If the Los Angeles Kings win the Stanley Cup, they may have the Vancouver Canucks to thank.
"We knew it was going to be tough right from the beginning," said Wayne Gretzky after the Kings defeated Vancouver 4-1 Sunday night to advance to the Smythe Division finals. "It was tough but maybe it was something we needed. I'm sure it'll help us going into the next round."The Kings have always been known for scoring goals, but the Canucks forced them to play disciplined defense to pull out the best of seven semifinal series four games to two.
"This year we had a good understanding that you need defense to advance in the playoffs," Kings Coach Tom Webster said. "You need to score but everyone needs to be conscious of their own end of the ice.
"But you have to give Vancouver a lot of credit, they played a very good series," Webster added.
Gretzky, who was held off the score sheet Sunday but still tallied 10 points in the series, echoed Webster's sentiments about taking care of the defensive zone.
"Even though we have a lot of guys who can score, you need to keep the puck out of your net," he said.
Larry Robinson, who was named the first star of Sunday night's game, said the Kings met a team that seemed to thrive on being the underdog, much like Los Angeles did last year in their upset of Calgary in the first round.
"There is no such thing as an easy game in the playoffs. Every game and every team you play now is tough," said Robinson.
Canucks Coach Pat Quinn said Vancouver began to falter when they started to get too fancy.
"It was tight checking at both ends until we started gambling and making fancy plays and they killed us," Quinn said.
But it wasn't the Kings' vaunted snipers that spelled the trouble for the Canucks, it was the checkers.
North Stars 3, Blackhawks 1
At Bloomington, Minn., Brian Bellows scored twice and goaltender Jon Casey made 26 saves, helping the North Stars eliminate the NHL regular season champions in six games. Bellows scored his second goal of the game at 6:29 of the third period, sealing the triumph for a Minnesota team that finished 38 points behind Chicago in the regular season. The goal came with Minnesota on the power play, Minnesota's 16th of the series. The Blackhawks' weak penalty killing was the prime reason behind the North Stars' upset. Minnesota scored five power-play goals in its 6-0 victory Friday night.
Flames 2, Oilers 1
At Edmonton, Alberta, Theoren Fleury broke out of his series scoring slump with an unassisted goal in overtime that lifted the Flames into a 3-3 tie in their Smythe Division semifinal series. Game 7 is Tuesday night in Calgary. Fleury jumped on an errant pass Edmonton's Mark Messier threw away at center ice and skated in alone on goalie Grant Fuhr, stuffing a shot between his legs at 4:40 of overtime. The goal was Fleury's first of the postseason.
Blues 3, Red Wings 0
At Detroit, defenseman Jeff Brown scored one goal and assisted on another and goaltender Vincent Riendeau turned away 23 shots for his first NHL playoff shutout, setting up a decisive seventh game in the Norris Division semifinals. The best-of-seven series returns to St. Louis Tuesday for Game 7. If the Blues win the seventh game, they will be the eighth team in NHL playoff history to win a series after trailing 3-1. Riendeau, who had three shutouts during the regular season, stopped six shots in the third period, including point-blank opportunities by Shawn Burr and Kevin Miller. He also stopped a shorthanded breakaway by Miller late in the first period.