Ouch. This one hurts. The Kings had a 3-2 lead going into the third period tonight against Vancouver. By the time the final horn sounded, they were on the wrong end of a 6-4 loss, which tied the series at 2-2 and sends it back to Vancouver for a pivotal Game 5 on Friday night.
"When you have a lead going into the third period," said Kings coach Terry Murray, "you gotta be able to nail that thing down. That's your objective, obviously. Keep playing hard, keep playing heavy and be physical on their players and shut that down and win the game."
So why didn't that happen? And how did the Canucks overcome three separate leads by the Kings? Mostly by hanging around during the first two periods -- especially the first -- when the Kings were dominating play and seemed on the verge of putting the Canucks away. But their lead was just 3-2 after 40 minutes and it was in that final 20 minutes that things all went wrong for LA.
The next goal was obviously going to be a big one, and the Kings had their chances -- three times. A swipe by Dustin Brown turned aside by Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, then Brown again on a partial breakaway, again stopped, and finally Alexander Frolov on a clear breakaway. He made a great move, Luongo's counter was even better, a stacked pad tip to his left that not only stopped Frolov but smothered any chance of a rebound.
"Things like that happen -- momentum shifters," said Ryan Smyth, "and we've thrived off our power play being momentum and Lu came up with a couple of saves and obviously they responded."
"What can I say?" said Luongo, "I just want to make the save, you know? It was a key point in the game and it's nice when you make saves like that to get rewarded with some goals right away."
The reward came with two quick goals by the Canucks that put them up 4-3 with just over seven minutes to go, but just over a minute later, the Kings tied it up on a great play by Jack Johnson, banging one off the boards, redirected by Smyth to Wayne Simmonds and over Luongo's glove. Momentum back to the Kings.
But then, with just under three minutes left, the killer. With Smyth and Brown caught deep in the Canucks end, Henrik Sedin broke up the right side, passed off to his twin Daniel, who slid it right back to him as Henrik bolted in toward Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. He popped the puck over Quick's shoulder and just like that it was 5-4 for the Canucks, who would add an empty-netter to seal it.
"Yeah, he made a good move," said Quick, " but in a 4-4 game with three minutes left you want to stop anything that comes your way."
Quick blamed himself for surrendering three goals in that final period -- especially that last one.
"You got a one goal lead going into the third period against them," said Quick, "you gotta expect they're going to get chances. In order to win a playoff series, playoff games, you need your goalie to make a few key saves for you down the stretch and I wasn't able to do that for the team tonight, so I gotta be prepared to do that in Game 5."
But Murray said it was just a bad mistake at a critical time in the game.
"We commit at the blue line and we need a little better read on that," he said. "Just back in. It's a 4 on 2, just back in and hope that support is going to come."
"You can't give those players those kind of opportunities,"said Brown. "They made a really good play at the blue line, it was a 2 on 1 from there and [Henrik Sedin] is going to make a good play and he did."
And now it's down to a best of three, resuming in Vancouver on Friday night.
"We've done it in their building already," said Anze Kopitar. "We've won Game 2 in there. We know we can do it and we just gotta eliminate the chances that we give up. They have talented players that are going to capitalize on mistakes so we want to eliminate those and make sure we play a solid system game."
"We've geared ourselves up for a long series," said Smyth, "and we know it's not going to be easy. They're a fighting team, they're geared up for it and so are we. We're ready for it.
"It's kinda what we expected," said Brown. "You're prepared for a seven-game series. We have to go up there with that checking mindset that we've had. We just have to forget about this game and move forward. It's a three-game series now and we gotta win one in their barn."
For Murray, the challenge in the next few days will be to reel in the emotions of his young team, learn from tonight's mistakes, but then get over it quickly and start looking ahead to Friday night.
"This is part of the process," he said. "You gotta go through it as a young group of guys. You're going to face adversity. I think we've handled those situations pretty well over the course of the year. We've shown to be resilient and gritty and have bounced back and it'll be a big test in Vancouver."
The biggest test this young team has faced so far this season.