ANAHEIM, Calif. — Headline writers would have got an early jump on today's banners in the L.A. and Orange County papers. By the time most of the games in this Freeway Series had started, this one was over.
"Lame Ducks Quack Under Pressure" would have been appropriate in The O.C.
Or, up in the big city: "Kings Reign on Duckies' Parade."
Whatever the locals are picking up at the corner store here in Anaheim, though, it ought to be printed in red ink - as red as the faces of the Ducks, who might as well have sent 20 empty jerseys out to play Game 7 against the Los Angeles Kings.
So completely were they dominated by the big brothers of the California rivalry, the result was written in stone before the first intermission.
It could have been 5-0 by then, but three was plenty for the Kings, who won their sixth elimination game of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, 6-2, with a show of muscle and hustle and savvy that seemed utterly beyond the flustered and overmatched Anaheim squad.
The Ducks who won the Pacific Division, 16 points clear of the Kings, were ghosts for the meaningful part of Friday night at Honda Center, leaving their own fans in shock and the thousands of Kings' supporters in the crowd in full-throated roar.
"I've said it multiple times, that this group that we have - the inner arrogance, or quiet confidence, whatever you want to call it - I look around and I trust that everybody's going to do his job," said winger Justin Williams, Mr. Game 7, whose goal at 4:30 of the first period began the L.A. onslaught.
"Nobody has to be great, but everybody has to be good. And we were all good tonight."
Williams slid home his own rebound - his sixth goal (and he added his sixth assist later) in six Game 7 appearances - off a tipped shot by Mike Richards.
"At the end of my career, I'll look back and be proud of it," Williams said. "The thing I'm proudest of is the 6-0 record in Game 7, and the fact that we're moving on."
First goals have been money in this series, and when the Kings got it, the Ducks seemed to lose their heads.
Four minutes later, a turnover just inside the Kings' line was moved up ice with three quick passes and Jeff Carter brushed aside Anaheim's young defenceman Hampus Lindholm to roof a backhander over the arm of rookie goalie John Gibson.
Then, shortly after Jonathan Quick stopped Ducks' Corey Perry on a penalty shot, Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf got out of position running at fourth-line winger Kyle Clifford, who took the hit and made the play that led to Richards' second goal of the playoffs.
Williams, Carter, Richards. All former Philadelphia Flyers. Maybe that's why former Kings assistant GM Ron Hextall is now running the show in Philly.
"Right now, it's a bitter pill to swallow, the way we lost that game. But we're going to get over it," said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. "First period was men against boys, quite frankly. They were bigger, stronger, faster and seemed more determined.
"We were on our heels. Everything we said we didn't want to do, we did. We get behind the 8-ball and . . . by the time we started playing well again in the second, Quick was there to make the save when they needed it."
"When you've played in the playoffs long enough, you understand that those little plays, hits, finishing checks, all those things add up over time," said Kings captain Dustin Brown. "I thought you could see it tonight on our forecheck, we were beating their defencemen quite a bit to the puck, and that's a result probably of being physical on certain guys throughout the series and wearing them down physically and mentally. You just chip away every game. The longer it goes, the harder it gets (for other team) if you're doing the right thing.''
Three goals were more than enough for Quick, but the Kings got two more anyway in the second period, from playoff scoring race leader Anze Kopitar and his sidekick, goal-scoring leader Marian Gaborik, before the Ducks' Kyle Palmieri finally squeezed one past the Kings' netminder.
By then, Gibson had been replaced by Jonas Hiller in the Anaheim goal, and the Ducks' offensive kingpins, Getzlaf and Perry, were each minus-3 on the night and full value for it. They combined for a pretty goal by Perry, four-on-four, in the third, but Tanner Pearson added one more for the Kings.
In addition to everything else, the Kings (per the Elias Sports Bureau) became the first team in major North American sports history to win consecutive playoff series despite losing three games in a row in each.
But they'll have little time to savour it. After practicing Saturday morning, they fly to Chicago and play an afternoon game Sunday to open the Western Conference final - a fairly ridiculous piece of National Hockey League scheduling, but better than not winning Game 7.
It was a bittersweet final act for Ducks' 43-year-old Teemu Selanne, whose fabulous career ended on the sourest of notes - as, probably, did that of his Finnish teammate, Saku Koivu, who looked a step slow and out of gas in Game 7.
At the final horn, Getzlaf had the puck on his stick and picked it up to give to Selanne, who was hugged and patted on the head by most of the Kings in the handshake line.
And afterwards, both teams stood on the ice for a very long time and tapped their sticks in respect for the greatest Finnish hockey player of them all.
"I coached Teemu and I know him. He's a special player and a special person and I'm glad he got to win a championship," said Kings coach Darryl Sutter. "I'm sure disappointing as it is for him to lose the series, he got to play it here and he got recognized by the crowd and that was awesome."
"That guy has been an unbelievable player in this league for so long," said Kings defenceman Drew Doughty. "Everyone respects him. I couldn't be more happy for him, he had an unbelievable career. I guess you feel bad in a way that we ended it this way."
"There's not many guys left in this league that have earned the respect and admiration of not only the fans but the players he played against," said Williams. "We would have stood out there for 20 minutes if we could.
"He has nothing to be upset about. He's an awesome player."
So the series ended as it began, with fans of both teams standing and cheering the same things: celebrating a Southern California series at the start, saluting a departing legend as the curtain came down.
For Anaheim, there wasn't much else to salvage.
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