Go figure... the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks finally play the first all-Southern California NHL playoff game ever, and the biggest impact was made by a guy who's only been here for two months.
That was fine with LA, though, as Marian Gaborik helped snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with the game-tying and game-winning goals.
So, let's talk about the atmosphere. I've attended Kings-Ducks games at Honda Center before, as well as Staples Center and (sigh) Dodger Stadium. The mixture of fans always creates a cool dynamic, but it was on another level tonight. The noise was consistent; "Go Kings Go" and "Let's Go Ducks" chants all night, with a constant buzz in between. To their credit, the Ducks fans came out in force, taking up 75% of the arena and making sure there was some sort of home-ice advantage, but that didn't stop LA's fans from making their presence felt. It also made for a wonderful mix of cheering and booing (or stunned silence) at the game's pivotal moments.
What were those pivotal moments? Glad you asked. If you're a believer that rest does make a difference in the playoffs, you got some evidence today; the team which played more recently (LA) started stronger, while the team that got a few extra days off (Anaheim) seized control later on. The Kings' most assertive stretch was the first half of period 1; after that, Anaheim probably deserved to win this game.
Alec Martinez set a career high in ice time tonight, and he commemorated the occasion with a power play goal, his first playoff goal since Game 3 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals. Anze Kopitar held the puck for a full five seconds along the boards and passed down low to Gaborik. Gaborik surprised Francois Beauchemin and Jonas Hiller by flipping a pass to the back side instead of trying to jam it in; Martinez one-timed the pass to the short side of Hiller to put LA on top. The 28:13 of ice time for Martinez was courtesy of Robyn Regehr, who left the ice after a hit from Teemu Selanne. When Ryan Getzlaf drew Jonathan Quick way out of the net and fed Matt Beleskey for a tap-in., LA had their work cut out for them.
The five defensemen hung on for dear life as the Ducks upped the pressure. There were turnovers galore, the majority from errant Kings passes. Jonathan Quick certainly stepped up his game, though he got some help from the goalpost (sorry, Nick Bonino and Corey Perry). Poor Devante Smith-Pelly had about three or four golden scoring chances in regulation and still couldn't put the puck past Quick. His anguish would continue later on. The Kings made it to the second intermission with the shot battle relatively even and the score totally even, but the Ducks were looking more likely to score.
And score they did. Teemu Selanne would have been a sentimental choice to score the first game-winning goal in Kings-Ducks playoff history, and it looked like he was going to do it when he grabbed the puck from Patrick Maroon and tucked the puck beneath a poke-checking Quick. Of course, if that goal had held up, you wouldn't be hearing about anyone else today. Instead, the Kings pulled the goalie in the final two minutes, and after three stoppages in play, Gaborik tied the game. He batted a clearing attempt out of midair and the Kings set up their cycle, but after a blocked shot, all Mike Richards could do was through the puck at the net from a sharp angle and hope for a rebound. It worked, as Hiller and Bryan Allen couldn't control the puck, and Gaborik knocked it in an inch off the ice. Allen checked Gaborik a second later, but the damage was done.
Anaheim had their best chance to win this game just a minute into overtime. Quick made the initial stop on a slapper by Cam Fowler but was fishing on the rebound, and Corey Perry had an open net... except that Alec Martinez was in the way. Martinez blocked the shot to save the goal, and we went on, with both teams getting quality chances. Smith-Pelly was robbed AGAIN by the glove of Quick, while Hiller made key saves of his own on Doughty and Tyler Toffoli. Doughty played 33:06 tonight and was the best King possession-wise, and twelve minutes into overtime, he made a savvy play to set up the Kings for victory.
Darryl Sutter had shuffled the lines later in the contest, and Jeff Carter came onto the ice with Kopitar and Gaborik. Carter carried the puck in along the right-hand boards, and it was reminiscent of Game 2 in the 2012 Cup Finals as he shot the puck, got stopped, and got to it up again as he wheeled around. Rather than bringing it all the way around for another shot, he kept it along the boards, and with his first touch, Doughty tapped it across to Anze Kopitar. With four Ducks now on the wrong side of the ice, Ben Lovejoy was the only one left to challenge Kopitar, and Kopitar passed down low to Gaborik as he crashed the net. Gaborik tipped the puck, and it had just enough to trickle through Hiller up high. Game over.
The Kings were definitely the luckier team in this one, and with five defensemen for the majority of the game, it's a wonder they were even able to get to overtime. But they held on long enough for Quick to make 33 saves, for Kopitar to pick up a trio of assists, and for Gaborik to fully justify his trade deadline acquisition. It was also long enough to send the traveling portion of the Honda Center crowd home happy. Game 2 is Monday,