VANCOUVER – If it was a lucky bounce, the Los Angeles Kings earned it.
If it was a purposeful deflection, it was fitting that it came off the skate of Jeff Carter, whose feet were in the spotlight all week because of a bone bruise to his ankle that kept him out of the final five games of the regular season.
The Kings didn't really care. All that mattered was the win.
Dustin Penner converted the bounce into the tie-breaking goal with 3:14 left to lift the Kings to a 4-2 victory and a 1-0 lead in their Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena on Wednesday night.
Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler tied the game with 7.3 seconds left in the second period, but coughed up the puck just inside his own blue line and Mike Richards' cross-ice pass bounced off the skate of Carter and straight to an unchecked Penner going to the net on the other side.
"The stick wasn't working too well tonight, so a good thing the skate was," said Carter, who was in a walking boot last week before returning to practice on Monday. "The puck was coming right to my skate. I tried to direct it in that area to the net, back post of somewhere, I knew Penner was driving there."
Penner, who scored seven only goals all season, fired it into the empty net.
"I was more surprised it went in," Penner said with a self-deprecating smile.
He was more willing to give Carter credit for the redirection.
"I'll given hit the benefit of the doubt," Penner said when asked if it was on purpose. "I hope he didn't hurt himself, but it was a fortunate bounce."
It was one that both Penner and Richards, who scored the Kings first goal on a 5-on-3 and also assisted on Dustin Brown's into an empty net with 17.9 second left, thought their team deserved after outshooting the Canucks 39-26.
"That was just a bad pass by me and a good play by [Carter]," said Richards, who has also struggled to score -- only five of his 18 goals came after Christmas. "It was a lucky break but we'll take it. You make breaks through hard work and you get breaks through hard work so it's a break we'll take."
Defenseman Willie Mitchell, during a five-minute power play, also scored, and Jonathan Quick made 24 saves for the eighth-seeded Kings won a series-opener against the Canucks for the first time in their five postseason meetings.
Los Angeles didn't qualify for the playoffs until its 81st game but was sharper than the Canucks to start the playoffs, outshooting the Presidents' Trophy winners badly in the first period and controlling a penalty-filled game for long stretches.
It could have been a lot worse if not for Roberto Luongo, who made several spectacular saves among his 35 stops but was beaten twice while his team was shorthanded and was stranded by the bounce of Carter's skate on the winner.
"It was an unfortunate bounce there," Luongo said.
Game 2 is Friday night in Vancouver.
Alexandre Burrows also scored for the Canucks, who were playing without top goal scorer Daniel Sedin because of a lingering concussion. Vancouver lost an opener for the first time in nine playoff series, in large part because they handed the Kings eight power plays and failed to capitalize on any of the five they received.
"Obviously we spent a lot of energy trying to kill those penalties, but they were the better team tonight," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said.
Los Angeles took the lead after Byron Bitz was given a five-minute major and game misconduct for boarding Kyle Clifford with 7:48 left in the second period. Mitchell, who left Vancouver as a free agent two summers ago, scored with 40 seconds left in the advantage on a point shot that hit a Canuck stick and deflected over the shoulder of a screened Luongo.
Clifford went back to the dressing room after getting run face-first into the boards from behind by the shoulder of Bitz. He came back to the bench almost immediately but didn't play another shift and didn't return for the third period.
Coach Darryl Sutter didn't offer an update on Clifford's status after the game.
The Canucks wasted a great game from Luongo, especially early. He across to his right just 32 seconds into the game and getting his blocker up to rob Rob Scuderi alone at the end of a 3-on-2, and added two more great glove stops on Brown as Los Angeles jumped out to an early 4-0 shot advantage.
It was still that way after a miserable Canucks power play two minutes in, but Burrows opened the scoring at 4:17, just 11 seconds after the advantage expired.
However, the Kings kept coming, and after a couple more good saves from Luongo and another ineffective power play for the Canucks, they tied the game amid a run of three straight Vancouver penalties.
The first was an unsportsmanlike conduct to Kesler for a snow shower on Quick; it was followed by consecutive delay-of-game calls after Chris Higgins and Edler cleared the puck over the glass.
Richards quickly converted the first lengthy 5-on-3, catching Luongo cheating off the post for a back-door pass by snapping a wrist shot between the goalie's legs from the bottom of the right circle with 6:29 left in the period.
"A tough play for goaltenders to read that, they see the stick on the ice an read backdoor," Richards said. "Luckily it got through."
Los Angeles, which came into the game ranked 17th on the power play but on a run of eight goals in five games, got another two-man advantage for 58 seconds after the second delay of game. But the Kings failed to get another shot, and then got a break when Jannik Hansen hit the post at the end of the last penalty kill.
"Our power play needs to be better," Richards said after L.A. finished 2-for-8. "It's going to be a crucial part of this series, but overall we played well."
At least Los Angeles generated momentum with most of its advantages.
"They kept us in our end for the full two minutes and it's tough, mentally," captain Henrik Sedin said. It was also a lot more than Vancouver could say.
The Canucks, who finished the season with the NHL's fourth-best power play -- but in a prolonged slump since mid-January -- had only one shot on their first four chances before forcing Quick to make three saves, including a great sliding stop on Kevin Bieksa's rebound chance, on a fifth advantage late in the third period.
"In the third we had an opportunity to win the game with it," Vigneault said.
Instead it came down to a bounce at the other end, one the Kings earned.
"I wasn't so much worried about us getting frustrated so much as letting one slip away," Penner said. "We got a fortunate bounce on my goal, but we worked hard for 60 minutes tonight and it worked out for us."