 4-2 victory in Game 6 Sunday night.
Roberto Luongo made 30 saves while carrying third-seeded Vancouver through the Sedin twins’ shotless first two periods, and Kevin Bieksa tied it early in the third. Yet the series seemed headed for its third overtime game until Sedin snapped a shot past Jonathan Quick and one-upped his brother, NHL scoring champion Henrik, who scored the go-ahead goal with 2:52 left in Game 4.
“The (puck) came to me, and it wasn’t a very hard shot, but it found a way to go in,” Daniel Sedin said. “It’s one of those things.”
Those things are happening more frequently to the Sedins, who haven’t reached a Western Conference final during a decade in the NHL. Judging by the confident smiles on the Swedish brothers’ red-bearded faces in the Staples Center locker-room after combining for 18 points against the Kings, they believe Vancouver is ready to take another step.
“They were our best players tonight, especially late in the third,” Vancouver centre Ryan Kesler said. “They found a way to get it done, and we needed that from them.”
Vancouver headed to the second round for the third time in four seasons – possibly to meet Chicago for the second straight year – after three straight wins closed out the Kings.
The Canucks outscored Los Angeles 15-5 and overcame two third-period deficits in the final seven periods, with the good times starting shortly after coach Alain Vigneault put Samuelsson on the Sedin twins’ line in Game 4.
“To be down (by a goal) going into the third, there are not a whole lot of teams that can battle back there,” Henrik Sedin said. “But we came back and played our best period of the series. We got the momentum back and held onto it.”
Samuelsson failed to score a goal in Game 6 for the first time in his remarkable series, but still earned two assists – including that accidental helper on Sedin’s decisive goal – to finish with 11 points.
“The puck just flutters around, and it ends up with a very fortunate bounce,” Kings coach Terry Murray said. “If (Samuelsson’s shot) gets through, it probably goes over the net. That was not a well-placed shot.”
Steve Bernier scored an early goal for Vancouver, and former Sedin linemate Alex Burrows put his first goal of the post-season into an empty net with 1:07 left.
Drew Doughty and Alexander Frolov scored for Los Angeles, which was 29-0-2 in the regular season when it took a lead into the third period. Vancouver made third-period regulation comebacks in both of the Kings’ final two home playoff games.
“We just got to work and got back in the games and won,” Vigneault said. “I think (Game 4) was a big moment for our confidence and our game. I don’t know if it hurt them mentally, as well, but we did win three in a row.”
Quick stopped 18 shots for the sixth-seeded Kings, who struggled to finish close games in their first playoff appearance since 2002. The Canucks’ fortunate go-ahead goal left Los Angeles frustrated when a 101-point season ended with a three-game skid.
“It’s a big disappointment, because we know we had some chances to take control of this series,” Ryan Smyth said. “It’s also a lesson to be learned. As the series went on, (Luongo) got better. We found ways to beat him early, but he gave them a chance.”
Although Frolov scored his first goal of the playoffs early on, Luongo kept the Canucks’ deficit from growing much larger while Los Angeles outshot Vancouver 4 to 1 for most of the first 30 minutes. The Canadian Olympic star made his most spectacular save on Smyth’s point-blank chance midway through the second period, rolling to the ice while making an improbable glove stop above his prone body.
“I was lying down and I saw him winding up,” Luongo said. “Luckily, he doesn’t have a Howitzer there, so I was able to snare it.”
NOTES: Los Angeles’ power play went 0 for 5 in Game 6 after a 10-for-21 start to the series, although the Kings scored both of their goals moments after power plays ended. … Wayne Gretzky got a raucous ovation when he appeared on the overhead scoreboard while watching the game from a luxury suite. Gretzky played nearly eight seasons with the Kings, and is memorialized in a bronze statue outside Staples Center. … Kings leading scorer Anze Kopitar went down hard near the boards with 3½ minutes left in the third period and skated to the bench, putting no weight on his left foot. … Vancouver has reached seven of the past nine post-seasons, but hasn’t made the conference finals since 1994, when the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup finals to the New York Rangers.