Schneider gamble pays off

Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider makes a save against the Kings during Game 4 of their NHL Western...

Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider makes a save against the Kings during Game 4 of their NHL Western Conference quarterfinal series at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Calif., April 18, 2012. (DANNY MOLOSHOK/Reuters)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:50 AM ET

LOS ANGELES - It was a gamble worthy of Kenny Rogers singing in the background.

The Vancouver Canucks get to play another hand because of it.

Alain Vigneault's bold move of keeping the goaltending reins in the hands of Cory Schneider instead of giving them back to Roberto Luongo in a do-or-die game took real courage with the potential long-term implications.

Schneider rewarded his coach's faith by keeping the Canucks’ Stanley Cup hopes alive by backstopping them to a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings Wednesday night.

The Kings still lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 with Game 5 Sunday in Vancouver.

Turns out it was the right move in the immediate moment.

Schneider made all kinds of crucial saves near the end of each the first two periods to be a difference maker.

“In a game like this, you need him to play his best,” Canucks winger Daniel Sedin said. “They’re going to get chances. He’s so calm. He doesn’t make those spectacular saves because he’s there. That’s a calming factor.”

The goalie kept his team within a goal at the first intermission and maintained their lead at the second break.

His biggest save unquestionably came early in the third. While the Canucks held a 2-1 edge, Schneider stopped a penalty shot awarded to Kings captain Dustin Brown.

“Brown’s been their hottest player, and I know he’s got some good moves on the shootout,” Schneider said. “He made a nice move, I was able to hold off on the shot fake. I was playing him to put it upstairs, but he threw it back five-hole, and I was able to get my stick there.”

Just 22 seconds later, Henrik Sedin collected Vancouver’s second power-play goal of the night for the much-needed insurance. Assisting on the tally was Daniel Sedin, who played his first game since suffering a concussion March 21 when he was elbowed in the face by Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith.

“For us to come back and score a power-play goal was a double-whammy (after the penalty-shot save),” Schneider said. “It was a two-goal swing.

“I’m always trying to prove myself. Every time you get a chance to play, you never want to be embarrassed. I’m enjoying it, the playoffs. It’s the time of year that’s most fun.”

The Canucks were in danger of becoming the first regular-season champs to be swept out of the playoffs since the 1937-38 Boston Bruins.

Even though the decision to put Schneider in goal for Game 3 didn’t pay off — Los Angeles won 1-0 — the Canucks turned to him again Wednesday night.

It didn’t look good early in the first when Anze Kopitar opened the scoring to the delight of the Staples Center sellout crowd of 18,409.

But Schneider held the fort with a few clutch saves in the dying seconds of the frame, and his teammates finally rewarded him with the much-needed offence that was lacking in the first few games.

Canucks defenceman Alex Edler’s point shot — with teammate Ryan Kesler providing the screen — gave the Canucks their first power-play goal of the series, ending a 0-for-14 drought early in the second.

Four minutes later, Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa’s point shot ricocheted off the stick of Kings centre Mike Richards and past goalie Jonathan Quick to give Vancouver the lead.

“They’re still huge favourites,” Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said. “They’ve got a lot of pressure on them. Being up 3-0, they wanted to finish it off here, I bet. Now, we focus on one game, and if we can take that, it’s a new series.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak


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