LOS ANGELES — It was a hit that could have registered on the Richter Scale because it was looking like the biggest impact the Los Angeles Kings would make Sunday.
When Dustin Brown rocked Henrik Sedin with a heavy forearm check to the shoulder in the second period, a blow that also caught his chin, it sent the Vancouver Canucks captain crushing to the ice and striking his head. He struggled to regain his footing and had to be helped to the bench before briefly leaving Game 3 of the Western Conference quarterfinal. It left an impression and an ensuing scrap between Anze Kopitar and Alex Burrows was about as heated as it got because there was simply too much at stake.
With the Kings attempting to lead an NHL playoff series 3-0 for the first time in franchise history, the Canucks dominated the shot clock 41-20 but once again couldn’t muster a power-play goal in four attempts. And when Brown pounced on a Justin Williams rebound off the right pad of Cory Schneider and roofed the offering in the third period, the eighth-conference seed claimed a stunning 1-0 victory to put the Presidents’ Trophy winners a loss away from a long summer of second guessing that would obviously force change.
For Brown, who never second guessed his intention of hitting but not hurting the Canucks captain, his game-winning goal made the Kings grateful they didn’t deal the centre at the trade deadline. Same for Brown who was in the right place at the right time to settle the issue.
“It was one of those plays where five seconds before, one of their players had a good finish on me and I fell down and kind of got puck watching,” said Brown. “But there was a turnover and a shot from the point and I was hanging behind their defence. Now it’s important for us to understand we’re up 3-0 and we’ve got to have that killer instinct and not take it easy. It’s more the opposite and to close a series out at home would be huge.”
There weren’t a lot of style marks for the Kings, but there seldom is in the playoffs. A bounce here and deflection there and the Canucks aren’t staring at elimination Wednesday.
“It’s how you’re going to win against a highly-skilled team, you have to make them earn everything and we had some big blocks and big saves, but toward the end there were some pucks we had to get out,” added Brown. “But that’s not skill, that’s wanting to pay the price.”
The Canucks buzzed the Kings in the final minute and with Schneider pulled, there was a mad scrum around goalie Jonathan Quick but the Canucks couldn’t capitalize. It only brought more into focus the Brown hit.
“He’s a hard player and an elusive player to hit and I just got a chance to finish my check and I did,” Brown said of the captain-versus-captain confrontation. “They reacted like any team would when one of their better players gets hit like that — that’s part of playoff hockey. I think the hit gave us a spark of energy and I don’t think we played as good as we could have in the first period. It was just one of those games that was in between for everyone involved until the hit. It gave us a lot of energy.”
The Kings were more than wary that they had to be better at even strength Sunday. What they were good at was allowing Quick to see shots to record his shutout and they were good at falling in front of shots and denying the Canucks the front of the net. Before Brown scored, Quick stopped Burrows on a deflection and Alec Martinez fell in front of shot from the slot. And that’s what it took because it wasn’t going to be easy. The Canucks weren’t going to go roll over and despite the Kings winning their first two playoff road games for just the third time — the others were in 1968 against Minnesota and 1976 against Atlanta — it was a Jannik Hansen shot off the left post midway through the first period that could have swung momentum. But it didn’t.
“They tried to get a lot of bodies to the net and take away my eyes and did a pretty good job because I was fortunate a lot of times that pucks didn’t get through,” said Quick. “That’s something that everybody expects of each other.”
Quick never expected that Brown would be moved at the deadline. He’s too valuable and too much of a leader.
“I don’t think anybody believed here that he was going to leave,” said Quick. “We believe in him and he’s doing a great job ever since I’ve been here and he’s a special guy. That’s why he wears the ‘C’ but the job is not complete we’ve still got work to do.”
Not nearly as much as the Canucks.