The Los Angeles Kings, whose youngish roster features 13 players with no playoff experience, saw a splendid performance by some of their most important young players go for naught as the Vancouver Canucks evened their opening-round series with a four-goal third period en route to a 6-4 victory.
Kings captain Dustin Brown
, 25, Anze Kopitar
, 22, and Wayne Simmonds, 21, all scored big goals that electrified the Staples Center crowd. But in the end, thanks to a resilient group of veterans, it was the Canucks who skated off with the win after a late tie-breaking goal by Henrik Sedin.
For the Kings, whose playoff rise seemed meteoric after back-to-back wins in Games 2 and 3, Wednesday night's 6-4 loss proved to be a reality check.
The Kings led 3-2 after two periods, only to see Vancouver score four times in the third. It was the first time all season that L.A. lost a game in regulation when leading after 40 minutes.
"When you have a lead going into the third period, you've got to nail that thing down," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "Keep playing hard, keep playing heavy and be physical on their players."
Brown had a power-play goal and an assist and four shots. Kopitar's second goal of the series made the score 3-2 at the end of two periods. The pair have combined for 3 goals and 6 assists, with a combined 23 shots on goal. Kopitar has a game-winner. Brown has points in each game, Kopitar in three of four. Critics waiting for the young Kings to stumble have been disappointed.
But rocking toward what looked like a 3-1 series lead entering the third period, the Kings' young stars were served a cold dish of playoff revenge when Henrik Sedin scored his first goal of the series at 17:08 to break a 4-4 tie.
Murray said the sting of losing despite a good effort is part of the playoff package.
"There are going to be these difficult times, adversities," Murray said. "You've got to know how to manage your emotions in these situations. Emotionally, you've got to deal with it."
The Kings had their chances, but Roberto Luongo came up with two big saves in rapid succession, one on Brown, another on an Alexander Frolov breakaway.
"I don't think there was much different (in LA's play) except Vancouver was able to score a couple of critical goals at critical times," Murray said. "I thought we were skating, doing a pretty good job of managing the puck. We (had) a breakaway with about 14 minutes left in the period on a 3-2 lead and if we score on it, maybe the game's put away.
"It is what it is," Kopitar shrugged. "It would have been great to go up 3-1 in the series, but we've got to learn from our mistakes for sure."
Wayne Simmonds' goal with 6:42 left in regulation got the Kings even at 4-4 after the Canucks capitalized on a too many men penalty to go ahead on Sami Salo's goal 62 seconds earlier.
"There's a lot of positives in the game, but we made some mistakes out there," Brown said.
The call, late in the game, seemed to be cosmic payback after the Canucks lost Game 2 when Kopitar scored the game-winner on a power play caused by the same penalty.
Brown says that while a too many men on the ice call "just can't happen," there's no time for looking backward.
"At this time of the year, you can't sit here and say ‘what if,' we've got to keep moving forward," Brown said.
While neither goaltender was spectacular, Luongo made a couple of big saves, and Jonathan Quick
says he didn't respond in kind.
"In order to win in the playoffs," Quick said, "You need your goalie to make some big saves for you down the stretch and I wasn't able to do that tonight."
Murray was pleased with the Kings' play -- at least through two periods.
"(It was a) great effort, (I) loved our start," Murray said. "The first period was exactly what we needed."
While Murray is surely glad that his young players are accountable for their actions, he needs them to keep on an even keel in dealing with the disappointment of a loss coming on the heels of a generally good effort.
"Don't get too low," Murray said. "Don't over-think it, go back and start to play again. This is part of the process, you have to go through it. It's a young group of guys, and you're going to face adversity. We have handled those situations pretty well over the course of the year. We've proven to be resilient and gritty, and bounce back. It's going to be a big test back in Vancouver."
Author: Josh Brewster | NHL.com Correspondent