Ice Hockey - Unpredictable Penner again comes up big for Kings

Left wing Dustin Penner has made a habit of coming up with the crucial play at the best possible time, even though his National Hockey League career has endured more ups and downs than a runaway roller-coaster.

Reuters

He has scaled giddy heights with the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, and enjoyed a fair measure of success with the Edmonton Oilers, but he has also plunged forgettable depths in his seven NHL seasons.

Yet the burly 30-year-old Canadian can never be overlooked - whether by his team mates or his opponents. Like a wounded lion, Penner is often at his most dangerous just when he appears to be at his lowest ebb.

Friday night at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles provided the latest example of his uncanny ability to deliver in style with the odds seemingly stacked against him.

In front of a sellout crowd, Penner unleashed a thunderous slap shot with just 0.2 seconds left in the second period to score the decisive goal for the Kings as they clinched their first-round playoff series 4-2 against the St. Louis Blues.

Penner, who had fallen out of favor with head coach Darryl Sutter during the regular season, struck his hammer blow from just inside the blue line, the puck deflecting off an opponent's stick before flying past Blues goaltender Brian Elliott.

"I put everything into it - all 242.5 pounds," a smiling Penner told reporters after the Stanley Cup champion Kings had won Game Six 2-1, their 10th straight success on home ice. "It may have deflected off a shaft. It was going pretty hard.

"It was a fortunate break, a turnover in the neutral zone. (Rob) Scuderi handed it up to me and I cut to my wing. I heard the bench yell, 'Shoot,' and it's pretty simple after that.

"There were probably 20 guys and three coaches yelling for me to shoot. I don't think I've ever scored with 0.2 seconds left or whatever it was."

Asked how much time he thought he had to get off the shot, Penner replied: "They're not going to yell with 10 seconds left.

"Someone is looking at the clock at the same time they are looking at me. You've just got to trust your team mates."

NO BLAME

Elliott, who faced just 16 shots on the night while saving 14 of them, refused to apportion any blame to defenseman Roman Polak, whose stick deflected Penner's tiebreaking goal.

"I saw it come off because it was going low first, but what can you say? You can't put blame on him (Polak) for trying to get in front of the puck," Elliott said.

"We're all trying to do our best out there. Obviously he's frustrated, we're all frustrated, that had to be the one (goal) we couldn't get back."

It was Penner's sixth playoff goal for the Kings, and his third game-winner.

He had fashioned something similar just over a year ago when he ensured that the Kings booked their place in the Stanley Cup finals with a 4-3 overtime win over Phoenix in Game Five.

Penner chipped in with a rebound to grab the game-winner with 2:18 left in overtime, giving his team a 4-1 series win as they returned to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in almost 20 years.

"It'll be nice to go back," he said at the time. "I've been there once before (with Anaheim in 2007). I didn't get a chance to enjoy it as much as I should've. This time I'm going to take it all in."

He certainly did, going on to win his second Stanley Cup as the Kings defeated the New Jersey Devils 4-2 in the best-of-seven series to claim the sport's biggest prize for the first time in the team's 45-year history.

And all this for a player who was cut by several minor hockey teams early in his career, including his local junior club, and was never drafted by an NHL team.

Penner was signed as a free agent by Anaheim after playing college hockey for the University of Maine and won the Stanley Cup in his first full season with the Ducks, scoring the game-winner in Game Four of the five-game series against the Ottawa Senators.

Though he controversially moved to the Oilers via an offer sheet for the 2007-08 season and has endured periods of poor form since then, Penner has never forgotten how to come up the goods when needed.

The fifth-seeded Kings will meet either the second-seeded Ducks or the sixth-seeded San Jose Sharks in the second round of the playoffs, starting next week, and the unpredictable Penner is once again likely to raise his game when the heat is on.

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