Though they said after they’d done it that they didn’t care all that much for winning the Pacific Division title, the Ducks pushed to the end, including OT, and got the banner. They did it in a penalty-filled game that lacked the intensity it might have had, since their opponents, the LA Kings, had nothing left to fight for.
So they didn’t fight. Oh, they played an adequately strong game, and scored a trio of goals (besting their season’s per-game average by about half a goal), but they didn’t muck it up with the Ducks, despite a bit of a scrum in the early going.
The penalties, which were minors all, were five for each side. But some were the benign type—too many men for the Kings, puck over the glass for the Ducks. Nothing flagrant. In fact, it felt a lot like the refs were just intent on keeping a lid on a game that might have gotten a bit out of hand had there not been the restraint.
But the Kings did actually have something to play for. They were desperate to keep the Ducks from a point and, perhaps, scoreboard watching to see what was happening in Edmonton. Should the Oilers get two points and the Ducks none, they Edmonton would win the Division.
That the Kings were trying might have been evident from the start, where their lineup card showed no tomfoolery. The youngsters Jonny Brodzinski and Adrian Kempe were scratched. Their tough nut Kyle Clifford was in. They looked to have a serious notion that they’d like to win.
As yesterday in LA, the Pearson-Carter-Toffoli line was together, and yet in one symbolic gesture, Gaborik, who had been with Brown and Kopitar on Saturday, was demoted to fourth-line duty alongside Clifford and Nic Dowd. With Kopitar and Brown was Iginla. He had played alongside Shore and Lewis Saturday. In his place—the scratched-on-Saturday Andy Andreoff.
In short, it was the big lineup going for the Kings on Sunday evening.
They got off to a bad start, though, with a goal going in at the 27-second mark. It was Patrick Eaves who scored it. He would later go down with an upper-body injury which allowed him just over seven minutes of playing time. Coach Carlyle said after the game that he’d seen Eaves, though, and that he appeared to be fine.
They Ducks better hope so, since this guy’s been on a tear. Since he came to the team, he has scored 12 goals in 20 games.
The Ducks, meanwhile, were short Nick Ritchie due to a suspension that will carry over to their first playoff game. And they had Boll out as well, and Fowler hurt. The defense was bolstered by the return of Hampus Lindholm, who had missed three consecutive games.
LA scored to tie the game at ones mid-period. It was almost a period more, until the middle of the second, before the Ducks got it back. But then LA went up 3-2, and it looked like Bob Miller’s final goal call might have been Iginla, later officially changed to Brown from Iginla and Forbort.
By the way, the Ducks had done a nice tribute to Miller at the first break of the first period, and then repeated his image on the video board later in the game. There was also a sign in front of his booth, “Thank You, Bob,” the mantra of his mini (two-game) farewell tour. They even gave out cookies emblazoned with the logo in the press box.
Better than what the Kings had done the day before, cookie-wise at least.
But back to Mr. Miller and goal calls. The Iginla-later-Brown tally was not his NHL last. Instead, the great man kept his pipes limber by calling a goal that came off a pass from the corner to the front. Nate Thompson was there. It appeared to hit his skate, and it went in. Tie game and just eight minutes to go.
The Ducks then went into stall mode, because if they got only a point, the Division was theirs. And when that final horn went, the fans went crazy. Hey, they may be Californians, but they know their hockey. The video board didn’t say anything, though. Not yet.
The OT saw just 53 seconds tick by before Shea Theodore, a defenseman, got the puck on a broken play and zipped toward the net. He shot fast, and it beat Quick. Goal. End. The video board was clear: Anaheim Ducks—Fifth Consecutive Pacific Division Championship. And the Kings were headed up the 5 freeway to a long, hopefully introspective, summer.
Now the crowd could really roar. They were heading to the playoffs in the best spot they could be save having home ice for all of the Western playoffs.
Theodore, meanwhile, celebrated the goal with his teammates. He would later describe it by saying, “I knew how back the ice was, so I knew just to shoot the puck and hope for the best.” He said that he felt a big part of the team now, having come up the last four games to end the regular season. “It’s a great time to get called up and join. I’m just really looking forward to, we’re really rolling going into playoffs here. Obviously, that’s kind of a practice, and playoffs is where it really counts. Time to show it.”
The Ducks’ captain, Getzlaf, was also in fine voice after the contest, commenting about the Division win, “We went through a lot of ups and downs this year, a lot of different things. We grew as a group, and that’s a good sign. The second half of the year we did a lot better job with our composure. We built towards this.”
Getzlaf said, “This was a weird game. Games against the Kings are usually at a very high intensity, and this was kind of toe in toe out kind of thing. Obviously, we had something to play for, and they didn’t, so it’s always a little bit of a weird game. But our guys stuck with it. We got a big goal late and got the point, and we went on to win the Division. This is a tough Division, so we take pride in that, but ultimately it means better seeding in the playoffs. That’s about it.”
He said the team would take the night to relax, but that tomorrow, “We have to understand what’s in front of us, and what, physically, mentally, goes into the playoffs. Tonight we relax, and we start that preparation tomorrow.”
Their coach was more sure of the task that faced them. Carlyle said, “The playoffs are a different animal, and everybody starts at zero. You have to earn everything you get, and I would imagine that Calgary is going to have a few surprises.” He said he would look for unsung heroes from his group, and that Calgary would be doing the same.
Carlyle summed up the playoff pressure by saying, “Defenses are at least 20 percent better, and it’s going to be 20 percent harder to score goals and earn space on the ice. That’s what we’re going to prepare our group to do.” When pressed about what they need to clean up further, he said, “Oh, a coach is never happy. There are always things that need to be corrected.” And when asked how much, he said, “Ample supply” with a laugh.
Cam Fowler is out two to six weeks after a knee-on-knee hit the other night against Calgary. IH saw him in the press box, walking with only a slight limp. No crutches or any other visible prop.
The Kings now have a couple of questions to answer: will their game work better next year? And who’s going to bring that game to the TV audience?