By Allan Muir
Bruce Boudreau's guts are going to get a lot of coverage in the media over the next 24 hours.
But Anaheim's coach was doing more than playing a hunch when he tabbed John Gibson to make his first NHL playoff start in Game 4 against the Kings. He's seen enough of the rookie to know he was ready to step up.
The 20-year-old made Boudreau look like a genius with a 28-save shutout, leading the Ducks to a 2-0 win Saturday night in Los Angeles. The victory evened the best-of-seven series at two games apiece. Game 5 is Monday night in Anaheim.
Coming into this one, Gibson played just three NHL games. Despite that lack of big league experience, he was no stranger to big games. He's already led Team USA to gold medals at the U17, U18 and World Juniors and was nails last spring as he backstopped the Americans to a World Championship bronze. This kid lives to seize the day.
But the truth is, there were few moments when he had to be particularly special tonight. Gibson made the saves he had to, including a nice glove stop on Marian Gaborik early on and the stoning of Tyler Toffoli from about five feet out late in the third. But this was the definition of a team shutout. Challenged by Bourdreau to pull together and protect Gibson, the Ducks blocked nearly as many shots as he did, 25 in total. In fact, the best stop of the night was probably made by Ryan Getzlaf, who stood tall in the crease to deny Drew Doughty with the keeper down and out during a mad second-period scramble.
Still, this will be remembered as Gibson's night. And judging by the poise he displayed, it might be his series by the time it's over.
Here are some observations from his coming-out party:
Ducks-Kings Game 4 recap | Box score
• Boudreau gets knocked, and rightly so, for his failure to guide some strong teams past the second round. If that changes this year, it won't be the odds finally paying off. It'll be the result of some smart, smart coaching decisions.
A man who used three starting goalies through the first four games clearly isn't afraid to play his hunches, but the Gibson call isn't the only one to pay dividends.
In Game 3, he airlifted Sami Vatanen in from Newfoundland and gave him 20-plus minutes to make a difference. The kid responded with a dynamite performance that saw him revitalize the team's moribund power play almost by himself, and he followed it up with another strong effort tonight. He earned an assist on Getzlaf's insurance goal at 18:45 of the first and played a smart, physical brand of defense that was key to Anaheim withstanding a second-period surge from the Kings.
Boudreau also tabbed Devante Smith-Pelly to fill in for the injured Matt Beleskey on the top line. The 21-year-old was a natural, scoring the only goal Gibson would need 16:02 into the first when he sent a Corey Perry feed top cheese to beat Jonathan Quick. He had four shots on the night to lead the team, and played his usual rambunctious game, landing four hits while making Doughty's life miserable. If the defenseman's play erodes over the remainder of this series, remember the physical toll exacted by DSP.
• It's safe to drop the "goalie of the future" tag from Gibson's bio. Only an injury can derail his ascension to the top job in Anaheim now. Of course, there will be repercussions.
There was no chance Jonas Hiller was coming back next season, but Boudreau's repeated refusal to trust him in these playoffs has to be humiliating to the veteran. It's also going to be costly when he hits the market as a UFA this summer. Hard to imagine that any team would trust him to be more than a backup at this point, and that won't get him anything near to the $4.5 million he earned on his expiring deal. Have to think Europe might be an option for him next season.
And then there's Frederik Andersen, whose injury in Game 3 opened the door for Gibson's arrival. The rookie sees himself as a starter and likely imagined he'd have another year or so to prove he was up to the task before Gibson took over. Now? Playing time could be tough to come by. It'll be interesting to see how Boudreau handles this, but as far as problems go it's not a bad one to have.
• The folks at the Elias Sports Bureau worked overtime on this one. They reported that at 20 years, 330 days, Gibson became the youngest goalie to record a shutout in his playoff debut and the youngest goalie to win a playoff game since Montreal’s Carey Price (20 years, 238 days) in 2008.
They also noted that the 1938 Chicago Blackhawks are the only team in NHL history to start three goalies en route to winning the Stanley Cup.
• Darryl Sutter made a bold move of his own, pulling Jonathan Quick after the first period and replacing him with rookie Martin Jones. The 2012 Conn Smythe winner wasn't particularly sharp--he coughed up some meaty rebounds into some very dangerous areas--but the change was a rebuke of the team's lazy defensive coverage, not the goaltender.
The message wasn't lost on the Kings. After a fairly listless first period, they clamped down in the defensive end, limiting the Ducks to just three shots the rest of the way, none of those in the second period. That was a record-setter for both franchises and the first time any team had failed to record a shot in a playoff period since Dallas shot blanks against Edmonton in 1998.
But while they were the dominant team -- and avoided chasing the puck as they often do when trailing -- the Kings didn't generate the sort of chances they needed to claw back from that early deficit, either.
"It's the ability to finish it off," Sutter said. "Some of our top guys have to fight through more."
"We certainly have to do more in the offensive zone," said Anze Kopitar, who had his 10-game scoring streak snapped. "We’ve just got to make it tougher on them."
• Sutter was at his quotable best tonight. Asked by an interviewer on NBCSN about the importance of the first goal, he replied that "if that's all it took we could score that one and call it a night." After the game, he was asked how he felt after losing two in a row: "I don't think I can recover. I mean, it's almost impossible."
Don't ever change, Darryl.
• It's time to worry about Los Angeles' special teams. The penalty kill was dented for the third time in the past two games, and can't seem to find its footing without injured veterans Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell. Jeff Schultz and Matt Greene bring some size and the willingness to pay the price, but their feet and their reads have consistently been a hair too slow. The power play is just as worrisome. It seemed to whittle away at their confidence while going 0-for-4 tonight. "We could barely generate anything on that first power play, and it kind of set us back," Kopitar said.
• I watched a lot of Cam Fowler
during his time with the Windsor Spitfires and while there was a lot to admire about his potential at the time, manly defense wasn't on the list. He deserves a lot of credit then for the work he's put into that part of his game, and so does Scott Niedermayer. Fowler will never be a bruiser but, like Niedermayer, he's learned how to maximize his effectiveness with smart positioning, a heavy stick and quick reads. If the Kings top line was ineffective, it wasn't just an off night for Kopitar and the boys. Fowler simply outworked them.