By HOWARD BERGER
LOS ANGELES (Apr. 19) – It was another triumphant night on Wednesday for visiting teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs and probably should have been a three-game sweep given the Rangers early 2-0 lead at Ottawa. Pittsburgh and Vancouver upheld the bizarre, overwhelming trend of road success in the Cup tournament by staying alive with victories at Philadadelphia and here in Los Angeles, respectively. New York, meanwhile, blew a grand opportunity to take a 3-1 choke-hold on the Senators, who continue to be hockey’s equivalent of the Energizer bunny. Ottawa scrambled back for a 3-2 overtime victory at Scotiabank Place, ensuring at least two more games between the first and eighth-place teams in the Eastern Conference.
For those keeping score, visiting clubs are now 19-9 in the 2012 playoffs.
At the Staples Center here, another overflow audience left disappointed, hoping to witness the first-ever opening-round sweep of a Presidents’ Trophy winner. After an awful first period, Vancouver played easily its best 40 minutes of the series, earning another home date in Game 5 on Sunday at Rogers Arena. Though Daniel Sedin – returning from a concussion sustained on Mar. 21 – wasn’t a major factor, his presence lit a fuse under twin-brother Henrik, who was all over the ice, providing the visitors their third-period insurance marker in a 3-1 triumph. Daniel assisted on the Canucks’ first goal – by Alex Edler.
THE SEDIN BROTHERS – DANIEL AND HENRIK (ABOVE) – WERE RE-UNITED IN GAME 4 HERE AT LOS ANGELES FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE DANIEL ABSORBED THAT CHEAP-SHOT FROM DUNCAN KEITH OF THE BLACKHAWKS ON MAR. 21.
Regardless which club prevails in the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia series, it will be remembered as one of the most ridiculous opening-round affairs in recent history. The Pennsylvania rivals have set goaltending back nearly 30 years, to a time in the mid-1980s when an incomparable group of scoring phenoms overwhelmed those between the pipes – such legends as Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Denis Savard and Peter Stastny.
It’s getting to the point where Philadelphia should try and revolutionize the game by playing without a goalie; the Washington Generals have better luck with the Harlem Globetrotters than the Flyers do in their perennial search for a netminder to replace Ron Hextall… who hasn’t dressed in orange and black since 1999. Ilya Bryzgalov must have spent Monday and Tuesday watching tapes of Marc-Andre Fleury’s performances in Games 1 to 3.
He completely bottomed out on Wednesday night in the 10-goal Penguins’ thrashing at Wells-Fargo Center (yielding the first five).
I wonder how Bernie Parent’s reflexes are these days.
My photo-review, now, of the Game 4 scene here in SoCal:
THERE WAS A CARNIVAL-LIKE ATMOSPHERE ON CHICK HEARN CT. AS FANS OF BOTH TEAMS ARRIVED FOR THE GAME. KINGS JERSEYS – PAST AND PRESENT – DECORATED THE LOCALS.
INSIDE STAPLES CENTER, WHITE TOWELS ADORNED THE SEATS AS FANS ARRIVED (ABOVE), WHILE A LARGE GROUP OF VANCOUVER SUPPORTERS (BELOW) WAITED NEAR ICE LEVEL FOR THE CANUCKS TO SKATE OUT IN THE PRE-GAME WARM-UP.
KINGS’ FORWARD ANZE KOPITAR HANDLES PUCK IN CENTER-ICE CIRCLE (ABOVE-LEFT) DURING WARM-UP, WHILE CANUCKS GOALIE CORY SCHNEIDER STRETCHES NEARBY. KOPITAR WOULD BE THE ONLY PLAYER TO FOOL SCHNEIDER ON THIS NIGHT.
I AM A MAJOR FAN OF THE COLORFUL, PRE-GAME LASER AND LIGHT SHOWS IN THIS SERIES AT ROGERS ARENA AND STAPLES CENTER – PROJECTING DIFFERENT HUES ON CENTER-ICE (ABOVE) AND WHILE FANS GREET THE HOME TEAM (BELOW).
