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HELENE ELLIOTT / ON THE NHL

Canucks need stops, so Cory Schneider tends to it

Vancouver goaltender stops 43 shots to stave off a playoff series sweep. For the Kings, the good news is that they still have a 3-1 lead heading into Game 5 on Sunday.

April 18, 2012|Helene Elliott

You had to know it couldn't be that easy.

These are the Kings. Nothing comes easily for them except disappointment.

They had a chance Wednesday to add to their modest list of franchise firsts and sweep a best-of-seven playoff series, but were stymied by the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks, who rediscovered their grit and passion in an impressive 3-1 victory before a disappointed crowd at Staples Center. An effort that was very much like what the Kings gave in winning the first three games and moving to the brink of their first playoff series win since 2001.

The good news for the Kings is that they will have three more chances to win this series, starting with Game 5 on Sunday at Vancouver's Rogers Arena.

The bad news is that a star was born at Staples Center on Wednesday, and he wears a Vancouver uniform.

Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider coolly stopped 43 shots, including a third-period penalty shot by Dustin Brown — the hottest scorer on either team — in a clutch, season-saving effort. It could have been a series-changing effort too. That's the fear that will haunt the mind of every Kings fan who remembers Marty McSorley's crooked stick in the 1993 Stanley Cup finals and bemoans every blown lead and missed opportunity since then.

"We have to answer more questions from the media, but we'll also have a lot more time to prepare and get ready for Game 5," Brown said of the long wait before the Kings' next chance to advance.

"We had a good first period. We needed to jack it up a little in the second and we failed to do so."

Schneider, who supplanted Olympic gold medal winner Roberto Luongo as Vancouver's starter in Game 3, spared the Canucks the indignity of becoming the first Presidents' Trophy winner to be swept out of the playoffs. Luongo, nicknamed "Bobby Lou," can now be called "Bobby Who?" while he watches Schneider from the far reaches of the bench for the foreseeable future.

Schneider hinted at having planted seeds of doubt in the Kings' minds about taking too many chances or giving the Canucks power plays now that Daniel Sedin has returned from a concussion, but he wasn't about to say anything too inflammatory that would become a motivational blurb posted on the Kings' bulletin board.

"We don't have a whole lot to feel good about. It's still a 3-1 hole," said Schneider, a Massachusetts native and childhood prep school rival of Connecticut-born Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.

"But if our power play gets going hopefully we can make them a little tentative and not as aggressive as they'd like to be."

Schneider gave the Canucks as big a spark as Sedin did in returning from the concussion that had taken the skillful Swede out of the lineup on March 21.

Sedin was on the ice for all three Vancouver goals Wednesday, quickly rekindling his immutable connection with his twin and linemate, Henrik. The Kings had no answer for the Sedins' magic.

"I thought they did a pretty good job with the puck and making plays," Brown said.

"Part of it is we've got to make it harder for them. We had chances to finish and I don't think we finished as many checks as we should have on those two."

Most of the Kings' core players have never won a playoff series. Quick, Brown, Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty had hoped to end that drought on Wednesday.

Now they'll have to wait while their fans worry and wonder if the black cloud that has hovered over this franchise for decades has returned to rain on what seemed to be a parade to the second round or beyond.

"We had some chances that we didn't put away and they buried their chances and that's the bottom line," Kopitar said.

No, the real bottom line is whether they will revert to being the bad old playoff-jinxed Kings or if they've gotten past that now. Their performance on Sunday will tell that story.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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