It sure felt like the playoffs at Honda Center on Sunday evening with the LA Kings in town. For one thing, the place was full and raucous from the warm-up. Maybe it was the unfamiliar 6pm start (Anaheim games usually go at 5pm on Sundays) or the fact that the arena was half-filled with LA fans, as evidenced by their later “Go Kings Go!” chant which took over anytime the Ducks fans started any “Let’s Go Ducks!” noise.
Or maybe it was that the Ducks put on the dog in the press box, pulling out the playoff mode extra snacks and goodies. (Did I just say that out loud? Well, you’ve always wanted to know what happens up there, right? A lot of cookie eating, for one thing).
But the intensity—it was reflected on the ice. The one difference in the playoffs is that nobody ever loafs a shift. Every play is like it’s for the Stanley Cup. The speed is ramped up. The hits are harder. The shots seemingly more dangerous. That’s what it seemed like in Anaheim on Sunday night.
Period one would end 1-1 with both teams sporting power play goals, but to say that is hardly to do justice to the action. Here’s a few impressions: The Kings got off the first four shots of the game, all high ones, most directed from the left side of the ice to the far top corner. John Gibson, in the Ducks’ net, snagged each of them with his trapper. His body positioning was, to put it in a word, “big.” He was out on the top of the crease, challenging. Brave.
The Ducks responded by using their usual diagonal passing game, but twice, they passed it too much and ended up losing their chances. Getzlaf to Santorelli was one such.
After some rough stuff mid-period, where Doughty knocked David Perron head-over-heels and later Perron and Quick in the LA net poked at each other and got minors for their trouble, the Ducks woke up. The shots early were 4-0 LA. It got to be 6-5 for the Ducks, but still nobody had scored at mid-period.
The Kings kept pressing the issue with Gibson’s glove, Lewis shooting there, and then McNabb from the blueline. His hope, from my view, was that one of the people crowded in front, which included two of his own guys, would redirect the puck into the net.
The Ducks opened the scoring with Getzlaf passing to Vatanen, who put the puck over to Perry. His shot was so soft and so perfect it was ridiculous. He lofted it into the top of the net with Quick on one knee, leaving about six inches above his head. Maybe he left too much, but Perry might well have been able to find the space if it had been three inches, or two.
The Kings got a power play goal of their own two minutes or so later, with Martinez slapping it home with Lucic waving at it in front of the cage and Gibson distracted enough not to pick it out of the air. Assists went to Doughty and Kopitar.
Period two made you wonder how it was that these two teams ever were so far apart as when the Kings had a double-digit standings points lead as late as around Christmas time. They battled and battled and when I looked at the scoreboard with a minute left to go, the shots were 19-19. Each team had scored, and they were eerily similar goals.
The Kings’ tally was lucky. Despres put a puck off the end glass that was supposed to go around behind his net and be met with the stick of Vatanen. Instead of scooting around behind, though, it bounced right into the crease, where Gibson wasn’t looking for it. His eyes were behind him to his left where he thought Vatanen would soon pick up the pass.
Tanner Pearson instead zipped in and slammed the puck home off the weirdest carom you’ll see in a few dozen months. The shots at the time? 15-15. Dead even. Gibson did make up for this when he made a spectacular splits save on a Muzzin slapshot that it looked like the goalie didn’t pick up until the last moment.
The Ducks got theirs when the puck went off the glass behind Quick off a Fowler slapper. Perry picked it up to the left side of the net and flicked it out to the front and into the net for his second of the evening and 25th of the season.
They were on the power play because Carter had taken a hooking penalty when the Kings were on the power play. It wasn’t the greatest call, but it was a needed penalty nonetheless, because the Ducks had burst out with a two-on-one where Getzlaf passed it over to Josh Manson. Manson’s a defenseman—up on the rush shorthanded. Mull that over.
The second period ended with the shots at 20-19 for the home team and the score knotted. The game’s pace had maybe waned just a little bit from what it had been in the first, but then again, how could the two teams keep that early pace up all night? Well, that’s a dumb question, because anyone who wants to win the playoff tournament will do it, and the Kings have done that twice of late.
