All the hype. All the buildup. “The biggest thing to happen in SoCal hockey.” “Good for hockey out here.” “Just what the NHL wanted.” That last one might be just a little cynical, but these are the things the papers were saying in LA and the OC this week as the Kings-Ducks series built to a game-seven climax.
And what ended up happening was that LA came out and took all the thunder from the game by scoring five unanswered goals, chasing rookie John Gibson from the Ducks’ crease, and swallowing the Ducks in a defensive show that was only outdone by their offensive outburst of three goals in period one on 16 shots. And none, despite the fact that they would eventually put Gibson out (but not until a fourth goal was scored, in period two) were softies. The Kings were just that good.
Both they and the Ducks’ players explained what happened after. Andrew Cogliano was the most articulate of the group, with the following as his rationale for what happened: “We weren’t mentally in the right spot for how to play, and they had a couple of good shifts to start the game, and it seemed like that was it. There were some mistakes made that they weren’t making. I think that’s how you could say it. They have a good club and they know how to play in these situations. They make the right plays in the pressure situations, and I don’t think we did that in the first. It snowballed really quickly, and we tried to get things back in order, but we couldn’t.”
Anze Kopitar said, “You guys [media] have been blowing up how important that first goal is, so we figured we were going to do that pretty quick. [He was being ironic] Playing with a three-goal lead is better, and playing with a five-goal lead is better.” By this point, he’s laughing, partly at the absurdity of the question, partly, I suppose, out of a sudden moment of recognition at what had transpired. His team was up 2-0 before ten minutes, 4-0 before 23.
He added, “I don’t think anybody expected this, but we got on a roll, we got Jeff Carter’s goal. We knew that this would have to be our best game, and it was.”
It was exactly the Kings’ style of game, magnified to a tenth power. They allowed no space on offense for the Ducks. Every loose puck came to them. They always had three layers of defense.
Just a couple of examples for you:
Early on, the puck came from the point to the net, but two Kings were there to block out. Shortly after that, the Ducks weakly tossed the puck to the net, but the Kings grabbed it and went right back the other way with it.
Then there were the mistakes. Ryan Getzlaf got tied up with Kyle Clifford at the LA blueline, and while he was tussling, the Kings went down, Richards left the puck for King, and he shot. Then Richards put the rebound in. Getzlaf was still caught way up ice.
On the defensive side, the Kings were better. Stoll made a sneaky feed to center for Trevor Lewis and the play was broken up, but when the puck went all the way down to the other end, who was back into the slot to break up the play in front of the Kings’ net? Jarrett Stoll.
On the offensive side, Tanner Pearson beat the Ducks back to their end to prevent icing and fed the puck in front to Tyler Toffoli. He took a shot and it was saved. Then another shot came, and Gibson made a glove save.
But by this point, it was already 3-0, and all the momentum was with the LA team, but this illustrates the fact that the Ducks were getting past the Kings’ D with hustle, and playing three times their size in their own end to boot.
Later, in period two, the Ducks came down the left side of the ice, and looking across the LA defensive zone, the Kings were stacked three wide across, from boards, to slot, to the other edge of the crease. There was no room whatsoever for the Ducks’ player to make a pass.
But as good as you might say the Kings were, you might also say that the Ducks were also that bad. They had no jump. Their passes were not connecting. They were almost never attacking in waves, but always singly. Nothing they had done in stretching the ice and getting the goalies they’ve faced spread out so wide that they eventually couldn’t reach pucks that flew by their futile outstretched arms was working on this evening.
For Kings fans, the game was a miraculous outburst. For Ducks fans, a bitter disappointment that sent their Finnish superstar, Selanne, out with a whimper. What this was not was dramatic. The end was too obvious too close to the beginning. (The first goal was scored with just 4:30 gone, and forget the stat that says that 74 percent of teams scoring first in this playoffs wins. This was all about the Kings controlling in every part of the ice.) So if it wasn’t exciting, in one sense, this was hockey as it ought to be played, and for those observing, there were some interesting lessons to learn which, to my way of thinking, is a much more important legacy for hockey in this or any area than hype and nicknames like the “Freeway Faceoff.”
For those, see my follow-up story.
In the meantime, I appreciate knowing you’re reading. Twitter @growinguphockey. Thank you!