VANCOUVER – With time running down, the Canucks clinging to a 1-0 lead, and the Los Angeles Kings on a 6-on-4 advantage, Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo thought the game was over when the puck was cleared back to the point.
"But I didn't stop playing," Luongo said.
It's a good thing, because Luongo still needed more than a half-dozen saves during a wild scramble in the final seconds, leaving the goalie to wonder jokingly if the clock had stopped. It didn't, but neither did the shot clock, which was still adding to his save total even while he was speaking to reporters after the game.
"I had at least seven or eight the last 10 seconds for sure," said Luongo.
The final tally was seven – two more than what was showing at the final buzzer – giving Luongo 38 on the night and a tight 1-0 win over the Kings at Rogers Arena.
Manny Malhotra scored a rare fourth-line goal 3:05 into the game, and Luongo made it stand up with the best of his saves late in the third period as Vancouver opened a five-game homestand with its third straight win and dealt the Kings' playoff push a tough blow.
"It's that time of year when chances are few and far between and you have to make sure you capitalize when you get those opportunities," Malhotra, who was a healthy scratch on the Canucks' four-game road trip last week, said after ending a 13-game goal drought. "We knew it was going to be this tight-checking type of game."
It was until the final 25.9 seconds, when Alexander Edler was called for holding and the Kings pulled Jonathan Quick to create the 6-on-4, forcing Luongo to make a handful of point blank stops during a wild scramble atop his crease.
"Lou played phenomenal," Malhotra said. "When they did get those opportunities, he stood tall and made key saves, especially right down to the last few seconds."
Luongo was quick to pass the credit back to his teammates.
"They were trying to throw everything at the net and have two or three guys in front whacking away and I was just trying to seal the bottom and the boys were doing a good job making sure they didn't have time and space to raise it up," he said.
The Kings' inability to do so left them on the outside of the playoff picture.
Quick finished with 24 saves for the Kings, who failed to take advantage of a chance to pass Dallas atop the Pacific Division, instead falling into a tie for ninth in the west with Colorado after losing two straight – their only losses in the last eight games.
"You've got to really bear down on opportunities," said coach Darryl Sutter. "It's the same as a playoff game. You can get so many chances, but you've got to bear down."
Malhotra did early, scoring on the Canucks' second shot with a goal that belied the fact it was just his seventh all season. After a nice pass from Maxim Lapierre off the rush, Malhotra fired a perfect wrist shot from the left faceoff dot that caught Quick sliding to his right and beat him over the shoulder on glove side.
"I'd by lying if I said I don't enjoy scoring," Malhotra said after his shot went in off the seam of the cross-bar and far post. "It was fun to contribute offensively. But more so, we were able to roll four lines and, most importantly, we got a win."
Vancouver improved to 3-0-1 since top goal scorer Daniel Sedin was concussed by a Duncan Keith elbow in a game in Chicago last Wednesday, locking up at least second place in the west and moving two points behind St. Louis atop the standings.
More importantly, said Luongo and Malhotra, the Canucks are now playing playoff hockey.
"These are playoff games, these are the way they are played," said Luongo. "These guys on the other side have been playing that way the whole season. I think we're comfortable in that situation and that's important."
It's helped Luongo turn around his game. After giving up 25 goals over eight games, he didn't play for a week, focusing instead on practice before returning to go 2-0-1 with just form goals allowed over the last five days, culminating in his fourth shutout of the season Monday.
"Sometimes you just need to reset everything," said Luongo.
Luongo got a break shortly after Malhotra's goal, when a screened point shot was tipped off the post, bounced off the back of his leg and stayed out, and there weren't a lot of big saves required early – Quick actually needed more despite seeing fewer shots. But Luongo made two great stops off Jarret Stoll, throwing out the right pad to stuff him on a rebound chance early in the second, and the left pad to take away an empty net on a scramble in front with 6:15 left.
Luongo added his best save less than two minutes later, throwing out his glove to rob Anze Kopitar on a redirection out of the air from the top of the crease, and made a goal-line stand during the wild scramble in front at the buzzer to secure his 59th career shutout. He's second only to New Jersey's Martin Brodeur on the active shutout list, and moved ahead of Clint Benedict and John Roach for 16th on the NHL's all-time list.
"Obviously, mentally I wasn't where I wanted to be and I was fighting it a little bit (before the break)," he said. "Sometimes you have to put things in perspective and start from scratch and that’s what I did and I'm feeling good right now but obviously the team is playing well defensively."
It helped the goalies that both teams continued to struggle on the power play. The Canucks finished 0-for-4, including a goaltender interference penalty for Penner with 3:23 left to play that had the Kings forward shaking his head.
"I think the word they use to describe that is chintzy," Penner said. "Considering the time, that he was knocked over by his own guy and his guy cross-checked me into him. I know a little bit better than to go into a goalie with three minutes left."
The Kings, 1-for-17 the previous five games, were 0-for-3 and failed to generate many chances until Quick was on the bench for a 6-on-4 after Alexander Edler's penalty with 25.9 seconds left, again wasting a good game from their goalie.
Quick, who is top-4 in every NHL goaltending category except wins, fell to 32-21-11. The Kings only scored 39 goals in those 32 losses.
"It doesn't matter," said Quick. "Luongo played really well tonight. He made a couple big saves, especially late there in the third. We've got guys that can score, that's not a question. You are going to run into a goalie that's hot every now and then.
"You take it on the chin. You just got to regroup and get ready for the next day."