2014 NHL playoffs: Kings clamp down on Ducks, force Game 7
You know what they say about those who ignore history.
It was a year ago, almost to the day, that the Anaheim Ducks had the Detroit Red Wings on the mat. Up 3-2 in their Western Conference quarterfinal series after a Game 5 win, they had a chance to finish off a lower seed on the road.
But instead of flashing their killer instinct, the Ducks came out flat. They gave up the first two goals to the veteran Wings and ended up losing a thriller that forced a decisive Game 7 at the Honda Center.
That one didn't go too well, either.
The lessons learned that night should have had this year's Ducks laser-focused on eliminating the Los Angeles Kings when they had their chance on Wednesday night. Instead, they allowed history to repeat itself in a 2-1 loss that sets up a winner-take-all Game 7 on Friday night.
And now a very dangerous Kings team with a knack for comebacks is ready to repeat a little history of its own.
Here are some observations from Wednesday night's game:
• There wasn't much that Ducks goalie John Gibson could do about the first Los Angeles goal. While Gibson was watching the play develop to his left, Jake Muzzin snuck in through the back door unnoticed and snapped Anze Kopitar's pass into the open side of the net at 8:16 of the first period. The second one, though? Call it a reminder that despite all the hype, the 20-year-old 'tender is still a rookie. Trevor Lewis broke down the left side on a one-on-two and sent a harmless-looking wrister toward the net. It was the sort of shot that any bantam goalie worth his salt handles easily, but Johnny Hockey couldn't get his pads closed in time. It slipped through his legs and dribbled over the line at 14:04 of the second.
It was ugly enough on first viewing. Having it stand up as the game winner made it look even worse.
• That wasn't Gibson's only rough moment of the night either, although it was the only one that cost him. When he's at his best, he makes every stop look effortless. He played with a bit more flair in Game 6, diving and flopping to compensate for some bad reads or slightly off angles. They made for great highlights, but these moments also reminded us that he's still a kid with a lot to learn. To his credit, though, he gave his teammates a chance to win. He'll be good to go in Game 7.
• After a pair of adventurous games spent mostly in their own zone, the Kings reminded everyone that they were the league's top defensive team this season. The entire group was locked in from the opening puck drop, limiting the Ducks to just nine shots in the first half of the game and 22 overall. That total was enhanced by a furious assault while Gibson was on the bench during the final 90 seconds, but beyond that frantic stretch, Jonathan Quick had a relatively easy go of it. His defense dominated the middle of the ice, forcing Anaheim to mail in most of their shots from the perimeter.
• The game featured solid bounceback efforts from the Kings' two injury replacements. Jeff Schultz was outstanding, offering up a simple but effective game. He was on Kyle Palmieri when the Anaheim winger notched the Ducks' only goal of the game midway through the second, but played him as well as possible, driving him wide and around the net. The wraparound tally was on Quick's slow reaction. Matt Greene only played 12 minutes as the sixth defenseman, but his whole night was thunder. He was credited with four hits, and each of them sent a message as they sent a Duck flying. But the difference for Greene was his positioning and decision making. Stick lifts and strong shoulders don't show up on the stat sheet, but they made life a lot easier on Quick.
"They did what they've been doing all year," the keeper said after the win. "I'm very fortunate to get to play with the group that we have. We have a couple injuries on the back end. We've got guys that are stepping up, playing big minutes and playing really well for us. But I'm kind of spoiled. That's what I'm kind of used to."
• The Ducks have been excelling on the power play, leading the playoffs with 12 goals and a 28.6 efficiency rate coming into this game. Every one of the five chances they were handed felt like a big moment, a chance for them to turn the game around...but the Kings never let it happen. It wasn't just that Anaheim didn't score. It was that the Ducks generated so little. Not much control in the zone, few opportunities and negative momentum.
"It stunk," lamented Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau. "I don’t know how many...did we get any shots on the five attempts? Nothing A-1. We didn’t move the puck very well and we didn’t support very well. We’ve been good for the most part, but it’s back to the drawing board with that."
"I think our execution wasn’t quite where we wanted it to be and I made some mistakes out there," said blueliner Cam Fowler. "I felt like I rushed a few pucks a couple times. It just seemed like we were a little out of sync. We’ll figure it out and it’ll be better in Game 7."
• Fowler generated his team's best scoring chance late in the game when his point blast slipped through a maze of five bodies only to find Quick's glove hand. "I felt like there was no way that he saw that puck," Fowler said. "I put it where I wanted to and he made an unbelievable save. I’ve got to tip my cap to him on that one."
• It wasn't all Quick, though. Schultz was brilliant, spending his game-high 5:14 on the kill teaching a master's class in crease-clearing. Kopitar and Mike Richards were sharp, too, shutting down the side walls and disrupting the passing lanes up top.
• If the Ducks are going to rebound in time for Game 7, they'll need more from Ryan Getzlaf. The Hart Trophy finalist has been a force on most nights, but he was a ghost in Game 6, losing 14 of his 20 face-offs and failing to land a single shot on net despite skating 6:28 with the man advantage--a total that would have been even higher if not for a lazy slashing penalty he took in the offensive zone that cut one of the Ducks' third period power plays short. Everyone is banged up at this time of year, but Getzlaf was so far off his mark it's fair to wonder if he's playing through something more than a few bumps and bruises. The Kings and Ducks will meet in Game 7 in Anaheim at 9 p.m. ET (NBCSN, TSN, RDS).