The LA Kings needed their game in Anaheim Tuesday night. Desperately. Especially since the potential spot-stealer of their playoff berth, Vegas, had lost their game on Monday versus, of all teams, the non-playoff New Jersey Devils.
Thus the Kings entered Tuesday’s action in third in the Pacific, but at 90 points, whereas the two wildcard teams in the Conference each had 91, and the Golden Knights were, at an equal-to-LA five games remaining, at 87 points. Had they won, and they should have, on Monday, Vegas would have been just a point behind LA. As it was, they could be five behind if the Kings delivered versus the Ducks after Vegas dropped their Monday game. The Ducks—they would have something to say about that, because they could play spoiler should they hold LA to a loss.
The game started out evenly, no big momentum on either side, and in fact, kind of a slow and lazy look.
The Ducks were coming off a 6-4 win against Columbus in which Troy Terry continued his scoring ways, notching his 35th and 36th goals of the year. Twice, the Ducks gave up two-goal leads before securing that win, not that it matters, since they’re playing out the year.
The Kings last played those same Blue Jackets, taking a 2-1 victory in a game where all the scoring had happened by 53 seconds of the second period. The Kings had opened a two-goal early lead on goals by Dustin Brown and Phillip Danault, who got his 24th.
Now Tuesday, in nets it was Gibson versus Quick, two of the best goalies in the league right now, and, at least in Quick’s case, ever. It was Gibson who was tested early, the Kings stretching out the rink side-to-side, especially on an early power play chance. Gibson foiled them with rapid movement to his left-hand side.
Anaheim, meanwhile, didn’t get their first shot on goal until almost ten minutes were gone in the first period. Their shooters then awakened a little bit, Zegras dropping the puck for Mayhew, who rang one off the post/cross bar.
But that was just the start of a flurry where they got seven shots in a row to none for the Kings. Amongst the Ducks’ seven was Zegras, with about six minutes left, delaying out in the high slot and then flinging a writer with Derek Grant crowding up the front of the net. It ended up under Quick and out the left side. Jamie Drysdale shortly launched a shot from the point, and that eluded a crowd in front and got to the LA keeper.
The tides turned again, and LA got the last five shots to end the period. Neither team scored. Ryan Getzlaf described the first frame simply: “I thought it was OK. Obviously the energy level has to get up a little bit,” he said.
Did it ever, in period two. The Ducks had chance after chance, and the only thing that kept it to its eventual 1-1 score was Jonathan Quick, who might have played the best twenty minutes of hockey of his life. It started out with Adam Henrique launching a one-timer. Quick dove over for the save. Again the puck went to the front, Derek Grant creating a large and nearly immovable obstacle. Quick saved another one. Comtois put a puck over to Mahura on the opposite side. Another diving save.
Then it was Terry over to Benoit. The identical save again, though on this one, it might be that the shot wasn’t elevated enough, as the top of the net was open.
On a power play where the Ducks were zipping passes around and creating openings, Getzlaf saw a puck come out to him on the left side of the zone, and was just too slow to get to it, or he would have buried it. He put a shot-pass to the far post right after, and Quick did it again.
This is getting repetitive, but it happened yet again, Getzlaf putting the pass to Terry.
The goals had been prior to much of this action, Kempe scoring off a faceoff where the puck was lying on the ice for someone—anyone—to pick up and fling into the net, and Henrique splitting the defense and turning half backwards before backhanding a puck over Quick. These were all done by just past the five minute mark, with Quick’s heroics yet to be seen.
Period three saw the Kings score early and then have the goal waved off for goalie interference. They challenged, the argument being that Gibson was out of his net when he got knocked off his axis. Arvidsson took the initial shot, with Danault putting in the rebound by flinging it to the far, empty, side of the net. It would eventually be overturned and good, Danault’s 25th of the year.
The Kings, who watched the Ducks dominate on the power play all night long, took another penalty in the person of Jonathan Quick’s trip, and Getzlaf put the puck to Milano right in front. Quick came up big for the fifth or sixth, or tenth or more, time. The game would eventually end like that, 2-1.
Meanwhile in Vancouver, BC, the Canucks were winning, 1-0, in the first period over Ottawa. So what? A Vancouver win would give them 88 points—in other words, would put them in ninth, ahead of Las Vegas. By the end of the first, it was 2-0 for the Canucks. Then Ottawa got one back, so 2-1. The Sens got two more. It went to OT tied 3-3. They went to the shootout. Vancouver did not get the extra point, so what could have been an even-more-compacted West spread out just a bit, the evening ending with LA on 92 points, Vegas on 87, and the Canucks 87. Think about it—that would have been LA at 88, Vegas 87, and Vancouver tied with them had the two games gone opposite ways.
It was an evening to remember, especially thanks to Quick. He may be 36 and about to lose his net to Cal Petersen, but not so fast—he’s still got the explosive power and speed that made him great to start with.
Kind of a drag not to have a post-game show with two local teams on the ice. This thanks to the ESPN coverage.
Brian Kennedy is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.