Last night was the most important game on the Kings' schedule since they clinched a playoff spot. It also turned out to be their most well played game, too. Though depleted by injuries and illnesses, the Ducks still kept the scoreboard close all game. It took a characteristic Kings defensive effort late in the game to shut this one down.
As the final game of the Kings' season series came to a close, it became clear that the rivalry between these two teams was no longer on a paper in some broadcast booth. A true enmity has developed between these teams, and we see it game and game again with net-front scrums, fights off a faceoffs in a historic low year for fights, and the list goes on. Anticipating a contentious game, the officials set the tone early by sending both Kyle Clifford and Chris Stewart to the box just two minutes in as they jostled before a faceoff. By the ending horn, both teams racked up 17 penalty minutes, including the 5 minute fighting major assessed to Luke Schenn and Ryan Getzlaf for their tussle (put Schenn's number in the rafters already, please). Part of this included the antics of Corey Perry interfering with Jonathan Quick, who was rightly called and resulted in offsetting penalties from the resultant scrum.
The first period was extremely defensively contentious in the early going. Both teams checked and scraped along the boards in battles for possession and were unable to get shots on goal, much less the puck anywhere near the middle of the ice. The game's first goal by Ryan Kesler was the incipient for change in the Kings' efforts. Following a breakdown in the offensive zone, an unmarked Kesler was at the front of the net, and Jonathan Quick was screened on the cross-ice pass, giving him no chance at the shot. That was with five minutes left in the first, and thus began the Kings' onslaught against the Ducks until the end of the second period.
It was the Kings' first line that got things going when their below the goal line cycling resulted in a puck popping out right in front to a free Milan Lucic. He wasted no time backhanding it into the net past John Gibson, and we had a tie game. The goal, Lucic's 20th, made him the fourth 20 goal scorer on this Kings' roster. That kind of spread in scoring is one of the reasons Kings sit in the playoffs this year compared to last. It was just a minute and a half later when the fourth line of Kyle Clifford, Andy Andreoff, and Kris Versteeg cashed in on their good night. A Brayden McNabb shot ricocheted off of Gibson and then the crossbar only to land in the paint for the waiting Versteeg. The goal was Versteeg's fourth as a King, and given his penchant for scoring on second chances, the Kings have to be happy with the trade so far. The goal was Andy's second highlight of the night after taking a Drew Doughty shot off of a... very sensitive area.
Traffic can be a pain in the groin. pic.twitter.com/XsfvpVjNOD— LA Kings (@LAKings) April 8, 2016
Despite the Kings' two early goals, they kept right on pushing the rest of the period, and they made Anaheim look completely out of their depth. While the period ended in shot attempts at 28 to 15, a measly 4 of those were at even strength for Anaheim. The Kings did end up backing off a bit in the third, but things were mostly even until the Ducks' final push with the goalie pulled. While the scoreboard was close, it was certainly a game where the Kings could have had another goal or two were it not for the great play of John Gibson. It's fair to say that besides Ryan Kesler (who had 5 SOG), he was their best player on the ice.
If you're looking to do a post mortem on this game, you don't have to look much further than Cam Fowler and Korbinian Holzer. They were demolished at even strength, finishing a -19 and -17 respectively. While Cam had 24 minutes of ice time, Holzer racked up his deficit in just 14 minutes of ice time - yikes. In truth, this was an Anaheim team was a little depth challenged without Rickard Rakell and Sami Vatanen in their usual spots. While the Kings can't count on that if a series should result in the playoffs, maybe they can count on having Marian Gaborik and Alec Martinez back to even things out a bit.
The Kings have a single regular season game left, and the scenarios are pretty simple-- win in any fashion and face the Predators at home. Should the Kings lose in any fashion, they'll have to do a bit of scoreboard watching to see if they face the Sharks at home instead. On paper, the teams are pretty darn similar, so perhaps the second round home advantage could end up being the more important issue at hand.