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Inspired Kings bounce Canucks, 4-2, in playoff opener

HELENE ELLIOTT / ON THE NHL

Shaking off a disappointing end to the regular season, Kings get the jump on Vancouver in Game 1 as Dustin Penner scores the winning goal with 3:14 left.

April 11, 2012|Helene Elliott

VANCOUVER, Canada -- According to Mike Richards, the go-ahead goal he engineered to lead the Kings to a stunning, playoff-opening 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday was the product of lucky breaks.

Not so. He was able to set up the decisive goal with 3 minutes 14 seconds left in the third period because of his smarts, experience and calm, qualities the Kings might have wondered he still had while he struggled through a season-long scoring slump.

That he was in position to knock down a pass by Canucks defenseman Alex Edler was an accident, Richards said.

"I was caught going forward and trying to get back in a good defensive position. I was lucky it hit me and ended up on my stick," he said.

His subsequent pass to Jeff Carter, deep on the right side, glanced off Carter's skate before bouncing to Dustin Penner, who beat a surprised Roberto Luongo and silenced the crowd at Rogers Arena.

"I made a bad pass and somehow it ended up in the net," Richards said. "It's a lucky break, but obviously we'll take it."

And sometimes luck comes from patience and perseverance, which the Kings consistently displayed Wednesday while outplaying the Canucks yet being even with them at 2-2 late in the third period.

"We earned this one," Penner said.

That they did. They outshot the Canucks, 39-26, but had only two power-play goals to show for it -- one of those on a five-on-three -- until Penner, Carter and Richards teamed up.

For the Kings, who slid to eighth in the West after losing their last two regular-season games, it was a moment that didn't quite erase the frustrations they experienced this season but it came awfully close.

"The coaching staff has been on us the last two months, and rightfully so," Penner said. "They demanded a lot out of us because there's a lot of potential in this group. We're not surprised we came out here and got the first one because that's what we expect."

The Canucks were without 30-goal scorer Daniel Sedin, who suffered a setback in his recovery from a concussion. The Kings lost fourth-line winger Kyle Clifford to an upper-body injury after he was slammed into the boards by Byron Bitz in the second period, which got Bitz a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct. Clifford did not return because of what the club called an upper-body injury.

Vancouver scored first, at 4:17 of the first period, on a shot by Alex Burrows from between the hash marks. Goalie Jonathan Quick protested that he had been bumped by Ryan Kesler before the shot but got no relief.

Kesler did get penalized at 12:32 for unsportsmanlike conduct -- specifically "snowing" Quick as Kesler came to a stop. That penalty, followed at 13:21 by Chris Higgins' delay-of-game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass, gave the Kings a two-man advantage and they capitalized at 13:31 on a smart play by Richards.

Stationed down low on the right side, he had Dustin Brown in the slot and Carter by the left post but instead of passing, he flung a sharp-angle shot through Luongo. "That's a tough play for goaltenders to read," Richards said.

The Kings took a 2-1 lead when Willie Mitchell's slap shot deflected over Luongo's shoulder at 16:33 of the second period, but Vancouver matched that with a bouncing shot by Edler with 7.3 seconds left in the period.

The Kings maintained their poise and patience until Richards, Carter and Penner came through.

"We've been in the playoffs now a couple times. We understand a little more what it's about and the mind-set you need to have," said Brown, who scored an empty-net goal with 17.9 seconds left. "When we're playing a team that's dominated this league the last two years, we can't have any letdowns."

They will meet again Friday in Vancouver. "We can't rest on our laurels," Penner warned, and he should know.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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