You’d be excused for assuming the Los Angeles Kings were going to get annihilated in their Stadium Series appearance. Playing one of the best teams in the league at an unfamiliar altitude, the expectation was that they’d be crushed.
And, in many ways, they were. They allowed 26 shots on goal through the first two periods, and 33 overall, often finding themselves completely unable to get out of their own zone. Attempts to escape were turned back at the neutral zone, or turned into dump-and-chase adventures at best.
And yet the Kings managed to pull out a win in front of a sell-out crowd of 43,574 attendees, powered by a Tyler Toffoli hat trick and an outstanding, vintage performance by Jonathan Quick.
Despite being massively outplayed in the first period, the Kings struck first, with Tyler Toffoli tucking in a loose puck that managed to skitter through the crease and evade Colorado Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer. It was a flukey play, the kind of goal you need to bury when you’re otherwise being dominated and are looking for any spark of life. From the heights of the press box, the goal wasn’t obvious at first, looking instead like Grubauer had just flailed to make a great save, but Toffoli’s reaction said it all after the play.
The second period started much more cautious for both teams, with shots being limited for much of the time. The Avalanche soon found their footing, however, pelting Quick with 11 shots throughout the period. It looked as though the period was going to end without a goal in either net, but a scrambling play at the end of the second saw Quick battling without his stick for a time. After making several saves, Quick darted out to retrieve the stick and, of course, that's when Samuel Girard found the puck and scored his third goal of the season with less than a minute left.
Early in the third period, with the game following much the same pattern as the previous two periods, Austin Wagner got one of his patented once-a-game breakaways. Driving the net, Wagner hit the post and skated out of the way to evade making contacty with Grubauer. Avalanche defenseman Ian Cole, however, slid right into Grubauer, making contact with him that kept the goaltender down on the ice for a time.
Grubauer left the game and was replaced by Pavel Francouz, who had a 13-4-2 record coming into the game.
While you’d think that putting pucks on a cold goalie would be a great way for the Kings to get on the scoresheet again, the Avalanche did an excellent job at protecting Francouz from facing too many shots. It looked as though the game was going to head to overtime, with the Kings unable to get into the zone, let alone put many pucks on Francouz.
Enter Tyler Toffoli. On somewhat of a broken play, Toffoli potted his second of the game. He whiffed on his first chance at the puck, but the second attempt was good as he sent the puck sailing over Francouz.
After the game, Toffoli said he was surprised the puck was even still there for him to take a shot. While all of the Kings were elated that Toffoli scored, perhaps no one was happier than Anze Kopitar. “When [Kopitar] was at the draw,” Toffoli said, “he said, ‘I’ll be really happy if you put this in.' And he was really happy."
With Francouz pulled shortly after as the Avalanche attempted to tie the game again, it's no surprise that Toffoli was on the ice in the final moments of the game. "Kopi and the guys said just get open and put the puck in the empty net," Toffoli said. "I think it's the most nervous ice ever been, putting a puck in an empty net, in my life." Toffoli did indeed cap off his hat trick with an empty net goal, making him the first player to score a hat trick in an outdoor game.
Todd McLellan was proud of Toffoli's performance, especially in the face of the stress of the trade deadline. But the win overall was even sweeter. Both before and after the game, McLellan emphasized that in a tough season like this, that they celebrate every win.
So despite the altitude, despite the challenge of taking on one of the best teams in the league, the Kings found a way to win a game they weren't expected to be in. And for just a brief day or so, the players could put the drama and uncertainty of the trade deadline behind them and just enjoy the moment.