HERE’S HOW CENTER-ICE LOOKS WITH CONVENTIONAL LIGHTING, AS REFEREE DAN O’HALLORAN IS SET TO START WEDNESDAY NIGHT’S GAME BY DROPPING THE PUCK BETWEEN SAMMY PAHLSSON OF VANCOUVER AND ANZE KOPITAR OF L.A.
VANCOUVER PLAYED DREADFULLY IN THE FIRST PERIOD, ALLOWING THE KINGS EASY PASSAGE TO CORY SCHNEIDER, AND IT RESULTED IN KOPITAR’S OPENING TALLY AT THE 13:00 MARK – HIS FIRST OF THE PLAYOFFS.
PERHAPS DISTRACTION LED TO JONATHAN QUICK YIELDING THREE GOALS ON THE NIGHT.
VANCOUVER WAS MUCH MORE PERSISTENT IN THE MIDDLE FRAME (ABOVE) – THE SEDINS, IN PARTICULAR, FORCING QUICK TO BE SHARP WITH HIS GLOVE.
THE STAPLES CENTER CROWD COULD SENSE THE KINGS WERE TRULY ON THEIR HEELS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE SERIES AND ALEX EDLER KNOTTED THE COUNT (BELOW) – ON THE POWERPLAY – AT 4:07 OF THE SECOND PERIOD.
ROBERTO LUONGO (ABOVE-LEFT) WATCHED FROM THE VISITORS’ BENCH FOR THE SECOND CONSECUTIVE GAME… CERTAIN TO MORPH INTO A THIRD SUCH OCCASION ON SUNDAY.
REFEREES O’HALLORAN (13) AND TOM KOWAL (32) WERE BUSY WITH PLAYERS FROM EACH TEAM – MATT GREENE OF L.A. (ABOVE-LEFT) AND MANNY MALHOTRA OF THE CANUCKS.
THE KINGS COULD SEE THE NIGHT – AND THEIR FOUR-GAME SWEEP – SLIPPING AWAY AS THE THIRD PERIOD STARTED, WHILE THE CANUCKS (BELOW) STAYED DETERMINED.
DETERMINING SEQUENCE OF THE GAME OCCURRED IN A 22-SECOND SPAN EARLY IN THE THIRD PERIOD WHEN THE KINGS’ HOTTEST SHOOTER – CAPTAIN DUSTIN BROWN – WAS PULLED DOWN FROM BEHIND ON A BREAKAWAY AND AWARDED A PENALTY SHOT (ABOVE). BROWN WAS THWARTED BY SCHNEIDER AND HENRIK SEDIN REPLIED FOR THE CANUCKS (BELOW) ON THE FOLLOWING SHIFT FOR A 3-1 LEAD.
DESPITE L.A.’s TWO-GOAL DEFICIT, THE CROWD STAYED IN THE GAME, AND STAYED AT THE GAME (BELOW), EVEN IN THE FARTHEST REACHES OF THE BUILDING.
THE ICE SEEMED TILTED TOWARD EACH END OF THE RINK AT VARIED TIMES DURING THE GAME AND THE KINGS CONTINUED TO PESTER SCHNEIDER IN THE FINAL PERIOD (BELOW).
NEITHER MIKE RICHARDS NOR JEFF CARTER (ABOVE) WERE AS EVIDENT ON BEHALF OF THE KINGS IN THIS GAME AS THEY WERE IN THE PREVIOUS THREE.
TIME ULTIMATELY RAN OUT ON THE KINGS (ABOVE AND BELOW) SENDING THE WESTERN CONFERENCE QUARTERFINAL BACK TO VANCOUVER FOR A FIFTH GAME ON SUNDAY.
FANS FILED ORDERLY – BUT QUICKLY – OUT OF THE STAPLES CENTER.
OUTSIDE THE ARENA, VISITING FANS WERE MUCH HAPPIER THAN THE HOME-FOLK.
THE FELLOW BELOW SUGGESTED I HAND OVER A FEW BUCKS IN CELEBRATION OF HIS SURVIVING DEADLY HURRICANE KATRINA IN NEW ORLEANS… LIKE I WAS GOING TO SAY NO TO THAT? AT BOTTOM IS THE STAPLES CENTER AND THE ESPN ZONE AT L.A. LIVE THROUGH THE “FIREWORKS” FUNCTION ON MY CAMERA.
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