Commentary

Kings don't waste opportunity

Updated: April 12, 2012, 3:32 AM ET
By Jim Morris | Special to ESPN.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- It was a game the Los Angeles Kings didn't want to come back to haunt them.

The Kings dominated the Vancouver Canucks for 40 minutes but still found themselves tied 2-2 heading into the third period of Wednesday night's opening game of their first-round NHL playoff series.

Too many times in the past, Los Angeles let a chance for a big win slip through its fingers. But when Dustin Penner scored for a 3-2 lead with just over three minutes left, the Kings believed they were about to reverse some history.

Dustin Brown would seal the win with a goal into an empty net as Los Angeles defeated the Canucks 4-2 to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal.

For most of the night, the Kings were the superior team. They used their strength to win puck battles and their speed to set up scoring chances. But what the Kings had trouble doing was beating Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo.

It was like a boxing match where Los Angeles had Vancouver on the ropes but couldn't deliver the final blow.

"It's a bit nerve-racking," said Penner. "I wasn't so much worried about us getting frustrated as letting one slip away.

"They could have easily stolen it from us. We had a lot of power plays. When you don't capitalize as much as you should, it's one of those games they can pull out of the fire."

It was a Canucks mistake which led to Penner's winning goal. Defenseman Alex Edler turned the puck over at the blue line. Mike Richards gobbled up the puck and sent a pass that bounced off Jeff Carter's skate and over to Penner, who beat Luongo on the blocker side.

Carter, who returned to the lineup after missing five games with a bruised ankle, also earned an assist on Brown's final goal.

Brown, who finished the night with a team-high eight shots and four hits, hopes the Kings have turned a corner.

"We've had games like this over the last couple of playoffs and we let games slip by," said the Los Angeles captain.

"I don't want to get too far ahead and say we learned a lot because there is still a lot to learn. Tonight was about sticking to our system."

Edler had tied the game for Vancouver with just eight seconds left in the second period. Alex Burrows, celebrating his 31st birthday, also scored for Vancouver.

Defenseman Willie Mitchell, a former Canuck, and Mike Richards scored power-play goals for Los Angles. Mitchell's goal came near the end of a five-minute power play.

Luongo, the sometimes maligned and often brilliant Canucks goaltender, kept the game close. Vancouver was outshot 39-26.

"We spent a lot of energy killing penalties," said Luongo in a hushed Vancouver dressing room.

"It's tough to get momentum like that. That being said, we knew it was going to be a long series. We've got to regroup here and come back next game."

Game 2 will be Friday.

The Canucks, whose goal this entire season was to avenge last year's loss to Boston in the Stanley Cup finals, looked very average playing before a sold-out home crowd of 18,860. Vancouver finished first overall in the NHL, winning a second consecutive Presidents' Trophy with a 51-22-9 record for 111 points.

The Kings finished eighth in the West with a 40-27-15 record for 95 points.

The Vancouver power play was awful, going 0-for-5. For the first two periods the Canucks played with little passion. They were slow to the puck and took soft penalties. Los Angeles twice had a two-man advantage in the first period, one which resulted in the Kings' first goal.

"They played a better overall game than we did tonight," said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. "You can't take the number of penalties we took tonight. Instead of attacking, we're killing penalties."

The Kings were 2-for-8 on the power play.

The game's storyline began playing out early. In the opening minutes, Luongo needed to flash his glove to stop Brown, then he blocked a shot by defenseman Rob Scuderi.

The Kings had the chance to bury the Canucks in the second when Byron Bitz was given a major and game misconduct for boarding Kyle Clifford. Clifford left the game and didn't return.

Luongo came up big on the following power play, soaking up a tip from Carter. Mitchell finally scored when his shot from the point was deflected off Jannik Hansen's stick and over Luongo's shoulder.

Vancouver center Ryan Kesler earned his second assist of the night on Edler's tying goal. He won a faceoff in the Kings' end and Edler fired a shot over Jonathan Quick's shoulder. The shot appeared to have deflected off Brown's stick.

The Canucks played the game without left winger Daniel Sedin, who is still recovering from a concussion. The Sedin saga unfolded like the plot of a mystery novel in the days leading up to Game 1.

The 31-year-old Swede practiced with the Canucks on Monday, leading to speculation he would dress. Doubts were raised Tuesday when Sedin wasn't on the ice with the main team but skated with the players who would be scratched for the opening game. He didn't talk to reporters either day and the team refused to release any information.

Sedin wasn't at Wednesday's pregame skate and Vigneault finally said he wouldn't play.

That resulted in speedy forward Mason Raymond being moved onto Vancouver's top line with Henrik Sedin and Burrows.

Daniel Sedin, who led the Canucks with 30 goals this season, hasn't played since being elbowed in the head by Chicago's Duncan Keith on March 21. Keith received a five-game suspension.

Sedin missed the final nine games of the regular season but the Canucks won eight of those matches. Twin brother Henrik said that shows Vancouver's depth.

"If we play like that it really doesn't matter who is in the lineup or not," said the Canucks' captain. "We are going to have different guys stepping up each night and that's what happens."

Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said L.A. can't change their strategy for one player.

"We are going to stick to the same things," said Doughty. "When he's in the lineup they are definitely a little bit of a better team. We have to be at our best to beat them either way."

The Kings played without center Brad Richardson, who had surgery Monday for an appendectomy.

Burrows opened the scoring at 4:17 of the first period. He collected his own rebound, turned around, and fired a shot that beat Quick on the stick side. Quick was angry on the play, claiming he was bumped in the crease by Kesler.

Karma came back to bite Kesler. He was called for unsportsmanlike conduct at 12:32 of the first for spraying Quick with snow. The Kings were given a two-man advantage for 71 seconds after Chris Higgins was called for delay of game after sending the puck over the glass.

Richards scored from a sharp angle. Luongo expected him to pass the puck, but instead he fired a quick shot that beat the Canucks goalie on the short side.