FIST PUMPS ALL AROUND - Harry How
If the season ended today, the Kings would face the Ducks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Bring it on! LA wins another exciting, up-and-down contest with a tremendous third period. Anze Kopitar gets three assists, including a helper on Voynov's game-winner.
Tonight was a test, in every sense of the word. Yeah, the Los Angeles Kings had won three straight. Yeah, they still had games in hand over the teams ahead of them. And yeah, scoring was up. But the Kings still sat in a tie for 10th in the conference before tonight. Their last three wins were against teams near the bottom of the conference. And the Ducks were in town, with an undefeated goalie and a six-game winning streak. Despite the Kings' recent strong play (and the overall good underlying statistics), the Freeway Faceoff was going to reveal a lot about where the Kings actually stood in the Western Conference pecking order.
They may not the best team in the NHL at this moment, but the Kings made a statement that they're not giving up their crown easily. A tenacious effort culminated in a dominant third period and a 5-2 win over the division-leading Anaheim Ducks on Monday night. Los Angeles won their fourth straight game by multiple goals, handed Viktor Fasth his first NHL defeat, and got strong play from a number of contributors after a tentative start.
In a season full of unentertaining, scoreless periods, the tonight's opening 20 might have taken the cake. Shots were 10-7 Los Angeles, but the entire period was essentially a game of dump-and-chase hockey. So let's skip that and talk about the next two periods, which really showcased the two best teams in the Pacific Division.
I couldn't have been the only person quietly begging for a goal to open things up, and it happened 13 seconds in. But it was Anaheim who did the deed, as Ryan Getzlaf in the corner hooked up with Andrew Cogliano in the slot. Cogliano's tip was the first shot of the period, and it squeaked through Quick's legs for the first goal of the game. The play picked up almost immediately after, and the physical play increased as well. Jordan Nolan scrapped with Sheldon Souray and landed left hook after left hook (though Souray got in a good shot while both players were down, nice one). The impact? Well, Sutter and Brown both credited Nolan for getting the team going, and for what it's worth, the Kings did get on the board twelve seconds later. Jarret Stoll was forced along the boards but delicately threw the puck towards the front of the net. Dustin Penner beat (former) plus-minus leader Francois Beauchemin to the net, and he reached out and poked the puck past Viktor Fasth for his long-awaited first goal of 2013.
Unfortunately, Dustin Brown was called for tripping less than a minute later, and the Ducks took the lead right back on the PP. After Ben Lovejoy shot the puck wide and a bit of a scramble ensued, the puck ended up in the crease. Rob Scuderi had a chance to clear, but his feeble attempt at getting the puck out ended up on the stick of Saku Koivu, who was only to happy to cash in before Quick could get back in position. So the Ducks led, and they could have had more, but the Conn Smythe winner recovered from his setback and shut down Anaheim the rest of the way. The best opportunity for Anaheim to increase their advantage was on another PP opportunity, but after eight shots attempted, four on goal, and one off the post, Quick and the Kings survived.
The hitting continued and the crowd worked its way back into it, but it took a moment of individual brilliance by Dustin Brown to change the face of the game. Anze Kopitar (who was superb) tapped the puck ahead to Brown as he crossed the blue line, and after a stickhandle and drag of the puck, the captain used every inch of curve in his stick on a wrist shot. He got a bit of a break when his shot hit the crossbar, went straight down, and spun back into the net, but the goal was a deserved third for Brown in three games. Fist-pump, tie game, intermission.
So, the test. How would the Kings come out in a third period with so much on the line? Dwight King took a quick penalty, forcing LA to start with a penalty kill. But the PK proved to be yet another potential turning point, as the Kings didn't allow a shot after the first 30 seconds. And a minute in, Drew Doughty leveled Francois Beauchemin in front of the Kings' bench, and the team (with apologies to Anaheim) took flight. Slava Voynov gave Los Angeles their first lead of the evening at 4:46, when he received a nice feed from Kopitar and took a slapshot. The puck squirmed through Fasth and trickled towards the line, and though the Ducks whacked it clear, the replays confirmed what the ref and the goal judge had seen themselves: the puck had crossed the line.
The Kings clamped down, and when they finally got a power play after Sheldon Souray slash, they didn't disappoint. Previous heroes Voynov and Kopitar (earning his third primary assist) got the puck to Jake Muzzin at the point, and Muzzin calmly faked out Koivu before sending a wrister past Fasth at 6:23. The crowd at Staples was as loud as they've been all season, and the Ducks were taken out of the game by the Kings' continued pressure and (perhaps) by faltering in the second game of a back-to-back. In fact, the Ducks wouldn't have a shot for another six minutes, and they were rebuffed by Quick and the D-men on their remaining attempts to score. Brown attempted to add the icing on the cake with a penalty shot late, but after deking Fasth he couldn't quite finish the move and hit the side of the net. But the Ducks pulled Fasth soon after, and after licking his lips and nodding to Mike Richards (I imagine), Jeff Carter picked up the empty-netter off of a lead pass from Richards.
So the first period sucked, the second was a wildly entertaining back-and-forth session, and the third was a clinic by the Kings. The season series is now even, and the Kings have vaulted all the way up to second in the division and seventh in the Western Conference. LA only gets play Anaheim twice more in the regular season, but a playoff matchup is definitely not out of the question. In fact, if the season ended today, the seventh-place Kings would stare down their SoCal rivals in the first round. How fun would that be?
The final game of the three-game Vengeance Homestand takes place on Wednesday, as the Kings get another nationally televised shot at the Wings. Let's see if we can sustain our momentum. Throw your two cents in below!