Canucks' stars align in Game 4
LOS ANGELES -- The Vancouver Canucks were a trendy pick for a deep playoff run in these Stanley Cup playoffs.
The problem is, those guys hadn't really shown up in the opening three games of their first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings, and the folks back home in Vancouver were burning up the radio phone lines in full panic mode as their beloved Canucks were down 2-1 before a must-win Game 4 on Wednesday night at Staples Center.
Cue Canucks coach Alain Vigneault on Tuesday afternoon delivering this bang-on prediction:
"You take Roberto Luongo, you take Sami Salo, Alex Edler, Ryan Kesler, [Alex] Burrows, Hank and Danny [Sedin] -- you take those guys and put your trust in them. They're ready for this moment. This is their time and they're going to get it done for us."
Nice call, Coach.
The Canucks' playoff hopes are seriously back on track and home-ice advantage is back on their side after a thrilling 6-4 win Wednesday night. Not to mention a little mental therapy.
"I've known these guys for quite some time, and I know how bad they want this," Vigneault said after his team erased three L.A. leads in the game. "I thought we were a little tight in the first period, but our guys played through it and found a way to get their play to a level it needs to be to beat such a strong opponent."
The Sedin twins started slow again on this night but erupted for five points in the third period, including Henrik's beauty of a game winner with 2:52 left. Meanwhile, the embattled Luongo was clutch despite giving up four goals; his superb glove save on a Dustin Brown tip and breakaway stop on Alexander Frolov with the Kings up 3-2 early in the third period were both game- and -- perhaps -- season-savers.
"Looking back, he saved the game for us," said Daniel Sedin, who had three assists. "It's great for the guys to come back and play the way we did. We showed some composure, some character."
Luongo was pulled in Game 3 and some Canucks fans actually wanted to see backup Andrew Raycroft in net for Game 4. The only choice was Luongo. And those who know the big guy were not surprised to see him bounce back like he did.
"I felt great, but obviously it was a high-scoring game," Luongo said. "At the end of the day, when the game is on the line, you have to make the save."
While Luongo responded, so did the Sedins. They had been pretty much shut down by center Michal Handzus and the top defense pair of Drew Doughty and Rob Scuderi. But with the stakes as high as can be in this series, the twins took their games to another level in the third period. A key move by Vigneault was to replace Burrows with Swedish countryman Mikael Samuelsson on the top line with the Sedins. Samuelsson went on to score and tie the game at 3-all 7:29 into the third period.
"Sometimes you've got to make some adjustments here and there," Vigneault said. "Samuelsson was going well and the twins needed to pick up their game a little bit, and I thought that sparked them for the remainder of the game when we made that adjustment."
Vigneault has had a solid 24 hours. He calmly backed his top players Tuesday when the second-guessing was in full force and made important in-game adjustments Wednesday night that produced huge results. While the fans back home were anxious, the coach was not.
"I believe this group has learned every year, and we're ready for this moment," Vigneault said. "You can tell how bad the guys want it. I mean, it's a tough series; they're all one-goal games basically and they're going back and forth. That's a real strong team on the other side. They were two points behind us this season, but they were in a better division. It's a really challenging series, and we're trying our best out there and they're trying their best."
The young Kings must now recover from a crushing late-game loss. They were oh-so-close to going up 3-1 in this series. On the flip side, had you told the sixth-seeded Kings they'd be tied at 2 after four games with the third-seeded Canucks, they surely would have taken it. It's a best-of-three now with Game 5 on Friday night in Vancouver.
"We're in a good spot," said Kings coach Terry Murray. "This is part of the process. You have to go through it as a young group of guys. You're going to face adversity. Again, we, I feel, have handled those situations pretty well over the course of the year. We've shown to be resilient and gritty and bounce back. It's going to be a big test back in Vancouver."
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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