VANCOUVER -- It had the look and feel of a game where the road team comes into the building of the favorite and steals a victory.
The third-seeded Vancouver Canucks outshot and outplayed the sixth-seeded Los Angeles Kings for most of Game 1 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series, but there they were, battling it out in overtime at GM Place on Thursday night.
However, one tremendous save by goaltender Roberto Luongo and one big goal by Mikael Samuelsson later, the Canucks emerged with a 3-2 overtime victory and a 1-0 lead in their series.
"It's not going to be any easier. The thing is we have a little bit of confidence and we know we can beat them, but that's pretty much it," said Samuelsson, who also scored in the second period. "It's still a new game. Obviously this goes to OT, (Los Angeles) was close to winning too. We got a little lucky to pull this out."
Samuelsson had a chance to win it at 8:52 of OT thanks to the save of the early postseason by Luongo on Kings defenseman Jack Johnson, who had an opportunity to win the game about two minutes before the outcome was decided.
A long shot from Kings left wing Ryan Smyth was stopped by Luongo, but the rebound deflected to Johnson, who had an empty net at which to shoot. The bouncing puck ricocheted off his body and toward the gaping net-- and it most certainly would've counted. But Luongo, down but not out, somehow made the save, swiping the puck off the goal line with his glove.
"That was unbelievable," Canucks forward Alex Burrows said. "It gave us a chance to win the game. And that's the kind of player he is. He's going to step up in the big games. That was definitely a big save for us."
The save in that crucial situation epitomized the picture of calm that was the Canucks on this night. The Kings, who had a roster full of key players who were making their postseason debuts, certainly didn't wilt under the pressure, but the Canucks were clearly the team that embraced it.
Despite a 17-6 advantage in shots during the first period, the Canucks couldn't break through against goaltender Jonathan Quick and went to the first intermission in a scoreless tie. That changed just 56 seconds into the second period, when Jarret Stoll's power-play goal put the Kings ahead 1-0.
But there was no panic in the Canucks, who took a 2-1 lead with two quick goals from Samuelsson and Daniel Sedin. The momentum and a sellout crowd of 18,810 were on their side, but all that changed when defenseman Andrew Alberts was assessed a five-minute major for boarding Kings center Brad Richardson.
Fredrik Modin tied the score at 2-2 during the lengthy power play. The score remained that way until Samuelsson's winner.
"Even if we're down one early, in the second we just kept coming and we never really panicked throughout the game," Burrows said. "Even if we didn't score in the third period, coming into OT we knew we had good chances. Stick with the process and good things will happen, and that's what happened."
Chalk it up to experience and having a guy like Samuelsson -- signed by the Canucks during the offseason after two straight trips to the Stanley Cup Final with the Red Wings the past two years.
"That's something we learned in last year's playoffs and having a guy like Sammy coming in, he's talked about it a lot, to not to get too high, not to get too low, make sure you keep focusing on little things," Burrows said. "That's what we did tonight. We never panicked. Even when Alby got a five-minute penalty. We just stuck with it, didn’t' really complain. We stuck with the process."
The Kings weren't happy with the loss, of course, but they were pleased with their overall play and the fact the young guys getting their first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs showed they weren't going to back down in a hostile environment.
"I thought we played good. I liked the way we played," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "Coming into this building with the young group of guys that we have, lots of inexperience. Especially in the Canadian market, there's a lot of emotion, a lot of energy in this building. It can be a little intimidating, but I thought we handled it very well."
It was the first postseason game for several key Kings, including Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar. Brown and Kopitar registered assists, and Doughty logged 23:32 of ice time, second-most among Kings defensemen behind Johnson, another playoff newcomer.
Also taking his first dip into the playoff waters was Quick, who was much maligned down the stretch. But he was outstanding, and his save in overtime on Henrik Sedin off a 2-on-1 gave the Kings a chance to win a game in which they were outshot 44-27.
There's plenty to build on for Los Angeles in Game 2, which is set for Saturday night.
"A lot of positives," said Smyth, who was playing in his 82nd playoff game. "We're in for the long haul. It's a good lesson for all of us. Obviously some guys hadn’t played in the playoffs. It's an experience we'll put behind us because we lost, but we'll build on it."
Shift of the Game: Fredrik Modin's power-play goal midway through the second period tied the score at 2-2, but it wouldn't have been possible without the work of Kings captain Dustin Brown. The Canucks had multiple chances to clear the zone, but Brown fought to keep the puck in, then worked his way down the boards with the puck before dishing it off to Alexander Frolov. He slid the puck to Modin, who ripped it past Roberto Luongo from the slot to even the score. Without Brown's work along the boards near the top of the zone, Modin doesn't score. Brown definitely earned his secondary assist on the goal.