Stars are the difference for Canucks
"There's an easy answer," Kings coach Terry Murray said after a heartbreaking 4-2 loss that ended his season. "Two of the best players in the league did it. The Sedin line was tremendous. They won the series. ... And that's what the best players are supposed to do."
Stanley Cup contenders only go as far as their go-to guys can carry them. The Sedin twins were muted for a couple of games early in the series, but after exploding in the third period of a Game 4 comeback win, Daniel and Henrik took over this series and left the youthful Kings in their dust.
The key is the confidence in their game. They've gone to another level this season and it showed again Sunday night, when despite being shut down for 40 minutes, the Sedins believed they would eventually break through. That confidence was simply not there earlier in their careers, especially in playoff games.
"In the Dallas and Anaheim playoff series a few years ago, we got easily rattled and changed our game," Daniel Sedin said in a visitors room full of smiles. "I think this time around we stuck with it. Like tonight, we played really bad for 40 minutes, but we kept playing the same way. We know it worked for 82 games in the regular season and it'll work in the playoffs, too.
"We've been able to come through in the third periods and that feels good."
Daniel posted 10 points (4-6) in the series, including the series-clinching goal late in Sunday's game, Henrik had eight points (1-7) and linemate Mikael Samuelsson was also a monster with 11 points (7-4). Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault swapped Alexandre Burrows with Samuelsson before the third period of Game 4, and the results were instant and series-changing.
"Every time this year we made that subtle change, Samuelsson for Burrows, the twins seem to click," Vigneault said. "So it gives us two options, two looks, and obviously it worked out for us in this series."
The man wearing the mask in net was the other key player in this series. Again, no surprise there, but it's a must for the Canucks to achieve their Stanley Cup dreams. Roberto Luongo was pulled in Game 3, but he came back with a vengeance. His Game 4 breakaway save on Alexander Frolov may have saved the series for the Canucks, and his highway robbery of Ryan Smyth 6:54 in the second period Sunday night capped the statement. His critics, for now, have been silenced.
"A lot of people expect a lot from that guy, almost too much sometimes," said Samuelsson. "He handles things like that good. All I know is that it's hard to score on him in practice, anyway. He's a good goalie. When he gets everything together, he's hard to beat."
Luongo shrugged off his critics after Game 3 and let his play do the talking.
"I felt good the whole series, to be honest with you," he said. "I don't really care about the stats. Tonight, it was a bit tighter, and I got a few more shots and I was able to make a few extra saves than the other games."
The turning point in this series? Wednesday night here at Staples Center. The Kings were ahead and one period away from taking a 3-1 stranglehold before the Sedin twins took over.
"I think that was a big moment as far as our confidence and our play," Vigneault said of the Game 4 victory. "I don't know if it hurt [the Kings] mentally, but obviously we won three in a row."
The Kings were 29-0-2 in the regular season when leading after two periods, but in this series, they dropped a pair of games after having the same advantage. From this vantage point, that's inexperience at play, not yet knowing how to close out games.
"It's just really disappointing because we did know, mentally, that we had a chance to win the series at points throughout," said Smyth. "It's the old cliché of experience versus inexperience. I look at it as, these young kids who played for the first time in the playoffs, they didn't look out of place by any means at all. It was a big battle, and all you can do is take the positive and learn from it and hopefully come back next year and get in."
Hey, let's be serious here. The sky's the limit for this Kings team. Led by 20-year-old Norris Trophy nominee Drew Doughty, this club is on its way to being a powerhouse, and the Canucks had better take care of business this season before it's too late. They may not beat this Kings club next time around.
"That's a very good hockey club," said Canucks center Ryan Kesler. "They're coached well. They have a lot of young talent. For a lot of guys in that room, at least the core, it was their first time. It's a learning lesson for them. They're going to be a good team for a lot of years."
Ah, yes the playoff lesson. Young teams hate hearing that after being eliminated. Just ask Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins after losing in the first round to Ottawa in 2007, Sid the Kid's first playoff visit. Or ask Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals about getting their hearts broken in the first round to Philadelphia in 2008. But the truth is, those are very important experiences on the way to bigger successes. That will be the case for this Kings team.
"Sometimes you have to lose before you can win," said Kings captain Dustin Brown. "There's a lot to learn from this series. We had the momentum, and it can switch just like that. It's a huge learning experience. We lost, but we had games in our grasp and that's something that, at this time of year, it's disappointing. From a team standpoint, I'm proud of the group and how we played. A lot of guys, this was their first time for this, and it's a whole different level from the regular season.
"You've got guys who have been through it, but they can't sit there and tell you about it. You have to experience it, and that's part of the process."
The Kings will be back and be better for it. For the Canucks, the moment is at hand. This team was built to win now. Step 1 is complete.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.