Pretty Much Even

He switched goalies before the game, bamboozling everyone, and explained the reason after the game: “Quite frankly, because he [Andersen]’s hurt right now [I can talk]. I looked at the record of both guys in Staples Center and Hiller was 0-7 in his career and Freddie was 2-0, so it was a little baseball managing. I went with the guy who was comfortable here. That’s all I have to say.”

But he couldn’t stick with that goalie anyway, because he got hurt with about ten minutes to go and had to be switched out anyway. He, of course, is Anaheim’s coach Bruce Boudreau, and he was speaking in the shadow of his team’s 3-2 win over the LA Kings. This makes their series 2-1, his disadvantage.

The other switches that Boudreau pulled were to put Sami Vatanen in on defense in place of Mark Fistric, and to add Kyle Palmieri at forward to spell Emerson Etem. The coach said that Vatanen was the best player on the ice, “for both teams.” He summed up his changes by saying, “I thought they were good changes that worked, at least for tonight.” The thing is, these teams are so close, that’s not likely to continue. But wait for that.

The Ducks won on a goal early on the power play, one by Selanne nearing the end of period two, and a final tally by Ben Lovejoy with three minutes left. The Kings responded with two goals of their own, including one with 31 seconds to go which made the game 3-2 and threatened to put them right where they’d been in game one of the series, which they stole with a tieing marker with seven seconds left in regulation. The Kings’ final goal came after Corey Perry could have scored into an empty net with a minute left but saw his stick break and the puck go wide. The Kings picked it up and circled to the Anaheim zone, scoring with 30.8 seconds left.

The Ducks won, but not by playing their game necessarily. Though they’re known for flinging the puck around, making long and often diagonal passes, they were unable to do that on this evening. The Kings, a team content to play on shortened ice and contain the other team’s ability to handle the puck and to skate, were successful in forcing their will on the game. But Boudreau didn’t see the game as having been lopsided. Rather, he pitched it as pretty much even.

“It’s no surprise to me, because we’ve played them nine times this year, and every game has been like that. I expect them all to be like that.” Like what? Tight, closely contested. Down to the wire. That’s Kings-Ducks hockey, but is it surprising that games are pretty much a toss-up at this time of year? The closeness in this series is as it might be with any two of the final eight teams. Of course one’s not going to be tons better than the other one at this point in the season. Witness Montreal-Boston, playing to a 0-0 tie in regulation.

But there are differences between the Kings and Ducks. LA plays defense first. They don’t score that much. The Ducks go all-out for the risks, trying the long pass even if it gets intercepted. They don’t mind falling behind, because they come from behind so well.

Boudreau said he thought his team played better in Anaheim. Sutter commented that Thursday’s was a well-played game, saying, “We could have won tonight, and they could have won last game,” essentially restating the Anaheim coach.

“So far, [home ice] hasn’t meant anything. I hope that goes at least one more game,” Boudreau said. He said they’re both good teams and that each has a great road record, so there’s nothing much to choose between them.

Sutter was less than pleasant in his post-game comments. This is not to say rude, but rather short. As in, some of the answers were one word. He was, however, sure as to what cost his team the game. “The difference in the game was a turnover when it was 1-1, and then they had a penalty kill . . .” this trailed off.

The turnover he was talking about led to the Selanne goal, which he said, “was a turnover with about seven seconds left in the power play, so it’s not really a penalty kill, it’s basically, a, you’ve got to make a better play. When you get a chance to shoot the puck, you’re able to shoot the puck, you can’t [inaudible] there.”

He did give away something of both his discontentment and the key he sees to victory near the end of his comments. “High-scoring team. You . . . give guys easy passes, opportunities towards our goaltending, they’re going to beat us. That’s what they did tonight.” The last sentence had an odd, upward inflection, indicating–what?–his anger with the player who was unnamed but who made the crucial mistake? But then again, nothing’s surprising with this coach.

The thing was, analysis of the game shows that the Ducks were not shooting the puck, which is to say, not playing their game. They tallied only 22 in the game, and there were a number of times when they passed up shots or held the puck too long. For instance, in the third period, Getzlaf got a shot-pass from Perry, and he held the puck and faded left, then shot. He waited too long. It was exactly what he’d done at the start of the game, when he stole a puck in the slot and held it instead of shooting, then had to pass it backwards to Beleskey trying to get something out of the play. No shot came.

In period two it was more of the same. He took a shot, but the next play moved in to fire it, waiting, waiting, delaying too long. At the end of the night, he had four shots and Selanne had three, but those were the team highs. Put it down to the Kings’ defense exerting its will, and that’s not just “defensemen,” but rather, the team scheme that has everyone forcing back to cover their end.

For the Kings, Trevor Lewis had five shots, Carter and Gaborik four apiece. They tallied 31 altogether. They tested Andersen reasonably well, with a couple of glove saves the most spectacular of the night. One came off of Jeff Carter, early. Another came on a snatching save he picked out of the air with a flourish as if to say, “yeah, I’m in this.” Of course, at some point, he was in no longer, and yet there was no visible moment where he got hurt. Call it a groin strain or pull as the most likely cause, and figure that means that Hiller is the new and once more number one. Then hope, if you like the Ducks, that he doesn’t get clocked, and that his head is straight after having been passed over for the starting job on Thursday despite having played well in the prior two and a half games.

The hero of the night, Ben Lovejoy, scored his second goal of the playoffs with 17:05 gone in P3. It was a two-on-one where he got the puck on the right side, held it, and then lazered it past Quick. Most forwards would be proud to possess a wrist shot that powerful.

After the late goal there was a bit of a flurry, but no close chance for the Kings to tie the game.

The Ducks equipment guy was polling players after as to whether they’d “be here” for practice tomorrow, but “here” couldn’t be Staples, as there’s basketball there Friday night. The team is staying across the street at a hotel.

The game Saturday night is at 6pm, an odd time, but obviously intended to draw in some East Coast TV viewers.

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