Jake Muzzin #6 of the Los Angeles Kings reacts to his goal in front of John Gibson #36 and Sami Vatanen #45 of the Anaheim Ducks.
Photograph by: Harry How, Getty Images
LOS ANGELES - There are lies, damn lies, and then there is simple playoff misdirection.
Like Darryl Sutter looking mystified Wednesday morning, and saying, “I don’t know what that means” when told that one of his players had made a reference to “Kings hockey.”
He knows, all right. His team played it here in Game 6, with elimination looming if the L.A. Kings had lost it.
Maybe it was the least interesting game of the Battle of California, but it was straight from the grind-it-out, give-no-quarter playbook of the 2012 Stanley Cup champions.
Hard on the boards in both ends, nasty in front of the net and, when all else failed --- and things always did fail sometimes, otherwise Jonathan Quick would never have won the Conn Smythe --- the kind of goaltending that underlined just how indispensible the last line of defence is to any championship bid.
"They had a lot of opportunities, Jonathan had to make 3 or 4 big ones,” Sutter said.
The home team won 2-1, survived a last-minute burst of desperate, goalie-out attack by the Anaheim Ducks, and forced Game 7 Friday night at the Honda Center.
``At the end of the day, we need to learn as a group, and it’s been like this for 3-4 years whether it’s regular season or playoffs, we got to make it easier on ourselves,” said Kings captain Dustin Brown, who had his best game of the series.
“I think the one time we did that consistently (2012) everyone knows what happened. We keep going back to the well. It’s a double-edged sword, it’s great that we have that ability to dig our own grave and climb out of it, but we have one game to take care of here. From then on, we have to try and not put ourselves behind the 8-ball.’’
Besides winning the game, the Kings burst the bubble of Ducks goalie John Gibson, who looked in spots like … well, a rookie.
Sutter had done everything but roll his eyes when asked what impressed him about the 20-year-old Gibson after Game 5 and he replied: “He’s the best goalie I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe we got one by him tonight.”
Then he added: “Lot of pressure on him now. Lot of pressure.”
And sure enough, Gibson, who had beaten the Kings twice in three nights after being a surprise call-up for Game 4, had more than a few uh-oh moments Wednesday.
He wandered far out of the net to play a puck between the faceoff circles in the first period and put it right on the stick of the playoffs’ top goal scorer, Marian Gaborik, who somehow didn’t even get a shot off at the open net.
He had no chance on the first-period L.A. goal, a straight cross-crease pass from Anze Kopitar to uncovered Jake Muzzin for the defenceman’s third playoff goal --- Kopitar has points in 12 of L.A.’s 13 playoff games (4-13=17) --- but the game-winner was a stinker.
After the first sustained pressure of the game from the Ducks’ No. 1 line, the Kings escaped from the siege with one deft outlet pass from Justin Williams to Trevor Lewis, who took it in full stride and let go a shot from the top of the circle on his off-wing that trickled between Gibson’s wickets and across the goal line at 14:04 of the second period.
It was Lewis’s fourth playoff goal after scoring just six in 73 regular-season games.
That made it 2-0 and though the Ducks clawed one back 98 seconds on a lightning-fast wraparound by Kyle Palmieri, they couldn’t get another past Quick, despite 9:22 of power play time.
“We got a couple goals and shut it down pretty good,” said Kopitar.
“We anticipated them being good,” said Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano. “They know how to win. They’ve won before. They just came back from 3-0. We knew they were going to come out hard, we knew they wanted the first goal. I thought both goals were preventable and it just sucks giving them up, especially the first one. But for the most part, I thought the game was pretty even tonight. I thought it came down that we had some power plays and didn’t score on one of them.’’
"It stunk,” said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau of the power play’s ineffectiveness. “Did we get any shots on five attempts? Nothing A-1."
He was exasperated by the failure to finish the series.
“You never wait until the seventh game. Look what happened to Boston (losing at home to Montreal). You want to win it when you can, and we didn’t get it done. We’ll get better and we’ll get ready, and we’ll play a hell of a game Friday night.”
The win was the Kings’ seventh, against just two defeats, when facing elimination since 2011 (5-0 this spring) and Friday’s contest will mark the first time L.A. will play two Game 7s in one playoff year.
Which, when you think about it, is exactly what this series deserves.
“There’s a lot of excitement, and probably a lot of nervous people,” said Brown. “Neither team wanted a Game 7 but from a fan perspective and Southern California perspective, it’s probably good for the growth of the game.’’
The Kings sounded confident, almost cocky, prior to Game 6. They weren’t backing down Wednesday night.
“I think if we’d been asked, before the playoffs started, about going to a Game 7 against Anaheim in the second round, we would have taken it,” said defenceman Drew Doughty. “Our team is built to play in these kind of games. Our leaders step up to the plate and they show the way. We’re looking forward to this game. We’re not nervous. We’re not overly excited or over-anxious. We’re just ready to get going.''
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