LOS ANGELES -- Roberto Luongo has caught a lot of flack during his career for failing to rise to the occasion in big games. But on Sunday night at Staples Center, he'll be remembered for catching a shot that won the Vancouver Canucks their first-round series in 2010.
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The Los Angeles Kings held a 1-0 lead early in the second period of Game 6, a game they needed to force a deciding Game 7 back in Vancouver. They were taking the play to the Canucks, and Ryan Smyth stood alone with the puck just 21 feet from Luongo, who looked like a disoriented turtle who couldn't roll over to get back into position.
With the top half of the net begging for Smyth to drill it, Luongo stacked his pads and made a catching-glove save that might leave Smyth consulting with a sports psychologist all summer.
Steve Bernier tied the game less than two minutes later, Luongo went on to make 30 saves, and Daniel Sedin broke a 2-2 tie with 2:03 left in the third period to give the Canucks a 4-2 win a 4-2 series victory against the Kings.
But without Luongo stopping 24 of 26 shots during the first two periods, Sedin's heroics wouldn't have been possible.
"He was unbelievable," Henrik Sedin said. "And that's the way we need him to play. He really stepped up for us."
"Obviously our goaltender tonight gave us an opportunity to stay in this game and win this series," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "We weren’t nearly good enough in the first half of the game and he kept us in there."
Luongo thanked his lucky stars that Smyth, who isn't exactly known for possessing a cannon for a slap shot, was the one taking the shot while he was down.
"I was just laying down and I saw Smitty winding up," Luongo said, "and luckily he doesn't have a Howitzer and I was able to snare it."
The Canucks were under siege through the first period, when the Kings held a 16-5 shot advantage. Trailing 3-2 in the series, the Kings came out desperate and it paid off when Alexander Frolov made it 1-0 with a tremendous individual effort down low in the Canucks zone.
With Henrik Sedin draped all over him in the right corner, Frolov shielded the Art Ross Trophy winner from the puck, circled behind the net, and stuffed the puck past Luongo midway through the first period.
Bernier would tie it 8:38 into the second period, but Norris Trophy candidate Drew Doughty scored his third of the series with 4:03 left in the second period to put the Kings ahead 2-1.
A Game 7 looked to be on the horizon, but defenseman Kevin Bieksa tied the game 1:57 into the third period when he one-timed a Daniel Sedin pass through the legs of goaltender Jonathan Quick, setting the stage for the anxious final 18 minutes of the game.
Daniel Sedin would win it after Mikael Samuelsson's stick shattered on a one-time attempt, causing the puck to flutter and rebound right to Sedin, who scored the winner and silenced the sellout crowd at Staples Center.
After losing their second game of the series in which they led after two periods, Kings captain Dustin Brown could only lament the lost opportunities to put the Canucks away.
“We finished one point behind them in the standings, we had them pinned to the ground in Game 4 and let it get away," said Brown, who was held without a point and was a minus-4 over the final two games of the series. "We win that game and the series is 3-1, probably has a different outlook."
One thing that changed the outlook of the series was the Kings' power play crashing back to earth. After starting the series 9-for-13, they only scored on 1 of 13 chances over the final three games, all Canucks victories.
"We didn’t really change much from when they were 6-for-6 and these last kills that we had," Vigneault said. "Sometimes teams get on a roll and get whatever you want to call it, puck luck, or bounces, or whatever. They were on a roll. Everything they were trying, they were connecting. That can happen sometimes on the power play or penalty kill.
"We knew that sooner or later that if we stuck with it and kept persevering and staying mentally strong that it would turn around, and it did."
What lies ahead for the Canucks in the second round is still unknown, but the Chicago Blackhawks are one win away in their series with the Nashville Predators from setting up a rematch of last year's conference semifinal matchup between the Canucks and Blackhawks, one that was taken in six games by Chicago.
Canucks defenseman Shane O'Brien certainly wouldn't mind seeing the Blackhawks again. Not because they're an easy opponent, of course, but because it could go a long way toward rinsing the taste of last season's disappointment from his mouth.
"I think if we matched up against Chicago, it would definitely be OK with us," he said. "They're a good team, don't get me wrong. They've got a lot of good players. From training camp, we remembered that film that we had leaving the United Center and if we get another crack at them, it should be a good series."
Shift of the game: Daniel Sedin's winner came off a great passing play involving -- who else? -- his brother Henrik. Daniel fed a cross-ice pass to Henrik, who set up Mikael Samuelsson for a one-timer. But Samuelsson's stick snapped on the attempt. Daniel, though, dug the puck out and beat Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick in the final minutes to put the Canucks on top 3-2 and help send the Canucks to the second round.