Schneider gives Canucks reason for hope

 

 
 
 

LOS ANGELES — When Miracle Max — i.e., Billy Crystal — was supposed to bring the lifeless body of the hero Westley back from the beyond in The Princess Bride, he first lifted the corpse's arm and watched it fall limply to the table.

"I've seen worse," he said.

"It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, there's usually only one thing you can do . . . go through his clothes and look for loose change."

Which is where the Vancouver Canucks enter the plot.

Down 3-0 to the Los Angeles Kings in their Western Conference first-round playoff series, given up for dead, they looked as though a miracle might be the minimum requirement to revive their flagging hopes.

But as it turned out, all they needed Wednesday at Staples Center was a couple of bounces, a full complement of twins, a friendly call from their least favourite referee (2011-12 edition), and a stout performance from the goaltender the head coach showed considerable courage to start between the pipes.

And, presto: a 3-1 win, and they're slightly alive.

"We just needed to win. I don't think we cared how we did it," said Cory Schneider, who fought off 43 of L.A.'s 44 shots — including a third-period penalty shot by captain Dustin Brown — and battled hard at the end of all three periods to keep the Canucks' noses above water.

"By no means are we right back in it," he said, "but it's the first step that we had to have, and now we can worry about the next one."

With Daniel Sedin's return to the lineup, Henrik was whole again, and the two of them made more than a little magic. They celebrated their reunion with one of the prettiest power plays the Canucks have had in weeks — before and after Schneider stoned Brown, who had been hauled down by Kevin Bieksa to prevent a clean break-in — and when Henrik finished off a smile-inducing series of seemingly blind passes with a chip-shot goal to make it 3-1, the world finally seemed to be back on its proper axis.

"It felt good. Hank's a great passer," said Daniel, who was "eased" back into the lineup with a mere 19:33 of ice time, fully nine seconds less than his brother.

"I said all along that we like to play together, but when we play together for a long time, we need a break from each other, to be honest with you. I think we try to use each other so much we forget to work on our own games, and when we're out — usually it's me — he tends to work on his own game.

"I mean, you look at how he plays now, he holds onto pucks, he works their (defence), and he makes it easy for me. The same as when I was out with the foot injury a few years back, he was a different player."

One game, of course, does not a comeback make.

There is still no wiggle room, down 3-1 in the series.

But there were little signs, all night, that the Canucks were starting to get bits of their confidence back — mostly two (count 'em!) two power play goals from a unit that hasn't been able to get out of its own way for . . . well, forever.

"I think the last game may have turned the corner for us. I think we realized that when we play our best and stay out of the box, we're a really good team," said Daniel, who took a punch to the face from Jordan Nolan during one scrum — this one, unbelievably was called a penalty — but showed no ill effects from the standard rough treatment.

A playoff loss never lacks culprits, and this looked like another one in the making when Mason Raymond attempted a flyby check of the Kings' Anze Kopitar at the Vancouver blue-line, 13 minutes in, and simply fanned. Kopitar, chugging down the ice late in a shift, brushed Raymond off like a pesky autograph seeker and had a clear path to the net, snapping an uncontested 20-footer past Schneider's glove for an early L.A. lead.

But the break the Canucks hadn't got through the first three games finally arrived late in the second period — after a seeing-eye Edler shot beat a screened Jonathan Quick, and Bieksa's hopeful point shot was inadvertently redirected by the Kings' Mike Richards to give them the lead — in the form of an apparent L.A. goal waved off by referee Dan O'Halloran.

O'Halloran was the same ref who saw nothing amiss when Daniel's head was being speed-bagged by Boston's Brad Marchand in last year's Cup final, or when Duncan Keith put Daniel's lights out on March 22, so it was a major surprise when he saw Kings' Brad Richardson shove Schneider's pad, and the puck, illegally into the net 13 minutes into the second period.

The disallowed goal kept the Canucks ahead, and when Schneider stopped Brown's penalty shot in the third, the Vancouver power play resumed with a little piece of art by Henrik and Daniel, each of whom made a no-look backhand pass out of nothing before Henrik converted Dan Hamhuis's rebound for the insurance goal.

That coach Alain Vigneault had named Schneider to be his goalie for Game 4 was about as comprehensive a dismissal of Roberto Luongo's future with the team as could be. If Luongo were going to be he Canucks' starting goalie in 2012-13, there isn't a chance Vigneault would have left him cooling his heels, essentially a healthy scratch, for what might have been the club's last two games of the playoffs.

Not at his age, and not with his contract.

But Schneider confirmed every good thing he has shown all season by doing it in successive games under all the pressure there is. And now the die is cast in goal, and the Canucks are . . . well, slightly alive.

"I was very confident after the last game that we had the guys in here to get it done, and getting Danny back was a huge boost," said Henrik. "And that's what happens sometimes in the playoffs. Things happen, they start thinking, and they've got a lot of pressure on their team over there.

"They're huge favourites, but we've made a series of this."

Vancouver Sun

ccole@vancouversun.com

 
 
 
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