Well, that was too bad. In a game that showcased just how good a playoff matchup with the Anaheim Ducks could be, the Los Angeles Kings scratched and clawed their way to a point that they totally deserved. But despite coming back from a goal down three times, they couldn't strike a finishing blow before the shootout, and the Ducks schooled Jonathan Bernier to take the crucial second point.
[Watch the Shootout (if you dare)]
The atmosphere at Honda Center was befitting a playoff game, with a near 50-50 split of Kings and Ducks fans. The Anaheim crowd had their "Beat LA" thundersticks and were clearly pumped for the defending champs, while the visiting fans brought a bunch of "Go Kings Go" chants and made themselves heard... loudly. The first goal was going to be huge with the momentum and the crowd split so evenly. It went to Kyle Palmieri, after a strong start by Anaheim. A backtracking Robyn Regehr had his clearing attempt intercepted by Matt Beleskey, and Palmieri received a quick drop pass and beat Drew Doughty to get to the net. Bernier actually made a poke check and knocked off Palmieri's stick, but momentum took the puck into the net for the opening goal. Los Angeles improved as the period went on, but the lead stood into the second.
Drew Doughty had one of his strongest games of the season, and bolstered by his empty-netter on Saturday, he got the Kings on the board on Sunday. The refs were calling almost everything in the first half of the game and almost nothing in the second half, but before putting the whistles away they put away Matthew Lombardi for tripping Dwight King. Dustin Brown controlled the puck along the boards at the start of the power play and had space to find Doughty at the point. The defenseman absolutely ripped a slapshot, and with Jeff Carter providing a screen in front, Viktor Fasth (who was great all night) had no chance. The Kings had some good stretches of offensive time in the rest of the period, but the Ducks scored against the run of play when Corey Perry cherry-picked with two minutes left. After Bobby Ryan blocked a couple of shots, Andrew Cogliano took possession in his own zone and delivered a blueline-to-blueline pass to Perry. All alone, he took a quick wrist shot that beat Bernier on the far side.
The goal could have been crippling going into the intermission, but much like they did against Chicago, the Kings found a goal extremely late in the second to even things up. The modified second line of Brad Richardson, Mike Richards, and Carter provided a strong forecheck, and with Carter alone in front of Fasth, Richards gave him an ankle-high pass to knock into the net. In terms of momentum it was huge, and set up a third period that Los Angeles needed to win in order to have a realistic shot at winning the Pacific Division. They responded with a huge effort, putting 16 shots on net to Anaheim's 5; however, the only power play of the third period (after a Jeff Carter slash which none of us in the crowd saw initially) put the Kings in a hole. From the point, Sheldon Souray had a shot blocked by Jarret Stoll and immediately slapped the follow-up into the chest of Bernier; Bernier tried in vain to control the rebound up high, but it dropped to the ice and Matt Beleskey seized his opportunity. He grabbed the puck, neatly stickhandled around Bernier, and scored to put the Ducks ahead 4:54 into the third.
Viktor Fasth made nine saves over the next eleven minutes, but with the game slipping away, the Kings' consistent first line found a way to send the contest to overtime. Jake Muzzin and Justin Williams kept the puck in the zone with the Ducks trying to clear, and Anze Kopitar took the puck and beat two opposing players to get below the right circle. Dustin Brown crashed the net and received a feed from Kopitar, and on his second attempt he whacked the puck out of mid-air and past Fasth. The normally stoic Brown showed some emotion after earning the Kings a point, and the ensuing adrenaline nearly saw Los Angeles win it in regulation, as Doughty hit the outside of the post on a long shot with under a minute to go. In between, Cam Fowler had the Ducks' best chance, forcing a good save from Bernier on the counter-attack.
With overtime not providing resolution after good opportunities for Kopitar (Fasth was positioned well and made the full-body stop) and Daniel Winnik (Bernier made a nonchalant glove save), it went to the shootout, and you can watch the whole thing with the link above if you have a strong stomach. Bobby Ryan, Saku Koivu, and Corey Perry barely broke a sweat, beating Jonathan Bernier with two dekes and a wrist shot. Though Jeff Carter roofed one past Fasth on LA's second attempt, Mike Richards was stopped easily by Fasth on the first attempt, and the Ducks "lit the lamp" in celebration after taking home the second point. It was one of Jonathan Bernier's weaker performances and one of Viktor Fasth's stronger ones; he rebounded nicely from his last matchup against Los Angeles. It's nothing to sweat over in the larger playoff picture, but the two points for the Ducks give them a nearly insurmountable nine-point lead in the Pacific with nine games remaining. LA seeks revenge next Saturday, at Staples.