Sometimes, you’ve just got to believe in destiny. Make that Destiny. The LA Kings right now seem like a club which is benefiting from just that. They beat the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night in game two after being outplayed in just about every way except the only measure that counts—who put more black discs in the cage behind the guy with the marshmallows on his legs.
That contest went three for the visitors, and one for the home side. The third goal was into an empty net. The other numbers looked like this: shots Kings 17, Ducks 37. Hits Ducks 53, Kings 42. Faceoffs won, 54 percent for the Ducks. In other words, the Ducks won everything but the final score.
So what happened? Well once again, Marian Gaborik happened. That is, he burst in with under half a minute gone in the game and roofed one behind Jonas Hiller, who despite Sutter’s comment that the Ducks announce their goalie only after warm-ups was the starter, a fact not in doubt on the day.
The speed with which Gaborik closed on the net reminded one of what he’d done against Dallas a week ago when he burst across the ice from left to right and put the slickest backhand I’ve ever seen up over Lehtonen’s head.
The goalie victimized on the play, Hiller, said this about the goal: “It’s never easy to come back . . . . It’s tough, almost a half breakaway as the first shot. It looks like we weren’t one hundred percent ready at the puck drop. They were a little sharper, especially early. I thought our first period was not our best. We gave up quite a few odd-man rushes, and yeah, we kind of found our game later, but you can’t expect to come back every night.”
He also said, “You can’t just lose confidence. You’ve got to keep going and find a way to score a goal or two more.” That would be a theme repeated by a lot of people in the Anaheim room.
Gaborik has been nothing but amazing for the LA team since his trade there in March, and while Sutter said the other night that his skill is in going to the net, in fact, it’s in maneuvering, speed, knowing where to go other than the obvious places, and in being able to finish. In other words, he’s the offensive player the Kings haven’t had, even counting in Kopitar, who, by the way, is playing way above his regular-season numbers to this point, adding an assist Monday night.
Add that to a goalie who has once again made himself the star of the show and who got rewarded in the visitors’ building by being named first star, and you’ve got problems.
In fact, these troubles for the Ducks are so big that their coach unwittingly said that he’s given up. Here’s what the actual words were: “I don’t see why, obviously we’re playing a great team which is peaking at the right time, but we have the capabilities to . . . do what we need to do. It’s a cliché, but it’s one at a time. If you look at you’ve gotta win four of five, that’s a big thing. You only look at it as you’ve just got to win Thursday.”
But people always tell you the truth, either straight up or, as Emily Dickenson said, “slant,” and this is that. Boudreau’s convinced that the Ducks won’t, or perhaps can’t, take this series. His hesitating tone and the words suggesting the enormity of the task say so.
So what’s the problem? The Coach said, “Quick was pretty good tonight, but when you don’t get traffic in front of him and you don’t go to the net, you don’t score. If he can see everything, he can score.”
He added, “There were no second chances. They blocked out and we didn’t get to the net. We didn’t get the rebounds. We didn’t get the dirty, greasy goals, which is what we got all year. If we continue to play the perimeter, we’re not going to have success, simple as that.” So how discouraged are the Ducks?
“[Quick] is one of the best in the world, and he’s got the best defenseman in the world in front of him.”
Coach Sutter said in his comments, “The best player on the ice tonight was the goaltender for the Kings.” Period.
So how tough is the mountain the Ducks now must climb? They’re telling themselves that it’s one game, not two or three or four. But that’s just talk. Boudreau also said, “They won a Stanley Cup two years ago; they know how to win.” Does that sound like a coach who is happy with what his team is doing, or who believes in what they are capable of? He did moderate his comments near the end, saying that they could go into Staples, get a couple of breaks, and come back with the series tied. On the other hand, “We’re depressed right now, but we’ll build ourselves up tomorrow and we’ll be ready pretty soon.”
The Ducks have a simple answer to their problems: they must get Getzlaf’s line away from Kopitar’s, because, as Boudreau says, the latter were dominating all evening. But they have a bigger task than that, which is to figure out how to put behind them all of the thoughts of the negative.
“They were playing better than our guys,” Boudreau summed up the difference between the big lines on both sides. “Their big defense are blocking us out and our big guys are not getting to the front of the net, but we’ve got to get there. We’ve just got to find a way. We’ve got to find a way to get there.”
Andrew Cogliano had a similar take on the game, “I feel like we’re around [the perimeter] but when we get point shots, we need to get guys in front of the net. We need some layers where we have guys in the slot and we have guys in front of the net. Two of their tougher defenders are out right now, Mitchell and Regehr . . . . Those are the guys who cleared the front of the net, and we’ve got to get there with those guys out.”
So does Quick have their number? Maybe, but Cogliano also had a plan for defeating the former Conn Smythe winner: “I think we’ve got to start using Quick against himself. He challenges the pucks very well, and he sprawls out and there’s a chance to shoot pucks off his pads and get rebounds. I’ve said before that he’s a goalie where he puts everything on you, and if you make the good play, you’ll beat him, but if you don’t, he’s going to stop you every time. So I think now we have to, it’s all about dirty goals. Guys are getting good looks, but they’re not scoring.”
Part of what might have been in the Kings’ favor was the crowd. Doughty said he could hear the LA fans. Hiller mentioned it also, and Cogliano said, “Yeah, it sucks,” in his post-game comments. That makes the task for the Kings that much easier and that for the Ducks that much harder on Thursday, because the notoriously loud and somewhat intimidating Staples Center atmosphere doesn’t leave a ton of room for Ducks fans to get rowdy.
In fact, Sutter said that he felt like this game wasn’t a road game at all, and that probably has something to do with the lack of travel, which is an East-Coast-style luxury that these teams never enjoy. But it also is a credit to the fans who braved a trip behind the Orange Curtain, the mythical divide between LA and Orange County. Of the 17,000-plus in Honda Center on Monday, a good third sounded like they were LA fans. Maybe it wasn’t that many, but the upper bowl was almost all LA fans, if the cheers and towel waving at the end of the game were any indication.
The teams now have a couple of days to wait for game three, Thursday in LA. They plan to rest (LA) and get some coaching going (Anaheim), but in the end, it may not matter what either side does. If Quick is on his game and the Kings keep scoring, and if the Ducks don’t, then it’s over.
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