Marian Gaborik #12 of the Los Angeles Kings is pursued by Sami Vatanen #45 of the Anaheim Ducks.
Photograph by: Jeff Gross, Getty Images
ANAHEIM, Calif. — For four games, it seemed the better side in Southern California’s Freeway Series lost every night -- and the home teams were 0-4.
But those kinds of anomalies generally don’t last, and they didn’t make it through Monday night without undergoing a slight correction.
This time, the home team won: 4-3 Anaheim over Los Angeles, to be precise, for a 3-2 series lead heading back to Staples Center for Game 6 on Wednesday.
But it might take the fancy-stats guys and a computer program to figure out which was the better team, because to the naked eye it looked like all Ducks to start and all Kings at the end, and only a little Duck luck and a lot of John Gibson in goal standing between the visitors and yet another road victory.
It shouldn’t have been close, but that’s discounting the 2012 Stanley Cup champions’ self-belief and ability to rise to an occasion.
The Kings, who lost their first three games of the first round to San Jose, then went on a six-game win streak, and now have lost three in a row once more.
What does that mean for Game 6? It’s anyone’s guess, but we can probably predict that the Kings, who had the Ducks’ net under siege for the final five minutes Monday, won’t go quietly, whatever the result.
“I thought they lost their composure a little in the second period just like we did at the end,” said Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau, “but they’re such emotional games when you’re playing the Kings, it’s tough to keep everybody calm on the bench when the crowd’s going nuts and the action is fast and furious.”
The Ducks swarmed early and often, and got the game’s first goal 2:15 in from Nick Bonino, after Kings defenceman Jake Muzzin fell down in the corner and coughed up the puck.
After surrendering the equalizer seven minutes later on a sloppy line change that Trevor Lewis jumped on --- the first goal given up by Gibson in his first 69 minutes of Stanley Cup playoff hockey --- the Ducks got back to business.
Aided and abetted by some horrendous puck management by the Kings, the Pacific Division pennant winners poured three past Jonathan Quick in the second period, building a 4-1 lead after 38 minutes.
Devante Smith-Pelly, who was all over the scoresheet and the game’s first star, had Mathieu Perreault’s shot glance in off his skate for the second Anaheim goal, on a power play, then scored the third on a sweet backhand deke, after an awful giveaway by Alec Martinez to Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf, who fed Smith-Pelly in the clear.
“The turnover to Ryan Getzlaf … the player can’t make that play, that’s for sure,” said Sutter, who was generally pleased with the traffic his team got in front of Gibson, and doesn’t appear to be all that carried away with the hype surrounding the rookie, who blocked 39 of 42 Kings shots on goal.
Quick stopped 20 of 24 Anaheim shots.
Asked what impressed him about Gibson, Sutter sighed and said, dripping sarcasm: “He’s the best goalie I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe we got even one past him tonight.
“Lot of pressure on him now. Lot of pressure.”
Jakob Silfverberg also tallied for Anaheim in the second, and the score could have been even more lopsided had Teemu Selanne converted the three gift-wrapped scoring chances he was given.
But two were saved by Quick, and on the third the legendary Finn fired grievously wide of an open net.
That left the Kings nominally alive, and after Smith-Pelly was handed a double-minor for high-sticking Drew Doughty late in the period, the Kings climbed back within two when Marian Gaborik buried Muzzin’s pass behind Gibson with 78 seconds left in the second.
At that point, it was one L.A. goal from being a gang war, and the Kings got it with 5:48 left from Gaborik, his eighth of the post-season, when Dustin Brown’s innocuous-looking backhand went off the gifted Slovak’s skate and past a heavily-screened Gibson.
The Ducks managed to hold on, but only by their fingernails and if nothing else, the Kings proved to themselves with the comeback that they can bend, and break, the Ducks when they are determined enough.
“I bet they think they got robbed again tonight, and they’ll be ready Wednesday,” said Boudreau. “To win four games against this team is going to be the toughest job our team has ever had.”
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