For every trade deadline rental that pays off, there are many that do not.
Teams on the fringes of the NHL playoff race, hoping to make a run, can add talent and fall just short. Even for those clubs that make the postseason cut, an early departure is an all-too-frequent occurrence, and then the general manager who made the addition has to live with the heavy price in futures he paid for a few pointless weeks of help.
Every so often, though, a deadline deal pays off in a big way. On Saturday night, the Los Angeles Kings’ acquisition of Marian Gaborik did.
The Anaheim Ducks controlled the play for long stretches of the contest and were the better team overall for the first 50 minutes or so. If not for the efforts of Gaborik, that would have been good enough to give the home team the win in the series’ opening game.
Gaborik had a hand in every scoring play by Los Angeles.
It was Gaborik who made a crafty pass on the power play halfway through the first period, setting Alec Martinez up alone in front of the net and in the process beating an exceptional defender in Francois Beauchemin. Martinez finished the play off to give LA the 1-0 lead.
For 59 minutes and 53 seconds, that goal engineered by the crafty Slovak was all the offence the Kings could muster. With the final seconds of the game ticking off the clock and the Los Angeles net empty, it seemed the Ducks had the win.
That was when, in a moment of desperation, Mike Richards settled for just throwing the puck on net, even though he had a terrible angle. Jonas Hiller handled the shot easily, with the puck bouncing up in the air off his pads. That’s where Gaborik found it, in an impressive display of hand-eye coordination:
The goal forced overtime and gave the Kings a shot at opening the series with a road win. Gaborik made sure that happened:
It was exactly the role that Kings general manager Dean Lombardi had envisioned for Gaborik when he added him at the trade deadline. Asked about the trade by John Hoven of Mayor’s Manor, Lombardi made it clear that Gaborik added an offensive edge that LA just didn’t have:
[You try to] make sure your team has all the weapons necessary. I think this was one weapon that we were lacking. ... That’s what we’re expecting from him, meshing with that team and then bring to this team what it does not have in its arsenal—an explosive player that can make something out of nothing. ... You have to be cognizant of him on the rink all the time. Again, it’s a weapon I’ve felt we would like to add to the mix here to throw a little bit of everything at you.
Of course, Gaborik’s scoring prowess would not have mattered if not for some other key factors.
Robyn Regehr played fewer than four minutes before leaving the game due to injury. That forced Los Angeles to roll five defencemen, with Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov both topping the 30-minute mark in ice time. Matt Greene, regularly the team’s seventh defender, ended up playing more than 20 minutes. In the end they were good enough, though there were rough moments; Greene, for example, made the primary error on Anaheim’s goal that put the Ducks up 2-1.
Goaltender Jonathan Quick, who was named third star in the game, was also very good. He got into trouble on Anaheim’s first goal of the game, getting caught out of position after coming way out of net.
As TSN’s Ray Ferraro noted, that’s part of the package with Quick.
"Quick is so aggressive, and yes it is too aggressive on that play,” said the colour commentator. “But that’s the way Quick plays. There’s very few players that are going to have the patience to go below the goal line and throw it out to the slot and put it on the tape.”
Ryan Getzlaf, who was the Duck with the patience to make exactly that play, ended up with two assists in the game and tilted the ice heavily in favour of Anaheim. Of the Ducks’ stars, he was the one who stood out as the best player, going head-to-head with Anze Kopitar and winning the matchup more often than not.
Even in the loss, Anaheim had some bright points beyond Getzlaf, though. Forward Andrew Cogliano sounded decidedly upbeat, given the result of the contest:
The fourth line has to be somewhere near the top of any list of positives for the Ducks. The trio of Emerson Etem, Nick Bonino and Devante Smith-Pelly had an exceptional night, playing a hard physical game and even more remarkably outshooting the Kings as a unit by a 10-3 margin.
More important for the Ducks was the play of goalie Jonas Hiller. Hiller’s late-season swoon, combined with a bumpy first round for netminding partner Frederik Andersen, had left Anaheim’s goaltending situation decidedly uncertain. Saturday was Hiller’s first start of the postseason, and in turning aside 33 of 36 shots he offered the Ducks at least the possibility of stability in the crease going forward.
For his part, Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau sees Saturday’s game as a harbinger for what is to come in the series:
If so, both teams can take something from Saturday’s result.
For the Kings, the upside is obvious. If the series plays out as Boudreau expects, winning Game 1 on the road may well prove critical. The importance of the victory increases if Regehr is out for any length of time; with an undermanned defence, Los Angeles will need every advantage it can get.
It will also need its offensive players to help pick up the slack if the team’s shutdown game slips, and in that regard Gaborik’s outburst is even more welcome.
The Ducks, meanwhile, didn’t win, but if Hiller can stabilize the goaltending situation they may have added something even more valuable. Dallas wasn’t a good enough team to beat Anaheim, even with Andersen struggling, but the Ducks weren’t going to get by Los Angeles with subpar netminding. If Hiller’s back to playing at the level he’s shown in the past, as he was Saturday, that at least won’t be a problem.