L.A. Kings' overtime hero Jarret Stoll had been in this position before
'We knew we were a good, tough-checking team and a lot of times, those are tough teams to play against, doesn’t matter who you are'
Jarret Stoll of the Los Angeles Kings celebrates his overtime goal against Vancouver Canucks goalie Cory Schneider and Sami Salo in Game 5 of their NHL Western Conference quarter-final series Sunday at Rogers Arena. The Kings eliminated the Canucks four games to one with their 2-1 victory.
Photograph by: Mark van Manen, PNG
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VANCOUVER — Back in 2005-06, coming out of the lockout, Jarret Stoll distinctly remembers his teammates on the No. 8-seeded Edmonton Oilers staring down the barrel at the runaway Presidents’ Trophy-winning Detroit Red Wings.
And not quaking in their boots.
Did he really think that team had a chance?
“Yeah, because we didn’t think we were a No. 8 seed,” Stoll said last week -- or was it last month? -- when the Los Angeles Kings led the Vancouver Canucks 3-0 in their first-round playoff series, and were hoping to close them out in four straight.
“We knew we were a good, tough-checking team and a lot of times, those are tough teams to play against, doesn’t matter who you are -- if you’re Detroit or Vancouver, or whatever. You gotta find ways to create chances and not give up too many, and your goaltender has to be good. He’s going to have to make big saves, because they’re a good team, and they have skill.”
Fast forward to Sunday evening.
A No. 1 seed on the ropes against a No. 8.
Not the same sort of disparity this time as when the Red Wings finished with 124 points, the second-highest point total ever, and the Oilers 95 -- not, as Stoll said, “almost a checking team versus an all-star team" -- but all the rest of the ingredients were there.
On one side, a team full of accomplished, decorated players comfortable with their ability to flip the switch when challenged, even though the regular season hadn’t been much of a stretch. On the other, an underdog that had to scratch and claw to get into the post-season, that lived and died on hard work and defence and goaltending, whose switch was already in the “on” position when the regular season ended.
One team needing to be roused, the other raring to go out of the gate.
And by the time the Canucks awoke in Game 3, the series was gone.
The winning/losing goal, when it came in overtime of Game 5 Sunday, is sure to be parsed to death, super slo-mo’d and hyper-analyzed -- did Trevor Lewis half-tackle Canuck defenceman Dan Hamhuis as he tried to carry the puck out of the zone ... where was everyone else when the puck spilled over to Jarret Stoll, who now had a 2-on-1 with Dwight King?
But the odds were impossibly long. Comebacks from 0-3 are for dreamers, and the Canucks didn’t have that kind of imagination in these playoffs, or for the last couple of months.
“Trevor Lewis had a great angle on Hamhuis, it was a quick turnover, I could kind of sense he was maybe going to get a stick on the puck -- and it popped out in perfect spot for me,” said Stoll, who has a wicked wrist shot and picked a top corner over Cory Schneider’s blocker.
“I knew I had a 2-on-1, but I didn’t even look twice. I was pretty much shooting all the way there, and found a little room up top.”
“I’ve been waiting about four months for Jarret Stoll to take that shot,” said Darryl Sutter, Terry Murray’s mid-season replacement as head coach, and an old hand at the art of stifling the opposition’s attack.
He got the unfancied Calgary Flames all the way to Game 7 of the Cup final in 2004 based on tenacity and great goaltending -- and these Kings had both of those, only with more skill up front.
Jonathan Quick was the best player in the series, and as good as Cory Schneider was in relief of Roberto Luongo starting in Game 3 (and Luongo wasn’t bad, either), Quick was just that tiny bit better.
A lot went into quieting the guns of Henrik and Daniel (when he finally got to play in Game 4) Sedin, though their supporting cast that failed miserably to provide any secondary scoring, but all roads led to Quick, and he wasn’t letting anything pass.
Ryan Kesler was very good Sunday, and so was Max Lapierre and, at times Alex Burrows -- the Three Mouthketeers stuck to hockey and had some brilliant shifts -- but neither they nor Jannik Hansen (who was terrific) nor Mason Raymond (who wasn’t) nor anyone else but Henrik could solve the smaller of two American netminders who battled Sunday and looked very much like the next generation of Team USA backstops.
“I know exactly how [the Canucks] feel, I was part of that in Chicago once,” said Sutter, of the 1990-91 Blackhawks who won the Presidents’ Trophy and lost in the first round to Minnesota. “And it’s such a grind to do it, and do it, and do it, and then to win that award and then you start looking ahead -- and I’m sure that’s a little bit of what they’re going to look at.”
“This series was kind of weird,” said Stoll, who also scored an overtime winner in Edmonton’s series against Detroit six years ago. “We jumped out to that 3-0 lead, and we felt we were a little fortunate, and Quicky was great, especially in this building.
“And then coming home to get that 1-0 win, and all these days off we’ve had lately kind of took the fire away a little bit, and you’ve got to build it back up on game day. So it was a little different, but they were Presidents’ Trophy winners, and from top to bottom they were built to be in the Stanley Cup final ... but we feel we’re built pretty good, too.”
Better than they were given credit for, that’s obvious.
But it’s been that kind of year in the playoffs. Even given the annual volatility of the first round, this spring’s carnage has been spectacular, and it may not be over yet.
“We had expectations and hopes to go far in the playoffs, but it seems like the reality of the league this year is that parity is runnng wild,” said Schneider, who has been sensational and was again Sunday. “You look at ourselves, Pittsburgh, Detroit, San Jose, I’m sure they were at top of a lot of people’s lists at the start of the year, and New York’s [behind], Boston held [elimination] off today ... you can’t take anything for granted. Everybody’s capable of playing in this league.”
“Their goalie was huge for them in this series, and they got the bounce in overtime and we didn’t ... and that’s what happens when you go down 3-0,” said defenceman Kevin Bieksa.
“They didn’t play like an eight seed. They’re a good team. You know, [Dustin] Brown had a good series for them, Quick had a good series, Willie [Mitchell] played well, they’ve got some good players.”
In the end, it probably came down to playoff readiness. The Kings were in gear, the Canucks were idling.
“You know, it was such a battle just to make the playoffs, and you’re always weighing that: what do you have left?” Sutter said.
Enough, it turns out. They didn’t have to re-start their engines, and the game schedule let them get all the rest they needed.
Or as Ben Johnson said: “Gun go off, race be over.”
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