By Jahmal Corner
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Slava Voynov is known more for breaking hockey sticks than records, but the Los Angeles Kings defenseman managed to do both as he clumsily sparked his team to a desperation playoff win.
Voynov will not receive any style points for scoring what proved to be the game-winning goal in a 3-1 win that trimmed the Chicago Blackhawks' lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference final to 2-1, but it was precisely the fortuitous score that revealed a style all his own.
With Los Angeles up 1-0 and looking for some breathing room, Voynov attempted to rifle a shot on goal but misfired and broke his stick on the swing. The result was a slow, fluttering puck that fooled Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, along with the entire Staples Center crowd, and found the back of the net.
"I found an empty spot in the net and the puck was not where I want," Voynov, who also had the primary assist on the game's first goal, told reporters. "But (with a) broken stick the puck it (went) slow and lucky."
That luck made Voynov, who is tied for the Kings lead in playoff scoring this year with 11 points, the first defenseman in franchise history to score five goals in a single National Hockey League postseason.
For those that know Voynov, his success is far from a fluke. The 23-year-old Russian burst onto the scene last season as a rookie who made a strong contribution in helping the franchise capture its first ever Stanley Cup.
His role has expanded this year, as has his reputation for sawing his equipment in half.
"He breaks more sticks than anyone I've ever seen," said Kings winger Dustin Brown. "I'm just glad he finally broke a stick and actually got the puck on net. Normally he's shooting that puck from the blue line and the guy is coming back at him one-on-one (and he's) without a stick."
Teammate Tyler Toffoli agreed.
"I think he breaks a stick every game, if not two," said Toffoli. "He shoots the puck so hard. Obviously his sticks are going to break when you shoot as hard as he does."
Voynov's full speed approach extends to defense as well, and while his English may be limited his complete game is not.
He has put in long hours as he came through the ranks of Russia, and also paid his dues in the American Hockey League while steadily improving.
With the Kings' title defense being put to the ultimate test against the top-seeded Blackhawks, not to mention the absence of injured forward Mike Richards, the team can certainly use Voynov's high energy and activity.
Game Four is Thursday in Los Angeles and the Kings can only hope a young Voynov might provide them with yet another lucky ‘break.'
(Editing by Frank Pingue)