In terms of strategy, the Ducks were maybe doing a little less long passing and a little more short, crisp exchanging of the puck. It was working, but interesting—the Kings had them playing the LA style of game. Would they adjust for period three?
I know what you’re thinking. What’s the referent of that pronoun “they”? Who would adjust, if anyone? Read on, friend, and you’ll know.
The period was barely a minute old when Corey Perry got his third of the game, a little deke-tap-in that he took off the end glass and then swished past Quick. After the game, he said, “We had three power play goals, but it’s a close checking game out there when we play these guys. It’s a man’s game. It’s a huge game when you’re chasing them for first in the division.” Mostly same old stuff, right? He added, “You’ve gotta keep pushing forward.”
OK, OK, but what about your hat trick? Nothing. “We dug ourselves a hole, but we’ve found a way to get out of it. Everybody’s playing their role.” After all of that, he finally got to the hat trick. “You just try to help the team win. I found some good bounces tonight. Off the end wall. Slapped one and it went in off Quick. Both of them actually. Those are bounces that you need to succeed.” The shots were Ducks 23, Kings 20 at that moment.
David Perron put the Ducks up by two at around six minutes gone, grabbing a puck off the faceoff on the power play and screaming to the net, deking and roofing the shot.
The Kings got one back with about nine minutes elapsed, but the Ducks challenged it. After a long, long, long review, it was called off, offside being the problem. After the review, which even if it hadn’t succeeded for the Ducks would have provided a long timeout for rest, the refs conferred but didn’t put time back on the clock, it did not appear. (More on that in the notes below.)
IH asked Bruce Boudreau about the play after the game, and he described what had happened. “It was interesting. As soon as they went over the blueline, Dave Perron said, ‘Watch that, I think that’s offside,’ and then they scored the goal, and when we asked Joe (the video guy), he said, one look at it, he kept saying, ‘It was close, it’s close,’ so Mack said, he told me, ‘If it’s close, let’s use our timeout anyway and get a shot at it,’ and then once we said that, Joe had a chance to look at a couple of other angles, and he said that he thought it was offside.”
The funny thing—the linesmen were the ones looking, as you might expect, but they were viewing an Ipad-Mini sized monitor. Or as one press guy said, “Are the reviewing it on their IPhone?” As the TV showed it, the video didn’t seem all that conclusive. One angle had a poor view of the puck. Another had a poor view of Kopitar’s offending (offside) leg. Given the time, obviously there was no clear evidence. Makes you think the call should just have stood. But one expects that, at some point, the league will address this.
The Kings tried to get something going by mixing their lines with about eight minutes to go. Kopitar and Lucic picked up winger Toffoli. Pearson and Lecavalier picked up Dustin Brown, who had been on the Kopitar line. These combos were repeated more than once. Nothing resulted on the scoresheet, and the game ended with the LA net empty and a couple of thwarted attempts at it by the Ducks going wide. The shots were, natch, even at 29 each.
Sum it up like this: there’s little to choose between these two teams. Each plays a heavy game. The Ducks have skill. The Kings have defense. Both goalies are outstanding. And each one subtly adjusts to play more like the other when they find each other. Boudreau said of the rivalry, “They don’t like each other. And it was like a playoff game. I thought the refereeing was great. They let the guys decide it. There was a lot of physical play in front of the net, and it was a man’s game tonight.”
The Ducks’ coach summed up the night this way: “We’re near the top of the mountain, but we’re not at the top of the mountain yet, so you’ve got to keep persevering.”
The Kings welcomed back Rob Scuderi Saturday versus Buffalo. He was traded to LA from Chicago after having been in Pittsburgh and the Windy City. But he came from Cleveland, where he was preparing to play for the Chicago AHL team (the Rockford IceHogs).
The hat trick by Perry was number nine of his career and the first since January 14, 2015 versus Toronto.
As time expired, Kesler took a slapshot to the upper body. I saw him after with no damage visible. Boudreau said he was sore, but that he’s tough and going to be fine.
This is the best month for Anaheim, ever. They were 12-1-1 in February, gained 25 standings points, and had a points percentage of .893%.
I heard from an insider that Sutter was considering confronting the refs after the game about the lack of adding time after the disallowed goal. That same source indicated that 36 seconds should have been added back to the time.