The second round of the playoffs might not be the ideal time to settle on a starting goaltender, but it's working out just fine for the Ducks.
Spurred by a string of inconsistent performances from Frederik Andersen and Jonas Hiller, the Western Conference champs gambled that top prospect John Gibson could turn around their sagging fortunes. The rookie followed up a debut shutout with a far superior performance on Monday night, stopping 39 shots to lead Anaheim to a 4-3 victory over the Kings.
With the win -- the first by a home team in the series -- the Ducks now have a 3-2 lead. They can close out Los Angeles on Wednesday night at Staples Center, where they've already taken two games in this round.
Anaheim showed off its depth with each of its four lines chipping in offensively. The Ducks got two goals from Devante Smith-Pelly, the pair bookended by singles from Nick Bonino and Jakob Silfverberg to build up a 4-1 second-period lead, then held on as the Kings surged during a frantic third.
That was when Gibson was at his best. He allowed one goal -- a nasty backhand redirect by Marian Gaborik at the 14:12 mark-- but held the fort as Anaheim was outshot 14-2. His playoff shutout streak ended at 69 minutes and 12 seconds when he gave up a first-period goal to Trevor Lewis, whose wrister deflected in off the glove of defenseman Bryan Allen.
"He's pretty good," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said, evincing a mastery of understatement. "All three goals tonight were tipped in by at least one of our guys. I hope he can do it for a couple more games – or at least one."
The 20-year-old Gibson is now 5-0-0 for his NHL career, with 150 saves on 157 shots for a sterling .955 save percentage. With numbers like those, you have to wonder why the Ducks waited so long.
Some notes from tonight's contest:
• No wonder Boudreau was laughing about his team's Corsi percentages after Game 4. If we've learned anything in this series, it's that puck possession doesn't matter a whole lot to Anaheim. Not that they can't play that game, but this is a club that doesn't need control as much as it does opportunity.
They got an early opportunity in Game 5, scoring just 2:15 into the game after L.A. defenseman Jake Muzzin blew a tire in the corner. Daniel Winnik picked up the loose puck and found Bonino alone in the sweet spot to the left of goalie Jonathan Quick for a 1-0 lead.
Anaheim broke the game open on a pair of goals by Smith-Pelly just 1:23 apart early in the second period. The first came on a power play that was the result of a lazy Justin Williams hooking penalty; the second came on a terrible neutral zone turnover by Alec Martinez, whose ill-conceived clearing attempt landed on the tape of Ryan Getzlaf's stick. A moment later, Getzlaf found Smith-Pelly behind the defense. The winger went forehand/backhand on Quick and the game was essentially over.
• Martinez was hardly the only Kings player to struggle in his own zone. Several of them had the yips during the early going, and if not for some sensational work by Quick, this thing could have gotten out of hand quickly. The more the Kings struggle defensively, the more obvious are the absences of Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell. Their steadiness is missed, especially because, over the past two games, the Ducks' top line of Getzlaf, Smith-Pelly and Corey Perry has demonstrated an ability to enter the zone with speed and exploit dead space in coverage.
• Full marks to Smith-Pelly, who was in the middle of things all night. Along with his two goals he drew a penalty, took four of his own (although on two of those he took an L.A. player to the box with him) and generally dominated with his speed and strength. Bruins fans who stayed up late to catch this one had to be hoping that struggling Milan Lucic was watching too. He might learn something from the passionate power forward clinic Smith-Pelly is putting on since being moved to Anaheim's top line in Game 4.
• The Kings didn't just blast away at Gibson tonight as they did in Game 4. By my count, 17 of their shots came from within 20 feet, with five coming from inside 10 feet. No surprise that all three of their goals came from close range, but that still leaves a lot of high-end chances that Los Angeles failed cash in. Give credit to Gibson for some big stops -- he was dynamite on one shift that saw Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown appear to land four shots in quick succession -- but the Kings will look back on a few of those and wonder how they didn't bury them ... and realize what that failure cost them
• If you didn't get the chance to watch Teemu Selanne in his glory days, tonight might have been the next best thing. This was the Finnish Flash in full, a callback to the days when he always had a step on the opposing defense. The 43-year-old had that extra gear tonight, using it to great effect on the goal that broke the game open. With the score tied at one and the Ducks on the power play early in the second, Selanne dashed around an L.A. defender to retrieve a dump-in, circled the net and found Mathieu Perreault alone out front. Perreault's shot bounced off the skate of Smith-Pelly and beat Quick for a 2-1 lead -- Anaheim's fourth goal in their previous seven chances with the extra man.
While that was his only appearance on the score sheet, Selanne was buzzing all night, coming close on two Grade-A opportunities in the first and frustrating the Kings' defense on a marvelous forechecking shift in the third. What a treat to watch him.
• As a reporter, you never mind when Los Angeles loses simply because of how quotable Kings coach Darryl Sutter is in the wake of a defeat. He was in top form after Game 5 with his mock praise of Gibson. "He's the greatest goalie I've ever seen. I can't believe we got one by him tonight." That's a knock at the hype surrounding Gibson rather than the goalie himself, but it was still a very funny moment.The Ducks and Kings will meet in Game 6 on Wednesday night in L.A. at 9:30 ET (NBCSN, TSN, RDS)