Coming into today’s tilt versus the Anaheim Ducks, the Los Angeles Kings were five points out of the last playoff spot behind the Nashville Predators (they were six points behind the Calgary Flames with only two games in hand) for the second wildcard spot. Describing any potential victory as “badly needed” would be an understatement.
The biggest news of the day was whether or not Jonathan Quick would make his return from injury today. Yesterday at practice, Kings coach Darryl Sutter told reporters, “It’d be way different if we were way up or way out.” This gives a pretty clear indication that while Peter Budaj has performed admirably in Quick’s stead, the team felt that getting their number-one goaltender back would make a significant difference.
The Kings won today so was this line of thinking correct that Quick was actually a factor? It’s hard to say for sure. One thing is clear: Budaj was showing signs of wear under his extremely heavy workload during the Boston game so giving him a game off for a guy who has a history of performing well coming back from significant injury wasn’t necessarily going to be a bad decision.
Early on in the game, Quick bobbled the puck behind his own net and seriously tested his groin with a series of splits and other typical moves the Gumby-like goaltender is fond of using when he plays.
For those wondering, injuries haven't slowed down JQ. He still likes to travel 50' out of his crease to play the puck.— The Mayor John Hoven (@mayorNHL) February 25, 2017
Suffice it to say, he seems to be feeling good.
In typical fashion, it was Los Angeles who ceded the first goal to the opposition. Late in the period, Anaheim had managed to put 10 shots on goal. With just over three minutes to go, Andrew Cogliano scored off a 3-on-2 rush thanks to a great feed by Ryan Kesler. It all started when Jakob Silfverberg picked off an errant Tyler Toffoli pass in the neutral zone. Toffoli would later make up for his miscue.
Tension was high in this game. Brayden McNabb had offered to fight Corey Perry early on (Perry wisely declined) and eventually ended up getting into it with Nate Thompson after Anze Kopitar tripped over Perry’s stick and Jordan Nolan decided to defend to his captain’s honor, which set off a huge melee just inside the Ducks’ blue line. Later in that same period, Jeff Carter fought Kesler. The two had gotten tangled up along the boards and Kesler took exception to the hit.
The second period closed much like the first with the Ducks leading the Kings 1-0 and fans feeling the frustration of the lack of offense. Carter and Kesler had gone to their respective dressing rooms to serve their fighting majors, meaning the Kings’ leading scorer not on the ice for the final five minutes of the period. However, there was reason to be hopeful as Sheng Peng points out:
Tight gm, but LA improving: ANA 24-21 5v5 Corsi, LAK 10-9 Scoring chances (7-4 in 2nd), 4-2 High-danger (3-1). LAK 1.66 - ANA 1.54 xGF all— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) February 25, 2017
The third period was a comeback much unlike what LA has had this season (they were 2-23-1 when trailing after 40 minutes). Yet, where there’s a will there’s a way.
Not even five minutes gone into the third period, Tanner Pearson and Toffoli teamed up to tie the game. It was an ugly, greasy goal, exactly the type they needed to and haven’t had nearly enough of this season. Pearson did all the work, entering the zone with speed, muscling his way past a Ducks defender to retrieve the puck in the corner as Toffoli crashed the net. The puck bounced around a bit in the crease and Jonathan Bernier (remember him?) wasn’t able to corral the unwieldy rubber disc. (An assist should go to Cam Fowler for actually pushing the puck out from under Bernier’s glove right to Toffoli who stuffed it in the net.) That sweet treat was Toffoli’s 11th goal of the season.
With life breathed anew into the Kings, they started to assert their will. Pearson won a board battle allowing Carter to get on his horse and be off to the races with his son on the opposite wing keeping pace. Fowler, acting as the Ducks’ last line of defense, sprawled on the ice in an attempt to break up the pass. It almost worked but Carter was clever enough to slip the puck underneath the defender’s feet to a crashing Toffoli, who chipped the puck into the empty cage. Finally, a 2-on-1 rush the other way pays off for Carter.
Dustin Brown got his 10th goal of the season 17 seconds later when he tipped a Kevin Gravel shot that was going wide. The 24-year-old defenseman unloaded a slapshot from the blue line and Brown, recognizing that the shot was going wide, got a stick on it.
From there, it was vintage Kings: Quick was sharp and the defense cleared away any rebounds that he gave up. The next couple of shifts after Kings had taken the lead, the veteran netminder showed great poise and awareness as the Ducks could’ve easily tied the game. Both teams have garbage power plays and it showed, though Anaheim was perhaps a bit unlucky as they put six shots on goal in four minutes with the man-advantage. So despite the penalty-filled affair, both teams were perfect on the kill.
Ducks Head Coach Randy Carlyle pulled Bernier with just under two minutes to go. After consecutive icings, Carter scored his 30th of the season, hitting the empty net with 67 seconds left in the game. Remarkably, at 5v5 in the third period, LA attempted 25 shots while limiting Anaheim to only 14.
With this win, Sutter passed Andy Murray on the Kings’ all-time list of head coach victories.
Next up: two very, very important games against the Minnesota Wild and Calgary.