VANCOUVER, Canada — The hero of the Kings' double-overtime victory over the Canucks in Game 5 was a player who had not taken a single shift in the first four games of the Smythe Division final.
Tuesday night, King forward Gary Shuchuk ended the Kings' longest playoff game in franchise history with his goal at 6:31 of the second overtime, giving them a 4-3 victory before a suddenly silenced sellout crowd of 16,150 at Pacific Coliseum.
Previously, the longest playoff game for the Kings was on April 20, 1991, when they lost, 4-3, to Edmonton at the Forum at 24:48 of overtime.
The win put the Kings on the verge of a remarkable breakthrough, one step closer to advancing past the second round. They lead the best-of-seven series, 3-2, with Game 6 at the Forum on Thursday. The Kings have never made it past the second round of the playoffs.
Shuchuk put them in position to do so when he beat Vancouver goaltender Kirk McLean with a shot under his right arm from the left crease about seven feet out. Prior to the goal, the Kings were buzzing the Canuck net and Luc Robitaille had barely missed scoring on two wraparounds. Robitaille and Jari Kurri assisted on the winning goal.
"Lucky (Robitaille) was behind the net, I called out to him and he made a great pass and I just made the shot," Shuchuk said. "I don't know if I saw the red light. I saw the puck go in.
"I'm not no hero. I would not go that far. When we win the Stanley Cup, you can call everybody a hero."
Because Shuchuk had not played since the Calgary series, his insertion into the lineup was a surprise. He very nearly didn't make it past regulation when Canuck defenseman Gerald Diduck flattened him at the blue line and he need several minutes and assistance from trainer Pete Demers to recover.
Said King Coach Barry Melrose: "Lucky was unbelievable. He fought off two guys to get to the puck. It's the greatest feeling in the world when your teams plays this hard for this long and you win."
This was the first time in the series that the Kings and Canucks were not involved in a one-sided blowout, either way.
It was also the first time any game in this series was not decided in regulation. In the first overtime, it could have ended quickly as each team each team had one good scoring chance right away. King goaltender Kelly Hrudey made a spectacular glove save on Canuck defenseman Dana Murzyn at 32 seconds. At the other end, King left wing Mike Donnelly's scoring chance glanced just wide of McLean about three minutes into overtime.
Before overtime and the scoreless third period, the Kings and Canucks played a constant game of hide and seek, with neither team managing to slip far away from the other.
After one period, the Kings led, 2-1, on goals less than two minutes apart by Wayne Gretzky and Kurri. Gretzky scored his seventh of the playoffs, at 6:22, knocking the puck in off McLean from the right crease after Tomas Sandstrom missed scoring on a wraparound.
Kurri put the Kings ahead at 8:15 with his fifth goal of the playoffs, scoring on a slap shot from the right circle when Robitaille drew Vancouver defensemen Dave Babych and Robert Dirk to him behind the net, leaving Kurri all alone in the circle.
The second period followed the pattern of the first, except that the Canucks outscored the Kings, 2-1, to tie the score, 3-3. Petr Nedved did a lot of the work on his own goal, winning the faceoff from Kurri in the left circle and heading for the net. He beat Hrudey by redirecting a pass from Jim Sandlak, who was in the left circle. Nedved's goal, which tied it at 2-2, came only 47 seconds into the period.
The Kings regained the lead again when Robitaille's shot squibbed off Vancouver defenseman Doug Lidster's skate past a stunned McLean. Tony Granato set up the goal with his hard hit on Pavel Bure along the left-wing boards. Bure coughed up the puck and Granato hit Robitaille with the pass from the left wing as he was being pulled down by Bure.
For the last half of the second period, the Kings seemed to settle into a defensive shell, failing to muster any offense. They had only one shot on goal in the final seven minutes and it was only a matter of time before the Canucks tied it.
Vancouver had some help with a five-on-three advantage when Granato went off for tripping Bure at 12:22 and Zhitnik took a penalty for high-sticking Bure at 13:22. The Canucks scored on somewhat of a fluke when Cliff Ronning's pass deflected off Kurri's stick and went right to Trevor Linden in front, who scored on his second attempt.
The Kings, who were blown out in Game 4, attempted to show a different look once the series returned to Vancouver. Because Melrose did not opt to change goaltenders--for once--he apparently felt as though some lineup change was absolutely necessary, even though Canuck Coach Pat Quinn showed some patience by not making a change for Game 4 after his team had dropped Game 2 and 3.
Nevertheless, Melrose has made a habit of making changes and he was not about to change that on Tuesday.