Reporting from Vancouver, Canada — One small change had a big impact in helping the Canucks pull even with the Kings and turn their playoff series into a best-of-three matchup entering Game 5 on Friday at GM Place.
Vancouver Coach Alain Vigneault's decision to take Alex Burrows off the top line and move Mikael Samuelsson on the wing with twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin was pivotal to the Canucks' 6-4 victory Wednesday. The Sedins combined for five points in the final period, and Samuelsson continued his streak of scoring at least one goal in every game. He's the leading scorer in the series, with six points.
"They're two different players in my mind," Kings winger Ryan Smyth said of Burrows and Samuelsson. "Burrows is more into the corners, rugged, hanging around the net area, whereas Samuelsson is more out in the top of the circles, a shooter. He's obviously been effective in this series. He's got five goals. So it's a different element but we've got to eliminate the puck possession."
Kings center Anze Kopitar knows first-hand how dangerous a scorer Samuelsson can be and how all three players elevate each other's game. He got to watch Samuelsson while both played for Sodertalje of the Swedish Elite league during the 2004-05 season.
"They've played together before. I think even at the Olympics in Turin. So they're familiar with each other," Kopitar said Thursday. "Samuelsson, he's a shooter. I got the chance to play with him during the lockout year. He's a good player. He complements those two pretty good.
"They're good playmakers and he gets open in those soft areas that the goal scorers get the opportunities from so we want to make sure we're on top of that. Especially the way the third period went for them last night I'm sure they're going to stay together as a line. We just want to contain them as much as we can and eliminate the chances."
But will that line stay together?
According to the Vancouver Province newspaper, Vigneault wouldn't commit to playing Samuelsson with the twins in Game 5.
"Mikael is the type of player who always gives you maximum effort every shift. He's got experience in playoff hockey and he's sharing it with his teammates," Vigneault said. "He brings a lot of what Alex brings. He's strong on the wall, he likes to shoot the puck, he like to go to the front of the net. When I have made some adjustments there [to put him with the twins], they seem to work."
Canucks Comedy Club
Vancouver reporters have marveled over the openness of Kings Coach Terry Murray and his good humor during interviews. Vigneault is, um, somewhat less open but he seemed to be in a fine mood Thursday.
Asked about stopping the Kings' streak of power-play goals on six straight opportunities, he was actually funny.
"We're on a roll, baby," he said. "And we got past the minute mark on one of the ones they scored on. We were looking for positive things. I've never been in a situation like that where there is six power-play goals in a row. You've just got to try and fight through it. It's a pendulum sometimes. Obviously they made some plays, but they also got a lot of bounces."
Vigneault also said defenseman Nolan Baumgartner won't play Friday. It's believed he has a knee injury. The replacement is Andrew Alberts, the series' penalty-minute leader at 23 but the Canucks' defense has been battered and Alberts is available.
"I think right now his teammates believe in him, coaches believe in him and I'm confident the great fans of Vancouver also believe in him," Vigneault said.
"He is what he is. He's a big guy that can play a defensive game and be physical. We need to make sure that physicality is the right type and we're going to support him because right now we're down to six."
Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick blamed himself for not making key saves down the stretch Wednesday and Murray thought his willingness to take responsibility was admirable.
"It's good to feel bad as a player that you sense you could have made a difference in the game, whether you're a goaltender, forward or defenseman," Murray said. "There's critical plays where something happens and it's a turnover and you made the mistake as a player -- and I've been through that -- you've got to feel bad as a player.
"The test is to be able to rebound from that and know your teammates are not looking at you and saying you're the reason why. Your teammates are right behind you. Everybody's in the same foxhole together and we've got to battle again in Game 5."
He said that Quick did "a pretty good job. I watched those goals against on the review here [Thursday] morning and he's got a lot of traffic. And there's some redirections. The one I wish I'd like to see him have back would be the [Pavol] Demitra one. It's an odd rush but just off angle a little bit and you've got a goal scorer, a guy who's shown what he can do it in the Olympics. He's a pretty good goal scorer and he was able to find the far side."