Let’s cut to the end: there’s a faceoff in the Kings’ zone, the Ducks’ Selanne wins it, it goes to Bobby Ryan, and he bloops the puck up and over goaltender Jonathan Quick, perhaps helped by a deflection.
After the game, nobody in the Anaheim room cared that it took a fluke to win. Nor were they concerned that the team had, for the third game in a row, blown a two-goal lead to let the Kings come back to 2-2 before Ryan scored the third, the winner.
Their new coach, Bruce Boudreau, said it simply: “It’s not the Cup, but it felt pretty good. I felt good for the players, because they were smiling, and they worked so hard, if it had had gone the other way, I was a little worried about it.”
“You know, we got a lucky break. They got a lucky break, so it sort of evened out.” He’s talking about the Kings’ second goal, which came when the boards in the Anaheim end—which have to be the worst, most impossible to predict, and frustrating in the NHL—caused a puck that Cam Fowler had cleared up to rebound directly out at 90 degrees where LA’s Justin Williams grabbed it. He dished to Stoll, who gave it back to Williams to redirect into the net past a startled Jonas Hiller.
Boudreau carried on to say that he was about to become angry with his team when they let in the first LA goal with 16 seconds left in period two, but that he changed his mind. “You sometimes have to keep your emotions intact yourself. Like when they scored the first goal, it was like I was going to get really mad and then it was like [he makes a screeching sound] I had to put the brakes on and change direction, because I knew that it was important that I can’t get mad when they’re fragile at the time.”
That theme had been mentioned by Bobby Ryan, the game’s first star, as well. “Giving up leads like we had, it’s a whole different feeling coming into this room tonight. It’s huge. Certainly my own [burdens were lifted.] It’s no secret that it’s been a tough month, or start to the season for me. But Teemu told me this morning that things are going to start going.”
Selanne, at 41, aside from predicting the future and being right, is also putting points on the board at a ridiculous pace. With two assists on the evening, he’s got as many points as the team has played games, 27. That leads the Ducks.
There were some stories within the story, particularly from the LA side. Notably, the Kings had mixed up their lines before the start, reuniting their season-beginning first line of Kopitar with Gagne and Williams on his flanks. The coach then had Dustin Brown with Stoll and Trent Hunter. The third line early was Penner with Loktionov and Ethan Moreau.
That all changed as the game went on. The third line in the second period was Penner, Loktionov, and Westgarth. Then Coach Murray moved Penner up to line two with Brown and Stoll. As the period went on, however, the Kings gave up their shots advantage, which had been 8-7 when it began but was a disadvantage of 19 Ducks to 16 Kings by the end.
In that second frame, Murray made a more radical move and grabbed one guy from each of the first three lines he began with, Kopitar from the first, Brown from the second, and Penner from the third. That line was together through the whole third period as well.
Notice that in all of these changes, one person who doesn’t get mentioned is Justin Williams. He wasn’t playing a big game, though he was getting big minutes, ending with nearly 18. That, however, is last amongst the top six forwards in terms of time on ice. He redeemed himself with the goal that tied the game. In period three, he worked with Stoll and Gagne, because his early linemate, Kopitar, was off with Brown and Penner, as detailed above. The third line near the end, if it matters, was Moreau, Colin Fraser, and Trent Hunter, leaving Westgarth, Clifford, and Loktionov looking on.
After the Kings tied in mid-third period, the Ducks felt the familiar anxiety creeping in, but they held their confidence, as Boudreau further detailed. The vibe he was getting he described by saying, “They didn’t look like their shoulders were slumped, or they were tired. They were saying, ‘Let’s go; we’re not done.’ They were looking up and there’s ten minutes to go and we’re tied, not ‘ten minutes to go and when are they going to get the next one?’ It was a different kind of feeling, I think.”
Ryan scored the last goal with 49 seconds to go, and even he didn’t know what it had hit on the way to the net. He didn’t care. “All year, I’ve been five feet from the puck. Yesterday I worked with one of our assistant coaches on the little things, being in the right spot. Two goals, they’re probably fortunate bounces tonight, both of them, but when you’re doing the little things and you’re getting into those areas, it makes the world of difference,” he said.
He added, “It’s tough not to get down on yourself. We’ve given up leads so many times, and really we did it again tonight, but Bruce behind the bench did a good job of telling guys to move forward, we’re not going to be beaten tonight. That instilled confidence in us, and Getzy did a good job, he stepped up and spoke his mind as well. . . . There was a feeling that we gave up that late one [in the second] but we’re going to be OK.”
The win was obviously important to Boudreau, and to the team as well. “I think they stayed the course and played pretty hard. . . . It’s not out of the woods yet, [but] maybe you can build on that and go into a very tough building in St. Louis and win another one. The snowball gets bigger and goes downhill, starts rolling downhill.”
As if to emphasize the oddness of the evening, a light standard crashed to the ground behind the press as Boudreau finished his comments. In Randy Carlyle style, he joked, “There goes—I thought I’d break a leg or a mirror one day, and it looks like I finally did it.”
Maybe that latter sentence needs an exclamation mark at its end.
Brian’s new book, My Country Is Hockey, is available now.
The Kings have Minnesota at home Thursday, while the Ducks go to St. Louis and Nashville before returning home for a game and then heading back out for five through the day after Christmas.