More Than Gibson

Stop me when you’ve heard enough about how wonderful the Ducks’ young goalie, John Gibson, is. Wait. You’re done? That was only one sentence.

Such might be the sentiment of most Kings fans after losing a second consecutive game to the Anaheim team on Monday night. All that the papers were full of (as much as they can be in this town of baseball, basketball, etc. dominating) over the past few days was Gibson. It got so bad that someone even wrote about the other famous Gibson, Kirk, who won the Dodgers the World Series twenty-plus years ago. Famous Gibsons in LA sports. Now that’s desperation.

Darryl Sutter wasn’t above weighing in. When asked what he thought about the Anaheim netminder, he said, “He’s [pause], he’s the best goalie that I’ve ever seen. I just can’t believe we got one by him tonight.”

Bruce Boudreau was equally effusive, if not equally hyperbolic. “He made some good stops tonight. I think all three goals he let in tonight were tipped in by at least one of their guys. I hope he can do it for a couple more games. Or at least one.” He later said, when asked about the goalie’s confidence and body language, compared to Ken Dryden’s in 1971: “I’ve never seen it [before]. I can’t describe it. I was just a little gaffer.” The point, I think, was to suggest that maybe Gibson’s going to get on a Dryden-like roll that took Montreal to the 1971 Stanley Cup over Chicago. But this might be more media-think than coach-think at this early stage. The guy’s won only two games, after all.

But Sutter, taking a turn away from comedy, said, with a grave face, “A lot of pressure on him now. There’s a lot of pressure on him now.” Did he mean it? Was he using it to pile on the pressure further? Was this all part of the routine, funny Darryl coming out to play because angry Darryl was in hiding on the evening?

Gibson himself is seemingly unfazed by what he’s doing. Otherwise, he could be read simply as a cliché-spouting machine who is inwardly in turmoil while outwardly saying what he’s supposed to. Coming into the dressing room to make comments after the game, he at first took a kind of tough-guy stance—literally, with his body slumped, his arms crossed, and his chin out.

Here’s a bit of what he had to say: “I think I got tested. Obviously, I got more shots [than in game four]. Obviously the guys protected me, and that’s why we won it.” When asked about the last flurry of the Kings, he said, “We knew they were going to come, and we knew they were capable of coming back, which has happened before in the series, so we knew what to expect. We just had to get the job done, and we found a way.”

When it was pointed out that he’s just twenty, he said, “It’s fun. I’m just trying to take it all in and help the team win some hockey games. You’re not going to get a shutout every game. Things are going to happen, bounces and whatever, and you’ve just got to get through it. It’s a long game.”

I could go on, but you get the point: there’s no story here. The kid’s good. He’s getting his shot. He’s winning. That’s partly a result of what he’s doing and partly a result of what the team is doing in front of him. The scoring for the Ducks Monday night was a combination of lines and power play tallies. They got one from Bonino, the first goal, two from Smith-Pelly, one of which was with the extra man, and one from Silfverberg. In other words, they got production from line four, line one (which Smith-Pelly was on) and line three.

Another way to say it is that they had scoring from their youngsters, not just good goaltending from one of them. And still another means of coding their victory: they won without any contribution on the scoresheet from their top two guys except one assist from Getzlaf. And they won without regular-strength goals or points from the second line, which for the night was Selanne, Maroon, and Perreault.

About the performance of the youngsters, Boudreau said, “Norfolk [their AHL affiliate] is not happy. Those guys have come up and all of them have played such big roles. You look tonight—Gibson’s is the second star, Smith-Pelly is the second star. Vatanen is playing twenty minutes. The youth is really carrying us right now. They’re solid NHL players.”

Teemu Selanne said the same thing. “Awesome. They put [Smith-Pelly] on the first line and he answered the bell. Great confidence. When you’re expected to score, and he has all the tools . . . he’s been rock solid, you know, and it’s fun to see the young guys.”

In fact, the difference between the Kings and the Ducks, now heading to game six with the LA team down a game, has not been the goaltending. Both Gibson and his opposite number, Quick, have been mostly excellent. On Monday, the Ducks fired just 24 shots and scored four goals. The Kings fired 42 and scored three. So one goal, in the end, separated them, and had Gibson not fired out a leg with about a minute to go, the game would have gone to OT, with Carter scoring the goal that evened it at four.

Selanne said the only thing that came out of anyone in an Anaheim sweater that approached a criticism. “Sixty minutes is sixty minutes. You’ve gotta learn to play sixty minutes.” The Ducks didn’t collapse late, but they played with fire, for sure. The Kings carried all the play in period three, starting with a brief power play. On that, Brown took a shot from out near the blueline, and Tanner Pearson was at the crease. Gibson flashed a leg to make the stop.

It wasn’t team strategy that gave the Ducks the win, because the game was a balance between the Ducks being good early and the Kings taking it over later on. It must be noted that the Ducks had a 4-1 lead midway through the game, and that the Kings never gave up. They got it to 4-2 near the end of period two (Gaborik scoring) and they shot to within one goal with five minutes-plus left. They easily could have tied, as noted. Gaborik again got that goal, by the way. His first had been on the PP, but this one was at regular strength.

The game ended with no further flurries, but with a solid conviction that it might have gone either way, or at least, that OT was a prospect. The only thing you could say about the LA game by way of criticism is that their biggest stars–Carter, Kopitar, were not central, not close enough to the net to create panic. Otherwise, the team played well, if in an ebb-and-surge style, but that’s also a credit to and a result of what Anaheim was doing.

This series is going to go to a worthy winner, but it’s going to leave another team just as good disappointed. That’s the cutthroat nature of playoff hockey. It’s too bad, but it’s going to make this memorable for fans of both sides.

Notes
The lineup for the Ducks is still missing Beleskey, out with a lower-body injury.

Boudreau all but said that Koivu will retire after the season, in a slip, but he quickly retracted his statement to say that this might be his final best chance to win a Cup.

In typical Selanne style, after the game, he said about Gibson, “He told me his mom is the same age as me, and I almost punched him.”

Follow me on twitter @growinguphockey, if you like. Oh come on and just do it.

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